Bargains to be had at New York auction

Updated: October 30, 2002, 5:33 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Golfers' diamonds in the rough -- Scottish balls, hickory-shafted clubs and other antiques from the game -- drew $298,000 in sales at an auction featuring two of the foremost private collections in the United States.

But the bidding this week at a gallery on the Upper East Side was often below appraisers' estimates, reflecting the current soft market for golf collectibles.

Generating high interest among dealers and hobbyists was a 19th century set of seven clubs used for many years by the great Scottish-American course architect Donald Ross. The clubs went for a hammer price of $9,000 to a Midwest collector whose name wasn't released.

A purple Territorial Globe Bramble ball in mint condition also went for $9,000. With a 19.5 percent buyer's premium added by the auctioneers, both the rare ball and the Ross clubs sold at $10,755, according to Louis Webre of William Doyle Galleries.

An A.T. Alexander featherie ball made in Scotland in the 1840s sold for $8,500, or $10,157.50 with premium added. Both balls were purchased by a ''collector in the Pacific Northwest,'' Webre said.

A New England dealer bought a collection of golf magazines from the early 20th century, The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated, also for $8,500 hammer price, $10,157.50 premium -- more than 10 times the presale estimate. The auctioneers called it an ''extraordinary source of reference, particularly for dating early golf balls.''

A 1998 oil portrait of Tiger Woods in four poses -- autographed by the superstar -- sold for $3,286.25, including the premium. That price was outdone by a 1901 colored lithograph of a mixed foursome on the links, sold for $4,481.25, including premium.

Successful bids on memorabilia from the Harlan S. Atwood and R.J. Hartbrodt collections were generally lower than appraisals. Only 320 of the 529 offered lots were sold, most for under $1,000.

Bob Gowland of Cheshire, England, a leading international golf appraiser who cosponsored the auction, called the bidding ''cautious and selective'' and attributed it to the world economic downturn. But he was pleased about more new buyers placing bids.

At an auction in Miami in March 2001, Gowland's firm sold a mid-18th century play club for $132,000 hammer price. The top-priced item at his auction last July in England was a watercolor of ''Old Tom Morris, St. Andrews,'' from 1909, sold for 13,000 pounds.

Atwood, a Connecticut stockbroker, gathered golf memorabilia for 50 years before his death in 1985. The collection sold by his family included the Ross set, stamped ''D.J. Ross.'' It featured four irons and three woods made in the 1890s when golf was in its infancy in America.

Hartbrodt, a Florida collector, offered rare golf balls and decorative golf ball boxes from Scotland, England and the United States, from 1898 through the 1950s.

A 2½-minute film from 1904 -- described as one of the earliest sports films in existence -- showed Harry Vardon and James Braid in a match in Edinburgh, Scotland. It also failed to sell at auction.

Publishing and reproduction rights from Britain were estimated at $12,000, but bidding didn't exceed $7,000 and the film was held back.

The nearly five-hour auction in a bidding room off the gallery's main showroom was spirited and fast-paced.

A rare putter in chromed brass became the highest-priced single club, going for a hammer price of $7,000. A Tom Morris club with golden beech head brought $4,000.

Many balls and clubs with renowned linage went for bargain prices. A set of R.T. Jones Spalding tournament clubs -- four woods, eight irons, sand wedge, putter -- plus brown hide bag fetched $239.00.

Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press