Stamped “A. Gray,” this is one of but a handful of known clubs that bare the “A Gray” stamp. The size of lettering is much larger than any “J Gray” or “Carrick” stamp, and the club is appears older than the John Gray or Carrick marked irons. The only iron bearing a name with similar large letters known to the auctioneer is the J.A. Porteous middling iron that sold in the JEGA Fall 2019 auction for $7000.
Like the Porteous iron, this A. Gray iron is a “middling” or “general” iron, a term in use by 1805 and found in print that year. Middling irons fit between light irons and heavy irons. It was devised as a single club that could do the job of two different clubs and thereby lessen the number of clubs carried by the golfer.
The 37 1/2" shaft appears to be original. It's distinctly thicker than the typical shaft used in the known clubs made by Gray or the Carricks, and in places it is fixed into the sharp nicking atop the hosel. The hosel, however, has been re-pinned. The large, coated sheepskin grip also appears to be original.
The blacksmith behind the A. Gray stamp is Andrew Gray. In his 1988 book Carnoustie Links: Courses and Players, Stewart Hackney writes:
"George Morris was the first Carnoustie resident known to have been involved in club manufacture, then the Blacksmith Andrew Gray made some irons and cleeks from 1865 until his bankruptcy was discovered. Frank Bell, who entered the employment of the Dalhousie club in 1870 was professional and greenkeeper”….
According to Hackney, Andrew Gray was making irons in 1865 but not for much longer. It’s entirely possible that Andrew was making irons prior to 1865. During the preceding 23 years, golf was being played in Carnoustie and there would have been a market for a cleekmaker. According to Wikipedia, "The original course [at Carnoustie] was of ten holes, crossing and recrossing the Barry Burn; it was designed by Allan Robertson, assisted by Old Tom Morris, and opened in 1842." Golf has been played at Carnoustie ever since.
While Hackney fits Andrew Gray into a small window of just a few years in the mid 1860s, there certainly would have been a need for a cleekmaker prior to that time because George Morris made wooden clubs like his brother, Old Tom. Indeed, there was a need, but, at least for much of the time, it was being filled by someone else, not Andrew.
According to a July 12, 1901, Golf Illustrated article about the famous St. Andrews cleekmaker Tom Stewart, Stewart “may be said to have been born to the trade. He hailed originally from Carnoustie, where his father followed the same occupation, and some forty or fifty years ago made cleek heads for George Morris—brother of Old Tom—who was then located there.”
Based on the above comment, the elder Stewart was making iron heads at Carnoustie during the 1850s.
It should be noted that this Andrew Gray iron has a distinctly larger hosel and thicker shaft than what is typically seen on the irons made and marked by the Carricks and John Gray. Furthermore, this Andrew Gray club is a middling iron. It is distinctly different from the typical irons made by John Gray and the Carricks. Those two makers are known for producing cleeks, lofters, track irons, and the occasional blade putter, not beefy middling irons like this one.
For sake of comparison, the c. early 1870s J Gray lofter in this sale is pictured next to this Andrew Gray iron in a few images that accompany this lot. In one of the images the difference between the lofter shape of the John Gray iron and the older middling iron shape of the blade is clearly visible. In another of the comparison images, the larger size of the shaft and the hosel on the A Gray iron can be seen. In all the comparison images, the John Gray iron is more refined. Note that the John Gray iron does not have a small hosel. It's the proper large size for its era and much larger than anything that came after it. It's actually one of the largest John Gray lofters out there. With all things considered, the auctioneer dates this Andrew Gray club as circa 1860s.
As one of the oldest known irons made and marked by a blacksmith, this Andrew Gray middling iron would be a fine addition to any museum or private collection. All the club’s main components have great age and character and connect directly to one of the first blacksmiths that marked his work. Of all the people and companies who made irons and marked irons with their name or brand, this iron stands as one of the absolute first to bear a maker' s mark. An absolutely wonderful and important piece of history.