Lot # 4: Smooth Gutty Ball c.1850. One of The First Gutty Balls Ever Made

Category: Golf Balls

Starting Bid: $2,000.00

Bids: 9 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Spring 2024",
which ran from 3/28/2024 3:00 PM to
4/13/2024 8:00 PM

Still bearing traces of its old white paint, this smooth gutty ball was made somewhere around 1850, when golf balls made from gutta percha were new to the game.  Examples of smooth guttys are more rare than feather balls and extremely difficult to collect. The period of time when golfers used smooth gutty balls was short. 

Robert Patterson's invention of the smooth gutty ball in 1845 changed the game, and the change proved to be gigantic. By 1850 the gutty ball had taken hold and the feather ball was on its way to obsolescence.  Compared to feather balls, gutta percha balls were easier to make, cost one-fourth the price, were more durable, went farther, rolled truer, were more accurate, and were impervious to wet weather—what was not to like!

Because Patterson's smooth gutty ball was easy to replicate, other makers were soon producing their own. It wasn't long before golfers figured out that a smooth gutty with strike marks flew better than one without. By the mid-1850s, ballmakers were marking up the surface of every gutty they sold.

Smooth gutty balls were formed one of two ways—either by hand or in a mold. During the earliest days of the gutty ball, smooth molds did exist but not many. Robert Patterson made one to produce his smooth gutty. His brother recalled that Robert then made molds to sell to dealers in the trade (see TCA2 v2 p762).  By the mid-1850s, most ballmakers were using smooth molds.

Smooth guttys used in the late 1840s/early 1850s were typically painted. Today that paint will be old and brittle, often cracking and falling off the ball.  On this ball, very little paint remains.  The surface of the actual gutta percha itself is covered with fine cracks consistent with the age of this ball.  The cracking and crazing in the gutta percha is actually oxidation, not abuse.  The oxidation to these materials is not really visible when viewing the ball from arm’s length, but when you zoom in to view the ball, as I have with all of these images, the oxidation cracks are easy to see.  The ball is not damaged, it’s just old, and the surface of the ball has dried out over the past 170 plus years. The vast majority of the remaining solid gutty balls made in the 1890s do not exhibit age-related oxidation to the degree of this ball.

Here is where this particular smooth gutty ball gets really interesting.  It has a clear mold line around the equator of the ball, so we know the ball was made in a mold.  However, the rest of the ball appears to be handmade—formed by rolling the gutta percha between the hands as was often done in the earliest days of the gutty ball. It’s handmade nature is evidenced by the uneven areas all around the ball, which is a long way from “perfectly symmetrical.”  So how is it that a smooth gutty can look like it was both molded and handmade?  To the auctioneer, there is only one answer: It was both!

The auctioneer believes this ball was one of the earliest balls to be formed in a mold, hence the moid line.  The auctioneer further conjectures that the ball was used but suffered notable damage, such as unsigntly strike marks.  Consequently, the owner took his molded ball and heated it in hot water and then removed the strike marks slightly reforming the ball in the process.  In this instance of a ball that was already molded round, the golfer who warmed the ball simply used his fingers to push on and reshape the gutta percha.
OR it is also possible that the golfer believed that an asymmetrical ball would fly better than a perfectly symmetrical ball. This would have been prior to when marking up the surface of a smooth gutty became an accepted practice.  

Heating a damaged gutty ball and reforming/remaking it was a widespread practice. In his book Precious Gum, The Story of The Gutta Ball David Hamilton notes that remaking a ball only went so far, as it would ultimately have a bad effect on it:

“The new [gutta] ball was economical in another way. A worn or damaged gutta could be revived by remolding, where a burst feathery was useless.  Initially the gutta was thought to be immortal, and an enthusiastic newspaper report claimed that ‘the ball may be had for 6d and will make over as often as you please.’ More experience showed otherwise. After about 1 year, even when remolded the ball became dull in use. This was the result of an important chemical change, namely oxidation, spreading slowly through the ball from the outside rim…” (p15) 

No matter the steps used to form this ball as it exists today, the lack of symmetry, the oxidation cracks in the gutta percha, the coloring of this ball, and its general presence tell us that this ball is old, really old. This is an outstanding ball!  It's the real deal.

This Ball is in the accompanying 19 ball group image.


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