Lot # 5: Ben Lang "Philpian" Middle Spoon

Starting Bid: $2,000.00

Bids: 0 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Summer 2022",
which ran from 7/7/2022 12:00 PM to
7/23/2022 8:00 PM

This is an outstanding club that is truly unique.  To begin with, the head is gorgeous! It's sleek, elegant, shapely as can be, and looks much like it was made by Hugh Philp in the 1840s.  The thing is, it was not made by Philp or McEwan and it was not made anywhere close to the 1840s.  It was made by Bennett Lang, and Lang did not enter the world of clubmaking until 1875 or just after.  Even so, Lang's supreme ability to "make a Philp" follows him to this day.

Ben Lang was born in Scotland in 1849.  In the book Golf In Perth and Perthshire, Peter Baxter gives a detailed account of Lang.  Prior to the death of young Tom Morris in 1875, Lang had the good fortune to meet Young Tom in Glasgow.  Lang next moved to St. Andrews where he entered the clubmaking business, working for Tom Morris Sr.  He then went to work for Jame Anderson and then Robert Forgan. Next he moved to Musselburgh where he worked for Douglas McEwan and Son.  Shortly after 1880 he moved to Dunbar where he was employed by Patrick. Then at Ainmouth he worked with Mungo Park, then at Troon with Willie Fernie.

Baxter continues, in 1888 Lang moved to Perth and became the superintendent/greenkeeper, succeeding William Stewart. In 1892 Lang went to Ireland and worked as the professional at County Down Club in Newcastle. Next up was a short stint at North Berwick where he was employed by Sir W. Dalrymple to make Dalrymple's duplex clubs. After that it was on to Royal Montreal in Canada, where he worked three years, until 1896 when he moved back to the UK for health reasons and became the professional and greenskeeper at Epping Forest. In 1897 he moved back to Perth.

Lang assembled quite a resume but he did not make many long nose clubs under his own name during the long nose era.  He was, however, an exceptional clubmaker and distinctly adept a copying older long nose clubs.  Baxter makes this point in his book on page 37:

"Ben had a great aptitude for hitting of a new head from an old model, and is largely employed by gentlemen in the county and city who desire a worn-out club replaced by another exactly the same. At the date of our visit Lang was busy copying an old Philip baffy for a well-known Perthshire gentleman."

This comment by Baxter about Ben Lang, published in 1899, is very telling.  Ben was gifted and well known for his skills.  He could take a club and reproduce it with a high degree of accuracy.  When Baxter walked in to Lang's shop and saw him making a copy of a Philp baffy, it was after Lang had returned to Perth in 1897, which leads to another observation.  There were those "traditionalists" during the 1890s that kept a few long nose clubs in use.

Another point demonstrated by the club offered here is that Lang made his copies but marked them with his name. After all, they were made by his hand. No doubt he copied clubs by his former mentors, McEwan, Forgan, Anderson, as well as others.  As this club demonstrates, Lang was not in the business of forging the work of others so he could pass it off as 20, 30, 50 or more years old.  There was no future in that.  He was of high character, liked and respected wherever he worked.  Instead, he was filling orders from a clientele that wanted new copies of old favorites, whatever they were.

Another element about this club that is well out of the ordinary is the fact that the head and neck are two separate pieces joined together.   Evidence of this is found in a line that runs around the entire neck below the whipping and above the heel of the face. This joint is perfect in its positioning and orientation, and its nothing like a crack in a head that was broken or cut apart and glued back together.   This joint is seamless without any change of elevation between the two pieces, which would occur if a saw had cut the head in two and then the head was glued back together.  The finish between the two pieces is actually slightly different. When the joint is viewed close up the finish is darker in places on the head than it is on the neck—the change from one side of the joint "line" to the other side is abrupt (see the closeup images).  No effort was made to disguise this fact or the two separate pieces.

The auctioneer believes that Lang crafted this head from two separate pieces of the same kind of wood. The reason why is left to conjecture.  It is clear that this is not a repair, but was the method used to create the club.

It is a possible that Lang created a connection of some type inside the head, such as a third piece of wood that extends into both the neck and head.  Of course this is conjecture.  The only thing the auctioneer knows for sure is this head consists of two pieces flawlessly glued together, and that he never imagined a long nose club was ever made this way. But, indeed, one was.

The 41 1/2" original shaft attached to the neck has a beautiful sheepskin grip from the period.  This grip, however, was replaced many years ago.  in an effort to help the auctioneer to try to better understand the history of this club, the consignor disclosed who he purchased the club from. The auctioneer contacted that individual who clearly recalled this club.

The seller stated that the only thing he did to the club after he purchased it privately was install an old sheepskin grip from the period, because the original grip was "worn and distressed."  Given that such grips are not normally found on unused clubs indicates the genuine possibility that at least the shaft if not a portion of the neck attached to it was reused by Lang. Possibly the original owner placed a high value on the shaft of an old broken clubhead and wanted to save it as best he could.  Golfers way back were just as passionate about the game and could obsess over their equipment just as much as golfers today.

To sum up, this gorgeous club appears to be modeled after a Philp middle spoon and is one of the few remaining copies made by the legendary Ben Lang—the man considered the best there was at making such copes.  It is an amazing and historic club on many levels.

This club is third from the left in the accompanying group of 7 clubs image, and the third club from the left in the group of 4 clubs.

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