Harry B. Wood was the first collector who put collecting golf antiques on the map. He and his collection achieved great prominence in the early 1900s. As Golfing published in its December 22, 1910 issue, "There are few golfers who have not heard of that prince of golfing archeolgists, Mr. Harry B. Wood."
Wood wrote a variety of historical articles for Golf Illustrated and his collecting was covered in other golf magazines of the day as well. The first page of one such article, from the June 12, 1908 issue of Golf Illustrated, is included in the accompanying images on this site. The Rev. John Kerr used a few of Wood's items when assembling the golf antiquities section at the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. By 1908, Wood's collection was on display in a large wood cabinet at the Manchester Golf Club where he was a member.
In 1910, his book, Golfing Curios and the Like—the first book to ever deal with collecting antique golf—was published. Wood's collection numbered around 300 artifacts and the book discusses some of the clubs, balls, books, medals, tiles, prints, engravings, and a few other assorted items from his collection. The Manchester Golf Club sold Wood's collection in its entirety in 1986.
The hand-hammered gutta percha ball offered here, bears Wood's identification sticker which reads, "Smooth Gutty After Hacking." This is absolutely one of the rarest and most valuable golf balls Wood collected. When the the gutta percha ball was introduced in the mid-1840s, it was smooth. Golfers found that the ball flew better after it was played and hacked up a bit, the marks in the surface helping the ball track through the air. Therefore, ballmakers began to rough up their gutties by marking them with the claw of a hammer or similar prior to selling them. The resulting ball did not look so nice, but it flew much better than a smooth ball.
In an article written by Harry B. Wood in the June 12, 1908 issue of Golf Illustrated, Wood references an article written by Willie Dunn Jr. in the May 2, 1908 issue of the Edinburgh Evening Despatch that provides an account of the initial hand-hammered gutty ball as follows: " 'Old Willie Dunn' is reputed to have made a number of smooth gutta balls, and finding that they 'ducked' after traveling twenty or thirty yards, he threw them to the caddies, and later at Musselburgh he was astonished to see one of these caddies get a magnificent shot with one of these discarded balls, which upon examination Dunn found had been indented with an iron club. This led him to experiment with a a hammer in order to produce similar indentations; hence the advent of 'the hand-hammered' ball."
As the evolution of the golf ball goes, the random-pattern hand-hammered gutty ball is the first golf ball to have its surface marked up. It follows right after the smooth gutty and just before the "patterned" longitudinal or pole-cut gutty. Suffice it to say, remaining authentic random-cut balls are exceedingly rare. Feather balls were made for centuries while random-cut gutties were made for only the briefest of periods. Wood had no less than 10 feather balls and 8 "Forgan-pattern" hand-hammered balls in his collection but only this one random pattern hand-hammered gutty ball.
Because this random-cut gutty ball bears Wood's collection sticker, collectors and historians know it is an authentic antique random-pattern hand-hammered ball. Because a number of smooth gutty ball molds remain today and raw gutta percha can still be purchased, it is easy to mold a new smooth gutta percha ball, hack it up, and then distress it to look old. Such modern creations are exceedingly difficult to distinguish from the originals, created around 170 years ago. The ease with which gutta percha can be made into a golf ball today explains why a number of smooth gutty balls in recent years have sold for relatively little money. But, again, Wood's sticker on this ball provides an extremely valuable provenance for a truly historical ball.
I have included an image that shows Woods collection in the left half of the display cabinet at Manchester Golf Club right before the collection was sold. This very ball is there, second from the front in the third column of balls from the left. It is circled in red in the closeup image. While the writing is not readable in the image, the four lines on the label are easily distinguished and match perfectly in position with the writing on this label. Furthermore, the other unpainted gutty balls only have three lines on their label at most or they have a different pattern on their surface.
As collectible golf balls go, this one is major league.