This circa 1830s feather ball has been well used. Portions of the seam stitches are visible at various
places. Little of the
original paint remains. Despite its less than perfect condition, at over 180 years old this historical ball is loaded with character. After all, it
does look oooooold and has no need to apologize. Quite the contrary. There is nothing wrong with a genuine feather ball showing age and use. In fact, it's clear evidence of authenticity. Golf balls were meant to be struck, and this one was—no doubt with great delight! Best of all, it has survived to tell the tale!
The leather is tight and the ball remains in solid condition. The two closing stitches lack all paint and are clearly visible. The nature of the wear on this ball makes
it interesting to examine and inspect the ballmaker's work as well as the golfer's use. This ball might not be perfect, but it sure is ruggedly handsome and a marvel to behold.
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 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).