Lot # 11: c. 1880 Lathe Line-Cut Red Gutta Percha Ball

Category: Golf Balls

Starting Bid: $300.00

Bids: 3 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

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Item was in Auction "Spring 2022",
which ran from 3/3/2022 12:00 PM to
3/19/2022 8:00 PM

c. 1870s Lathe Line-Cut Red Gutta Percha Ball is rare for how it is made, and for the red gutta percha used to make it:

This mesh-pattern solid gutty ball is not your normal mesh pattern ball. It is actually a far more rare line-cut ball!  Such balls were a major step in the evolution of the golf ball, replacing the hand-hammered ball.  

A line-cut ball was originally molded in a smooth gutty mold and then removed and placed into a small cutting lathe designed to score the surface of gutta percha golf balls.  The ballmaker would turn the lathe's handle and that caused the machine to rotate the ball, cutting lines into its surface.  After the ballmaker cut one set of lines around the circumference of the ball, he would remove the ball, turned it 90 degrees, and then cut in a second set of lines.  Typically, the resulting mesh pattern would be reasonably symmetrical, often times making it hard to distinguish a line cut ball from a molded mesh ball.

On this ball, however, there are places where the mesh pattern is distinctly not symmetrical, as the ball maker did not cut the second set of lines at a perfect right angle to the first set of lines.  This creates not only an askew pattern, but it provides proof that this ball is a genuine line-cut ball, made after ballmakers stopped hand-hammering balls but before they used molds engraved with the mesh pattern found on line cut balls.  This would have been for a period of time roughly between the 1870s and 1890.

A further examination of the ball reveals that it is red everywhere, even down in the strike marks found on the ball.  This is because the ball is made entirely from red gutta percha, not black as was typically used. 

During the late 18th century the gutta percha used to make golf balls began as a gum material extracted from certain trees in Cochin China, Cambodia, Straits Settlements, etc.  During the course of being processed into its final, usable form, it would naturally become black due to oxidation, but it could be made red by using additives. Golf ball makers in the early 1890s offered both red and black gutta percha balls.  In the advertising section of the October 9, 1891 issue of Golf, Peter Paxton announces "Red and Black Gutta kept in Stock."  In the vast majority of instances, however, black gutta percha was used to make golf balls.  It kept its shape better, especially with proper seasoning (typically 3-6 months). 

Red gutta percha, on the other hand, performed well initially with much less seasoning when compared to black gutta percha. So if a ballmaker needed to make and sell a ball fast, red gutta percha worked best.  However, it did not fly as far (by reason of its composition) and would deteriorate quicker in the long run, because it never became as strong/durable as seasoned black gutta percha—which explains why red gutta percha was rarely used by ballmakers.  (For more on this topic see TCA2 v1 p330-331).

This is a ball of great rarity and considerable history! It shows evidence of use (a few light strike marks) and presents exceptionally well for a used red gutta percha ball.

This red gutty ball is the third ball in the first row of the golf ball group shot in the accompanying images. This group shot includes many other golf balls lots in this auction and demonstrates the remarkable evolutionary story of the  golf ball, from feather ball to hand-hammered gutty, lathe line-cut red gutty, molded gutty, the Haskell and early rubber core balls.