Among the rarest feather-ball era golf clubs to collect is the iron putter. Between 1850 and 1890, cleekmakers like Carrick, Gray, Wilson, White, et. al did make a few iron putters, but just a relative few. Cleeks and lofters from the 1850s-1880s are out there. But putters? Not nearly as much. This is because most golfers between 1850 and 1890 saw iron putters as not only ineffective but also counterproductive.
Prior to 1850, golfers did not use iron clubs unless the ball was on sand, among stones or rocks, in a rut of some type, or somewhere off in the high-grass hinterlands. To these golfers using an iron club on the normal part of the course was pretty much sacrilegious. Irons could take divots and damage the course, and that was universally seen as “not good.”
Even so, a few iron putters were made prior to 1850. Somewhere around 10-15 are known. The most famous is the iron putter from the Royal Blackheath collection that was also depicted in the 1790-1798 painting of Henry Callender. The only pre-1850 printed reference to an iron putter that the auctioneer’s research has uncovered is a single mention in an 1823 account that acknowledges that iron putters were used for short putts. Which brings us to the club offered here.
This circa 1840s iron putter offered here has an exceptionally upright lie, which would make the club difficult to swing freely on putts of any sizeable length. But on short putts? This putter would work fine. The original shaft measures 35 ½ inches long. It does not have its original grip, but most of a green underlisting remains. The blade measures a full 1 ¾ inches deep and just under 4 ¼” wide (from the toe to the back of the hosel). The 3/4" thick hosel is 5 ¼” long and has deep, sharp saw-tooth nicking. Overall, the club weighs 19 ounces and this is without a grip.
Because most collectors know little of pre-1850 iron putters, a little perspective might be helpful. Last year an iron putter offered as “an extremely rare iron putter circa 1800” sold at auction in the UK for $10,700. That club had the same 5 ¼ inch hosel length and no grip just like the club offered here. Its blade, however, measured much smaller in depth and width, at 1 3/8” deep and 3 ½” wide. However, its blade was much thicker. The deadweight of the c 1800 putter was given as 1.4 pounds which is just a little heavier than the 1.2 pounds of this putter (both clubs did not have grips).
One last point. The putter offered here has a crease down the heel on both the front and back of the blade. This was done to make a nice flat face across as much of the blade as possible. The crease was included on both the front and back of the blade so this club could be used both left- and right-handed. Most of the other pre-1850 blade putters could, technically, be used both right- and left-handed, but they were made with a right hand face and the back of the blade was not a full mirror image of the front of the blade.
A photo of this putter next to a late 1890s iron putter included with this lot. The viewer will notice the dramatic difference in size between the two clubs, and how they differ dramatically in their lie.
A photo of this putter next to the c. 1840 iron offered in this sale is also included. You will notice the similarities in size. The differences in the nicking is that of one blacksmith as opposed to another.