Specializing in Fine Antique Golf Clubs and Historic Memorabilia

Lot # 14: c. 1840 Allan Robertson Feather Ball

Category: Golf Balls

Starting Bid: $3,500.00

Bids: 6 (Bid History)

Time Left: Auction closed
Lot / Auction Closed

This lot is closed. Bidding is not allowed.

Item was in Auction "Summer 2020",
which ran from 7/8/2020 12:00 PM to
7/25/2020 8:00 PM

Allan Robertson is a giant character in the history of golf.  Despite the fact that his golf career and accomplishments occurred prior to 1860, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001. If all the people inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame were alive today, Robertson would be the oldest.

Born in 1815, Robertson taught Tom Morris the art of making clubs and balls.  Robertson, however, worked primarily as a ballmaker.  Located in St. Andrews, he was also known as the "King of Clubs," as he won a great deal of money playing challenge matches.  When Robertson died in 1859, his obituary noted, "he was admitted to be the champion of the world, and never lost any great match he was engaged in."  Robertson was also the first person to ever break 80 on the old course at St. Andrews. Today he is considered by many to be the first professional golfer.

As a ballmaker, Robertson marked his golf balls "Allan" and nothing more. Everybody knew who Allan was. His fame as a player and his skill as a ballmaker was known far and wide.

This Allan feather ball was used very little if at all. Most of the Allan name is still there with the exception of the opening A.  The "28" weight/size of the ball is clearly written in ink. A closeup exam of the writing will reveal that Allan was quite detailed in how he wrote the 28 on the ball, using two strokes with the pen to make each number in an elegant fashion.

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 cock and hen feathers, which is what Tom Morris identified the feathers as when asked about it in 1900.  (Golf Illustrated, 7 Dec. 1900: 204). 

Finely crafted, this Allan featherball is a historical treasure.


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