My next auction will have multi major winner David Graham's US & UK Players badges and many similar money clips - all come with a letter of authentication
Old golfers? tales
Many people in the antiques and collectibles businesss, and plenty of golfers I?m sure, will have heard stories about old golf balls and clubs fetching extraordinary prices at auction. These tales are not without foundation - in 1999, Christie?s sold a late eighteenth century thick-bladed putter for £103,000. That club had been the property of the Royal Perth Golfing Society, so its provenance would have been beyond reproach. In buying one club, the new owner had also bought a piece of another.
Similarly, the right balls have skied in the saleroom. The most sought after is the ?feathery? - a leather ball from the mid-nineteenth century, looking rather like a miniature baseball and tightly packed with, reputedly, a top-hat full of feathers boiled down until they resembled something that an owl might cough up. These have been known to make in excess of £10,000. And it?s not just the older types that have made the money. In 1995, Phillip?s (now Bonhams) in Chester sold an early twentieth century novelty golf ball with a surface pattern like a globe for £10,500. However, that ball?s value was dented when another crawled out from the rough and subsequently sold for just £1,500 - though the latter was cracked, neither had the cachet of being unique.
Another ball of mythical status is the ?gutty?. Introduced in the late nineteenth century, the gutty was the first composite ball that could be formed in a mould or press. It was so named because it was made from gutta-percha - coagulated but otherwise unprocessed latex. But even clean examples can struggle to make it into the hundreds, and certainly not the thousands that some raconteurs would have us believe.
Golfiana (sickly but true) is a very wide market indeed, with the supply of core items being plentiful. A lifelong player in the nineteenth century will have owned a succession of clubs, as hickory shafts split or as innovations were introduced. So today?s collector might focus on one club such as the putter, or rare curiosities such as water mashies (comb-faced clubs for playing out of puddles) and rut irons (crowbar-shaped for playing out of cart tracks). Or golfing books. Or tees or club scorecards.
As with cricket, there is a strong crossover market into art, silverware, ceramics, postcards and cigarette cards - the value of a Royal Doulton or similar tobacco jar being quadrupled if it depicts a golfing scene, for example.
The market today is a direct result of the headline saleroom results of the eighties and nineties, and all the better supplied and informed by them. While it would be naïve to think that those results will have teased every hickory shafted golf club from every stair cupboard, shed or attic, the expectation of finding prize items at jumble or boot sales is a lot lower than it was twenty years ago. And all auction room sales, whether headline or baseline, have helped dealers and collectors alike to put realistic values on most items coming onto the market.
Why, then, did 63 lots (of 161) fail to sell in Christie?s (South Kensington) 2002 annual sale? Well, the average sale price of under £700 is another clue - there is no longer the same quantity of hidden treasures out there. So Christie?s, like Sotheby?s and Bonhams, sometimes have to set their sights a little lower in order to sustain specialist sales such as golfing. Their general London saleroom policies of discouraging the entry of lots worth less than £1000 would make golfing and several other specialist sales very slim indeed. And, to make up the numbers, they can all be tempted to permit clients to place overly optimistic reserves on some of the items entered.
The Net scores
The Internet is awash with dealers in golf memorabilia. One specialist, Graham Rowley of Stourbridge (West Midlands), has a creditable approach among the growing number of web-only auctioneers. He insists on holding all items until the auction closes. He does not accept entries based on photographs and descriptions from others - seeing each item in order to guarantee authenticity and availability.
Graham has been in the golfing memorabilia business for 25 years, four years online and a little over two years on oldgolfauctions.com - his own auction website. Now running at six auctions a year, each auction lasting two weeks and comprising around 500 lots, ninety percent of all sales go to USA. Access to a worldwide audience and realistic valuations leave fewer than ten percent of items unsold. The success rate is due to no shortage of entries (up to 3000 per year), exposure to the world market and low overheads enabling acceptance of lower value items. But that is not to say that the auctions are focused at the lower end - world record prices in the thousands of pounds have recently been achieved for books, medals, cigarette cards, programmes and postcards.
What?s hot at the moment
According to Graham Rowley, the market is strongest for items such as the above, especially pre-1870 medals and pre-1880 long-nosed clubs plus, in vogue at the moment, fine and attributable early featheries. The right signatures can also quadruple the value of printed matter such as programmes.
Christie?s (South Kensington) are holding their 2003 annual sale on 8 July - information and catalogues on 020 7581 7611. Old Golf Auctions (www.oldsportsauction.com and 01384 261616) have a two-week web auction scheduled 4 to 5 times each year
1 Golfiana is no laughing matter - the cover of Christie?s 2002 Golfing Memorabilia Sale catalogue featured a signed William Heath Robinson drawing of under-dressed golfers. Although a crossover between sport and art enhances the value of most pictures, this advertisement for Sensola Underwear (mid-estimate £10,000) failed to sell.
2 It?s not just the golf balls themselves that fetch the money - against an estimate of £1250, this tin sold for £2350 (inc premium).
3 This ?feathery? sold for £2820. The insciption and signature dated 1849, ?the last year of the feather ball?, made this a particularly desirable example.
4 Not so for this ?gutty? (mid-est £125), which failed to sell in its poor condition.
5 Being unusual does not guarantee value. This copper-headed cylindrical putter was one of ten old clubs in a single lot, the ten realising only £705!
6 Currently in vogue - this long-nosed playclub, probably from the late 19th century, sold for £3055 against an estimate of £1500
Investing Your Money
If you've been investing in the world's stock markets over the course of the last two years, you're likely to be licking your wounds and shoving whatever resources you have left firmly under the mattress. However, whilst traditional investments have fared pretty poorly over the recent past, you might be interested to learn that what have come to be known as 'alternative' investments have performed rather better ? considerably better, in fact, in some cases.
Take a look at a few examples. Over the last 10 years, the sterling returns from a selection of alternative investments were as follows (source: artmarketreport.com, December 2012):
o art ? up 59%
o classic cars ? up 22%
o English coins ? up 27%
o teddy bears ? up 169%
o Bordeaux wine ? up 188%
o 18th century furniture ? up 204%
So as you can see, there's ample reward for those brave enough to stray from the path of convention. But frankly, I can't see myself collecting teddy bears, and I'm not sure how long the collection of fine claret would stay safely tucked away in the cellar ? particularly over those long winter nights.
But there's another form of alternative investment which has not only shown similarly spectacular returns over the years but would also allow you to satisfy further your addiction for the world's greatest sport: golf memorabilia.
Until the late 1970s, the collecting of golf memorabilia did not exist as a phenomenon. However, equipment relating to other classic sports, such as cricket and fishing, had by then become recognised by the major auction houses as 'collectible', and it was on the back of these sales that golf antiques were first sold. By the late 1980s (largely driven by the formation of the US and British Golf Collectors' Societies), the market was firmly established and growing strongly, fuelled by the growing number of collectors and reports in the mainstream press of world record prices being achieved. As we entered the 1990s, the boom in golf collecting very closely resembled the boom in the sport itself about 100 years ago!
Before considering the returns that one might have achieved by investing in golf memorabilia over recent years, we should probably pause to consider what sorts of item one might have bought. Broadly speaking, the highest value items have tended to fall into the following key categories:
o books ? published in the mid to late 19th century or earlier;
o balls ? feather-filled (pre-1840) or gutta percha (gutty), 1850 to 1900;
o clubs ? specifically the long-nosed variety, pre-1870;
o artwork ? oils and watercolours, pre-1910.
These items have tended to experience significant demand, and therefore a healthy rise in value, for two reasons. First, and most obvious, their age dictates that they are becoming increasingly rare ? extraordinarily rare in some cases. Second, they are highly visual items and collectors derive huge amounts of pleasure from showcasing their purchases attractively in libraries and 'home museums' (wives permitting). In terms of 'fun' investing, it certainly beats the hell out of displaying your share certificates!
So how much might one have made had one enjoyed the foresight to invest in golf memorabilia 10, 20 or even 30 years ago? The table below gives you some indication; it shows the prices achieved for a representative selection of items at various key points in time over the last three or so decades:
Item 1970 1980 1990 2010
The Goff, Thomas Mathison, 1743 1st edition £500 £5,000 £20,000 £80,000
Allan Robertson feather ball £400 £1,500 £8,000 £15,000
Hugh Philp long-nosed play club £600 £2,000 £7,000 £12,500
Harry Rountree golfing scene watercolour, circa 1900 £300 £1,000 £4,000 £15,000
Pretty reasonable returns, I think you'll agree, for 'junk' you're likely to have come across gathering dust in your grandparents' attic.
So, if you can see yourself getting addicted as much to the history of this great game as to playing the game itself, how do you get started? Well, relatively easily I'm happy to say.
First, buy a decent book on the subject and do some vital background reading. Two good examples are Golf Collectibles (Gilchrist, 2006) and Antique Golf Collectibles (Furjanic, 1999).
Second, join either the US or British Golf Collectors' Societies (you'll find them in the phone book!). Attend a few of the events ? which tend to be as much about playing great courses as they are about collecting great golf memorabilia, and so are great fun ? and you'll be amazed how quickly you'll acquire a good understanding of the market just by talking to fellow collectors. And the annual subs are negligible ? c £30 or $50 a year.
Third, look out for the golf memorabilia auctions run by the leading auction houses: They tend to appear in July, around the time that the Open Championship takes place in Britain. You may also want to consider a Internet-based auction houses (such as my own firm, Old Sport Auctions), which compete with larger rivals on the basis of a more specialist understanding of the market, lower commissions reflecting lower overheads and total convenience (you can bid in real time over the Internet rather than having to physically attend the auction).
Finally, seek the advice of an expert before you commit any large sums of money. Generally speaking, the smaller and more specialist auction houses are more willing (and more able!) to help individual collectors, particularly novices, than the larger firms.
So there you have it. Who said investing can't be fun?