Feather golf ballsBy Mark Chervenka
Feather golf balls
Don't confuse balls from other sports with early golf balls
Genuine 19th century leather covered, feather stuffed golf balls, unmarked, sell for $1,000-$5,000. Similar leather covered balls used in other 19th century sports sell for $5-$25. Which would you like to believe you own?
It's human nature of course to prefer to think you own a "feathery", the name collectors use for the rare feather stuffed golf balls.
Featheries were made by stuffing boiled feathers into a water soaked hand sewn leather shell. As they dried, the leather shrank and the feathers expanded. This made a relatively hard ball that early clubs could hit 150-200 yards.
Making featheries required great skill and many separate steps. Production rarely exceeded four or five balls per day pushing the cost of the balls to a modern equivalent of about $50. The majority of featheries in the market today date to 1800-1850. By mid-19th century, gutta percha began to be used for golf balls.
Key features of a genuine feather ball
Unfortunately, small leather covered balls of similar size were also used in 19th century sports other than golf. These balls often get confused with or are sold for featheries either through ignorance or intent. Here are the key features that identify a genuine feather golf ball:
1) Genuine feather gold balls are made of three pieces of leather–circular top, circular bottom and rectangular middle (Fig. 4). If a ball has fewer or more pieces, it cannot be a genuine feather ball.
2) Stitching is hidden in genuine feather balls (Fig. 2). After the seams were made, the cover was turned inside out before stuffing with feathers. Balls from other sports have exposed stitching (Fig. 1).
3) Authentic feather balls are virtually as hard as modern synthetic golf balls. Small leather covered balls from other sports are almost never as hard and generally give under pressure.
In addition to confusing but genuinely old balls used for other sports, there are also modern replicas and reproductions of feather balls in the market. Apply the same tests listed above to detect and separate the present-day fakes. The pressure test is a particularly good way to detect reproductions that are made with concealed stitches and otherwise have the appearance of age. New balls rarely can duplicate signs of natural wear and aging of a 200-150 year old original. Random, irregular wear should be expected; scratches and scuffs in regularly repeated patterns are signs of artificially applied wear.
Also be alert for early makers' names to be forged with ink stamps on reproduction balls. Genuine feather balls with a maker's name are worth $5,000-$12,000, two to four times the price of unmarked balls.