This club is old. In the opinion of the auctioneer, it is early 1800s—and here's why:
Notice all the knots in the wood. On the top of the head there is a good size knot close to the neck and another similar knot closer to the toe. There are two more knots right on the toe. There is yet another much larger knot on the bottom of the head right at the base of the neck. Plus, the long "crack" on the top of the head is exceptionally shallow, appearing more like a scratch than a crack. It appears superficial and was likely there when the club was made or appeared soon thereafter as the wood continued to dry out after being made into a clubhead. It starts right next to a small knot in the center of the head. And there are a few other tiny knots found round about the head.
All these knots are a major indicator of the great age of this club—that it was made
before it was unacceptable to use wood with knots—blemishes—to produce
clubheads. You sometimes see a knot or two in a Philp or other c. 1830-1850 clubs, but not with a host of knots like are found on this club.
The grain in the wood used to make the head has a clear nature and does not appear similar to the typical fruit wood often used by the likes of Philp, McEwan, and Jackson during the 1830s and thereafter. The auctioneer believes this wood to be hawthorn which was often used to make clubheads before Philp and Jackson came on the scene.
The 37" shaft is not hickory. It appears to be ash as the grain runs straight up the shaft, and on the front of the shaft (in line with the top of the head) the grain can be followed straight up from the top of the whipping to the base of the grip. Ash was the shaft of choice prior to the introduction of hickory.
Another feature about this club is the fact that it is not marked with a makers name. This is actually a good feature as the further back in time one looks, the fewer clubmakers there were who marked their work. David Denholm, Archibald Sharpe, William Ballantyne, Colburn, Polk, and Beetson are just a few of the clubmakers working in early 1800s that left no evidence that they marked their work.
it should be pointed out that putters made in the early 1800s typically
had large heads - larger than this head, which measures 5 1/8" long, 1"
in face depth, and 2" in width. But understanding that clubs in the early 1800s were often
made to order, to fill the desire of an individual golfer, the size/weight of this head is not necessarily a major defining
factor. More important and of greater influence when determining the age of this club is the shape of the
The top of the head is relatively
flat, not crowned. In addition, the top of the face and the sole run
pretty close to parallel with each other as the slight curve in the top
of the head is mirrored by the curve given to the horn. In addition,
the back of the crown and back of the sole have strong, parallel lines.
None of these features are found on clubs made after 1830.
Putters from the 1700s and early 1800s typically have a bulbous-shaped head as opposed to long and sleek. This putter has that bulbous shape, only in a smaller size. To demonstrate the elements on this club that were just explained, a circa 1875 Jame Anderson putter is shown next to this club. Its readily apparent that these two clubs were made generations apart —the Anderson putter is shapely and elongated while the c. 1800 putter is blocky and bulbous. Yet, they both have a face that measures 1" at its deepest point.
The face of this early putter is concave, with a significant amount of "hook." This can be easily see when looking down on the putter as shown in
one of the images. Also, too, this club has
vestiges of a splay toe, where the end of the head is flat between the
end of the face and the very tip of the toe. Splay toes are found on the oldest known woods.
When trying to sort out the age of a club, all the characteristics of
the club must be examined and weighed. Therefore, it should be stated that nothing about the sheepskin grip, neck whipping, or the lead backweight say
"1700s!" Same with the horn, which is thick but not dramatically so.
After considering all the variables mentioned above, the auctioneer conservatively dates this club to the early 1800s, but it could be even older.
A few more items of interest: There are two small holes at opposite ends of the lead backweight, likely from nails installed after the club was made, to help hold the weight in place. Also, when the sole of this putter is set flat on the ground, the shaft angles away from the ball yet the face has a normal amount of loft. (Put the shaft in line with the head and the face has a slight negative loft). It's close to unthinkable for a clubmaker to install a shaft and not connect/match the splice of the shaft to the flat splice formed in the neck, so its not like the shaft was glued on at the wrong angle. Not at all. Besides the neck has beautiful symmetry across the 4 1/2" length of its original whipping.
The auctioneer does not know for sure why the shaft angles back, away from the target. Either somebody wanted to try putting with a unique style, or the neck warped a little after the shaft was installed. Yet, it does not look warped.
Overall this club is old, in outstanding condition, and is highly interesting! While the auctioneer spent a good deal of time examining how this putter currently presents itself when soled on the ground, the way it soles does not get in the way of the great age and value of this club. Furthermore, when placed on display, it looks fabulous and presents a wonderland of early characteristics that set it apart from any Philp or other putter made after the early 1800s.
This putter is 6th from the left in the group shot.