One of the world's finest private collections of early golf clubs is to be offered by Bonhams in Los Angeles on 29 March. The Roberto Family Trust Golf Collection, comprising more than 130 clubs that span the history of clubmaking from spur irons of the 17th century to spoons and playclubs of the late 19th century. The collection is estimated at US$700,000-1,000,000.
Will Roberto, curator of the Roberto Family Trust Golf Collection, started collecting golf memorabilia in the 1960s and over the past 50 years, he has gradually refined the collection to concentrate on his passion for early golf clubs. In his native USA, and during his many trips to Scotland and England, he hunted down rarities by a combination of detective work and simply knocking on people's doors.
Among the many treasures from the Roberto Family Trust Golf Collection is a left handed, child's or light spur toe iron, circa 1690-1700, is one of the oldest and rarest. Estimated at US$75,000-100,000, it is one of only eight such clubs known to exist, most of which are in institutional collections. Missing a shaft, now replaced, the toe iron lay overlooked in a box of tools for 50 years. It is mentioned in the definitive The World's Greatest Golf Collections for its extreme age and rarity and for the opportunity it provides to appreciate the craftsmanship of the blacksmith who made the head and the hosel (the socket of the head into which the shaft fits).
Other important clubs in Roberto Family Trust Golf Collection include:
• A Bowmaker's long nose play club circa 1750-1780. Estimated at US$40,000-60,000, the club is one of the oldest of its type known, bowmakers were commissioned to craft wooden headed clubs, it also features in The World's Greatest Golf Collections.
• The Duke of Atholl's Heavy Iron, circa 1780. This blacksmith made club, which carries an estimate of US$20,000-25,000, weighs 24.1 ounces. It has an exceptionally large face and imposing hosel, and the original sheepskin grip is inscribed in ink, 'Heavy iron'. The club was the property of John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl (1755-1830), whose family seat was Blair Castle in Perthshire, Scotland, the Duke commanded the only private army in Europe, the Atholl Highlanders. He would have used this heavy iron to get himself out of the most difficult lies.
• Willie Dunn's long nose putter by Hugh Philip circa 1830, estimated at US$ 25,000-40,000. An attached typed brown paper label states, 'This club was used by old Willie Dunn in 1859 when Willie Park, sen., beat Willie Dunn at Prestwick for £100.0.0.' (This is equivalent to £11,2000 or US$13,500 today). As Will Roberto has pointed out "This club comes directly from the Dunn family and it is very seldom to get such strong written provenance..."
• A long nose wooden headed putter circa by John Dickson 1780. Dickson from Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland, is one of the earliest recorded club makers. One of only three known Dickson clubs from the late 18th century, the club was re-gripped and re-shafted in the 1889s by the same firm. It is estimated at US$12,000-18,000.
• A square toe iron circa 1770-1780 by an unknown maker, from the famous 'Woking Collection' of Woking Golf Club, Surrey, England. It is estimated at US$25,000-35,000.
The sale also features a cold painted bronze of amateur champion Johnny Laidlay circa 1895, estimated at US$40,000-60,000. Laidlay was a Scottish amateur golfer who invented the most popular golf grip used today. Although the grip is credited to Harry Vardon, it was in fact Laidlay who came up with the idea. British Amateur Champion in 1989 and 1891, Laidlay won over 130 amateur medals during his playing career, representing Scotland every year from 1902 to 1911. He has been called the 'last of the gentlemen golfers'.
Bonhams Golf Specialist, Kevin McGimpsey said, "The Roberto Family Trust's outstanding collection of early golf clubs and other golf memorabilia ranks among the top five in the world. It represents a lifetime of enthusiasm and connoisseurship and provides an unrivalled opportunity to acquire pieces of great historical significance and rarity."
Will Roberto said, "Putting together this collection has been a wonderful, absorbing hobby which has given me decades of pleasure. The time has now come for a new generation of collectors to enjoy these fascinating objects."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. Today, the auction house offers more sales than any of its rivals. The main salerooms are in London, New York and Hong Kong. Sales are also held in the UK in Knightsbridge and Edinburgh; in the US, in San Francisco and Los Angeles; in Europe, in Paris and Stuttgart and in Sydney, Australia. Bonhams also has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of forthcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, please visit bonhams.com