In original condition, this historic c. 1820s feather ball was made by champion golfer and ballmaking artist Thomas Alexander. The ball is stamped “T. Alexander” and all the letters remain visible, although somewhat faint. The handwritten “30,” denoting the weight of the ball, is very faint, but can still be made out. All seams are tight. Note how the edges of the strip of leather that wraps around the center of the ball are not parallel, or anywhere close to it. The auctioneer believes this is evidence that that ball is one of Alexander’s earlier efforts. The ball is also just a touch larger and heavier than the typical c1840 featherball. The closing stitch is tight. For being roughly 200 years old, this ball is in outstanding condition!
Tom Alexander was born in 1803 and died in 1841. He was located in Musselburgh where he made feather balls. He was revered for not only his craftsmanship as a ballmaker but also for his skill as a golfer. In 1835 he traveled to St. Andrews and defeated David Robertson, Allan's father who was a ballmaker in St. Andrews, to be crowned as the Champion golfer over all. It was not until 1840 when Alexander relinquished his title, losing a close match at St. Andrews to David's son, Allan. Unfortunately, Alexander died the following year at age 38.
This changing of the guard from Thomas Alexander to Allan Roberson as the champion golfer is recalled in the August 27, 1863 issue of the Fifeshire Journal. “At the beginning of the century….Balls at that time were a serious matter; they took long to make, and consequently they were dear, and one foul stroke would have ruined any of them….Professional golfers were then even scarce…David Robertson was Champion in 1830, but lost it in 1835, having been beat by Tom Alexander. Mr. Robertson’s son, the far-famed Allan, regained the honours from Alexander in 1840 and retained them while he lived.”
The Perthshire Courier dated 18 Feb, 1841 reported the death of Thomas Alexander, noting that Alexander was both a champion golfer and superb ballmaker. "At Golf House, Musselburgh, on the 7th instant, Thomas Alexander, golf-ball maker, [died] in his thirty-eighth year. As an artiste, in the laborious handicraft of ball-making, he held the highest rank, as a golfer, for nearly twenty years he had no equal in skillful execution of the nicer subtleties of the game; and his unexpected decease (from aneurism of the heart) has occasioned a blank in the golfing community not likely soon to be filled up.
Few people or museums have a golf artifact of any kind that dates upwards of two centuries old. Now’s your chance! Better yet, the maker of the artifact is known and was once the best golfer in the world, small as the golf world was at the time.