Lot # 3: Allan Robertson Featherball c.1840

Category: Golf Balls

Starting Bid: $2,500.00

Bids: 20 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Desert Mountain Collection",
which ran from 8/30/2022 6:00 AM to
9/17/2022 8:00 PM

The mint feather ball offered here bears the famed "Allan" stamp of Allan Robertson.  Although he was small in stature, he is a true giant in the history of golf.  Feather-ball makers back in the day would mark their work with their last name, plus a first initial in most instances. However, not Robertson.  Golfers knew who "Allan" was. As a  golfer and ballmaker he had no superiors.

Despite the fact that his golf career and accomplishments occurred prior to his death in 1859, Allan was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001. If all the people inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame were alive today, Robertson would be the oldest.

Born in 1815, Robertson taught Tom Morris the art of making clubs and balls.  Robertson, however, worked primarily as a ballmaker.  Located in St. Andrews, he was also known as the "King of Clubs," as he won a great deal of money playing challenge matches.  When Robertson died in 1859, his obituary noted, "he was admitted to be the champion of the world, and never lost any great match he was engaged in."  Robertson was also the first person to ever break 80 on the old course at St. Andrews. Today he is considered by many to be the first professional golfer.

This Allan feather ball was never used and remains in gorgeous condition. The stamped "Allan" name is still strong as is the "29" weight/size of the ball, clearly written in ink by Allan's own hand. The stitching is perfect, with no discoloration or cracking of the leather. The back of the ball appears to have once born a round label that is no longer there.  To survive in such pristine condition to this day, this ball spent much of its prior history as a collectible, just like it will for the rest of its history.  The  fact that the surface of the ball has been lightly disturbed where the label once was is not a big deal.  To downplay this ball because of that would be like downplaying Augusta National because there is a little casual water on the course.  They just don't come much better.

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 afeather 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 cock and hen feathers, which is what Tom Morris identified the feathers as when asked about it in 1900.  (Golf Illustrated, 7 Dec. 1900: 204). 

When the gutta percha ball debuted, Allan was deeply dedicated to his skill as a feather ball maker. Fearing this new ball would bring an end to his feather ball business, he bought all the gutties he could in St. Andrews and set fire to them. His business relationship with Tom Morris even dissolved upon Allan catching Morris playing with one. Feather balls were Allan's signature bread and butter, and not only is this an absolutely incredible specimen of his passion and craftmanship, it's also a true historical treasure.

This ball is on the left in the second row of the group shot in the accompanying images.

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