Lot # 5: c.1840 Feathery Ball in Glass Case- Owner Marked

Category: Golf Balls

Starting Bid: $1,500.00

Bids: 17 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Spring 2023",
which ran from 4/5/2023 12:00 PM to
4/22/2023 8:00 PM

The most iconic ball in the game of golf is the Feather Ball. It's the stuff of lore and legend. This one delivers with its nice seams and original paint, and comes with a provenance documented in 2006 by Philp Knowles, at the time the Archivist at the Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh.  As an added flourish, the ball comes with a beautiful vintage looking display case.

In 2006, Philp Knowles wrote that the ball once belonged to CN Cooper SSC a prominent Edinburgh lawyer born c.1830. Knowles, who himself owned two of Coopers golf scrapbooks from the 1890s, noted that Cooper is mentioned twice in the book Reminiscenses of the Old Bruntsfiled Links Golf Club published in 1902.  Cooper's collection of golf memorabilia was passed down through his son eventually to his grandson, whose widow disposed of the collection in 2003/2004. Copies of the two documents created by Knowles to document this ball are shown in the images, and are included with the ball.  Great bit of history!

The ball has what the auctioneer believes is an owner's mark on one pole of the ball.  It could possibly be a strike mark, but the line is even in its depth over a curved surface and seems reasonably well-centered on the pole as well as lined up to the middle seam itself.  To the auctioneer, all these elements indicate that the line was made by design. That plus you seldom see strike marks on feather balls.  They'd just blow apart!

Feather balls—made with a leather exterior and a feather-filled interior—are the oldest remaining golf balls known. With the advent of the gutta percha golf ball in 1845, feather balls were well on their way out by 1850.  According to Thomas Peter's 1890 account in Reminiscenses of Golf and Golfers (p 8-9) the making of a feather 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 cocks and hens feathers, which is what Tom Morris identified the feathers as when asked about it in 1900.  (Golf Illustrated, 7 Dec. 1900: 204). 

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