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Take a Swing at Golf Collectibles

Collecting Golf Memorabilia

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Take a Swing at Golf Collectibles

Quick Tips for Golf Memorabilia Collectors

- While most all golf memorabilia is collectible, even recent Tiger Woods autographs, aficionados relish finding rare clubs and balls that date back to the mid-1800s.

- Older feather golf balls bearing a manufacturer’s mark are usually more valuable than those without a mark.

- Golf balls made of gutta percha, known as “gutty” balls by collectors, can easily sell for $100 apiece now days, and wooden shaft golf club can be worth several thousand dollars in the right market.

- Reproductions, especially golf balls imitating 1800s models, have infiltrated the secondary market. It’s wise to study up before starting a golf memorabilia collection and to buy from a knowledgeable dealer whenever possible.

A Little Golf History

Did you know that King James II took the drastic measure of banning golf as a sport in 1457? He actually feared the practice of regular golfing would interfere with developing archery skills, the main form of warfare during that time.

Fortunately for those who love the game along with collecting golf memorabilia, The Scottish Golf Society reports their ancestors largely ignored the ban and continued to play. On March 17, 1744, a few golf masters formed the first club called the Company of Gentlemen Golfers and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Search for Collectible Golf Balls

The oldest golf balls, known as feather balls, were used for several hundred years through the 1850s. These balls featured leather cases actually stuffed with feathers, according to the Collector's Encyclopedia of Golf Collectibles by John M. Olman.

"One normally thinks of feathers as soft, however when the ball is filled with enough feathers to fill a top hat, it becomes quite hard," Olman explains in the text. Feather balls with a manufacturer's mark are most desirable and can be worth hundreds or even thousands to the right collector. Even those without a maker's mark will easily bring more than $500.

A new type of golf ball, known as a "gutty" by collectors, was developed around 1848. These balls were made of gutta percha, a hard rubbery substance molded from a milky juice obtained from trees.

Although they were widely used from the late 1800s through about 1910, not many of these true antiques remain on the market today. When collectors do run across one for sale, they'll pay at least $100 to own it in most cases.

From about 1898 through 1930, rubber core golf balls came into favor. These are also collectible, but don't bring the high prices of older balls generally selling in the $25-50 range. Folks just beginning to focus on building their golf collections often buy these examples.

Balls made after 1930, referred to by Olman as "modern" balls, don't hold much value yet with the exception of a few celebrity and novelty balls.

What’s Collectible in Clubs

The most popular golf clubs with today's collector feature wooden shafts. Prices for wood shaft clubs can run as high as several thousand dollars each for just the right model. The most valuable clubs will generally date pre-1890 and will feature either long nose woods or what collectors call "early" irons. Clubs were manufactured with wood shafts through the 1930s.

Prices vary according to whether or not the heads have scoring or marked faces, so it's best to consult a golf collectibles guide for more information if you run across one of these in your attic. You'll likely have a club worth much less, but with so many intricate details affecting values consulting a reference book makes sense.

In contrast to most modern balls, some steel shaft clubs do hold considerable value. Models made prior to 1945 usually have unusual shafts or faces to be considered collectible. Or, they're considered "classics." This select group of high quality classic clubs is sought for actually playing the sport or display purposes.

However, most late 20th century steel shaft clubs just get the designation of "used" equipment and don't hold much value. Another reason to consult a guide on golf collectibles before assuming you've got a $1,000 club lying around the garage.

General Golf Collectibles

Just about anything associated with the game of golf is considered to be collectible, in addition to balls and clubs. Old golf magazines, china decorated with a golfing theme, postcards and even decorative items such as bookends make nice additions to a golf memorabilia collection. In most cases, older is better and more expensive, of course. Items produced around or before 1900 will hold the most desirability and value.

However, looking for clever golf related items made during the 20th century still holds some appeal and can be much more affordable. Large club shaped decanters, miniature liquor bottles shaped like balls and a host of other contemporary golf memorabilia can comprise or balance a collection. And yes, those Tiger Woods autographs really are collectible.

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