This lot description has been significantly rewritten and updated on 11-5-21.
This club is old, dating from the first half of the 19th century when featherballs were in use. The head is entirely hand forged with an extremely long hosel that measures a full 6" in length. The blacksmith's hammer weld is visible in part down the front of the hosel, at the top. Also visible is the hammer weld on the back of the blade just under the blade crease, where the blade intersects the hosel. Such hammer welds are fabulous features, providing irrefutable evidence of an iron's rudimentary hand-made nature.
The wrought iron head has a nicely dished face that is distinctly curved from heel to toe. These features were purposely and carefully crafted by the blacksmith. The grain of the wrought iron is clearly present across the face.
The ash shaft appears to be original to his club. The club was possibly repinned to tighten up the shaft once upon a time. Only the underlisting remains on the grip, but it looks quite natural especially since the oldest irons used fabric grips much like this underlisting. The sawtooth nicking on this club is dramatic, again the stuff of great age.
Initially, the clubhead appears to be a general or "middling" iron, a term first documented in 1805 according to the auctioneer’s research. Given that the blade on this iron is not as big as those found on a heavy iron and not as small as those found on a light iron, a middling iron it would certainly seem to be. Or…maybe not. Let’s give this historic club a closer look.
Published in 1790, Hoyle’s Games Improved states that “light irons” were used when the ball lies “on the surface of chingle or sandy ground.” Light irons, received their name because they had a smaller head and therefore did not weigh as much as “heavy irons” which, according to Hoyle, were used when the ball lies “deep among stones or mud.”
Sixty-seven years later, in his book The Golfer’s Manual published in 1857, Henry Farnie identifies 4 irons—the “niblick,” “bunker iron,” “driving iron,” and “cleek”—and then describes them: The niblick has an “exceedingly small head well-spooned back.” The Bunker iron was to be used “in a bunker—in a thickset whin—amongst the stones of a road, or… in any scrape where a wooden head tool would be useless.” The driving-iron “nearly resembles him of the bunker, in everything but weight; it is used amongst difficulties also, but only when the ball is intended to be, and admits of being, sent some distance.” The cleek was used “chiefly for driving the ball out of rough ground when elevation is not so much an object, and when no impediments surround and obstruct the lie which would demand a heavier club.”
From Farnie’s descriptions, we learn that a sand iron filled the same roll as the earlier heavy irons, and a cleek served the same purpose as the earlier light irons. We learn that a driving iron in 1857 was not designed for use off the tee. Instead, it was used to play out of difficult lies that were unsuitable for a wooden club head, but it was able to drive the ball further than a sand iron if the lie was not obstructed. (Think hard pan, packed sand, small gravel, a road, etc.)
So, according to Farnie, the driving iron in use by 1857 was the first iron designed to add distance to the golfers shot as one of its features. Hence slightly smaller heads with reduced lofts and long shafts were used to accomplish the task. Thinking of these early driving irons as the first “1-irons” is not far off the mark.
Which brings us to to the club offered here. Its 44 1/2” shaft, the approximately 17 degrees of loft, the slender shaft, the medium size blade, the exceedingly long 6” hosel, the heavy head weight—everything about this club clearly identifies it as an early 19th century driving iron. The extreme length of its shaft and minimal loft of the blade are clearly factors that will add distance to a shot. The exceedingly long hosel adds great weight to the club which would help it do battle against a difficult lie. The only problem is that, while great in theory, this club would be next to impossible to hit in reality. This explains why Farnie’s early 19th century driving irons disappeared from the game and so few remain today.
One final point. The face on this c. 1825 driving iron, which is both dished top to bottom and curved heel to toe, has approximately 17 degrees of loft when measured on a straight line from leading edge to top line. On page 701 of Ralph Maltby’s tome Golf Club Design, Fitting, Alteration, and Repair published in 1982, Maltby provides the individual lofts of the standard clubs sold by 14 different manufacturers in the early 1970s. While 1-iron lofts were not included, 2-iron lofts were, and, at between 20 and 22 degrees, every 2-iron listed had more loft than this ancient driving iron. Also shown in one of the accompanying images is a 1962 Wilson Staff Dynapower 1-iron. My, how some things have changed and some things remained the same!
If you are looking for a brutishly handsome no-questions-asked early iron of great historical significance, with an off-the-chart swingweight, this one checks all the boxes.
The gutty ball, Wilson Staff 1- iron, and the John Jackson long spoon are shown for perspective in the accompanying images and are not part of this lot. The Jackson long spoon is available as lot 4.