Lot # 18: c. 1840 X-Marked Featherball

Category: Golf Balls

Starting Bid: $1,000.00

Bids: 9 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Summer 2021",
which ran from 7/7/2021 12:00 PM to
7/24/2021 8:00 PM

This feather ball has been well used.  It surely has stories to tell if it could speak. What this ball does convey is that its owner used it for a long time.  Portions of the seam stitches are visible at various places. At other places the leather has been worn down. Little of the original paint remains.  At over 180 years old, however, even in this condition this historical golf ball is a worthy collectible.  I mean, it does look oooooold and it has great character.  Because feather balls were so expensive, they would often be used for as long as they were usable, and this one still is!

The stitching is tight and the ball remains in solid condition. As mentioned, the leather cover shows scrapes and scuffs and much of the original paint has worn off. The nature of the wear on this ball makes it quite interesting to examine and see the ballmaker's work and golfer's use. Note that there is a large "X" cut into one of the end pieces used to construct the ball, as shown in one of the images.  This mark was installed by the owner so he could tell his ball from all others.

Feather balls—made with a leather exterior and a feather-filled interior—are the oldest remaining golf balls known.  According to Thomas Peter's 1890 account in Reminiscenses of Golf and Golfers (p 8-9) the making of a feather ball was almost a science:

"The leather was of untanned bull's hide, Two round pieces for the ends, and a strip for the middle were cut to suit the weight wanted.  These were properly shaped, after being sufficiently softened, and firmly sewed together—a small hole being of course left, through which the feathers might be afterwards inserted. But before stuffing, it was through this little hole that the leather itself had to be turned outside in, so that the seams should be inside—an operation not without difficulty.  The skin was then placed in a cup-shaped stand (the worker having the feathers in an apron in front of him), and the actual stuffing done with a crutch-handled steel rod, which the maker placed under his arm. And very hard work, I may add, it was.  Thereafter the aperture was closed, and firmly sewed up: and this outside seam was the only one visible."

By all accounts, the making of feather balls was hard work. A good feather ball maker working by himself crafted between 3-4 a day.  It was also dangerously unhealthy work.  These artisans were prone to contracting lung trouble and asthma from working in such close proximity to ordinary cocks and hens feathers, which is what Tom Morris identified the feathers as when asked about it in 1900.  (Golf Illustrated, 7 Dec. 1900: 204).

This ball is in second ball in the front row of the group image.

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