A LONG-NOSED PUTTER STAMPED "A.D." - ATTRIBUTED TO ANDREW DICKSON, 18th CENTURY
Additionally stamped beneath the sheepskin grip with earlier, possibly original, owner's initials "J_J_"
Exceptionally broad and bulbous head
Ram's horn insert to leading edge of sole
Lead back weight
Thick ash shaft
1901 Glasgow International Exhibition sticker with manuscript inscription (ink fading)
TGC p. 20; TCA p. 37-41, 549; TCA 2 Vol. 1 p. 33-39
This exceptional long nosed putter, stamped "A.D," "J. McCaul" and "J_J_", dates back to the 1700's. It is one of four examples known that were stamped "AD" and it is believed to have been made by Andrew Dickson.
The 1901 Glasgow Exhibition
In 1901, this "A.D." club was exhibited at the prestigious Glasgow International Exhibition (GIE), which highlighted the oldest relics of all things Scottish. The shaft bears its original "GIE 1901" paper label indicating that the club was part of the historic golf memorabilia display, which also featured artifacts from the R&A. There are only a handful of known clubs in private hands that were exhibited during this landmark event.
The Club - 18th Century Clubmaking Characteristics
The AD putter has numerous characteristics that are distinguishing to clubs made in the 1700's. For example, putters made in the late 1700s have elongated heads that are broader than those made in the early 1800s, and typically the broader the head, the earlier the club. The AD putter head dwarfs every known club made by known 19th century long nose clubmakers and nearly all from the 18th century clubmakers as well. Putter heads in the 19th century generally measure 2" wide with 1" deep faces. The huge head of the AD club is a full 2 1/2" wide and 1 1/4" in face depth, much larger than a circa 1790 David Cossar putter on display at the James River Country Club, a similar red keel putter (circa 1775) that sold at auction in 1994, two McEwan putters bearing the first generation "McEwan" stamp (circa 1800), a Neilson putter (circa 1775) at the Royal Sydney Golf Club, and a handful of unmarked circa 1775-1800 putters on display at Royal Blackheath, Bruntsfield Golf Club and in a private collection.
The AD shaft is also made out of ash. Ash shafts were prominent in the 1700s but eclipsed by the more flexible hickory shafts in the 1800s. Measuring 7/8" wide at the top end of the shaft, 13/16" under the base of the grip, and 1/2" a the top of the whipping (which are the same measurements reported for the shaft in an early 1700 long spoon that sold privately in 2004), the shaft in the AD putter is thicker and has a distinctly large taper that is common to clubs made in the 1700s but not in the 1800s. The shaft is hand hewn and has two knots located half way between head and grip, like a few clubs from the 1700s but none from the 1800s (knots are not found in 19th century shafts as by then clubmakers were using only clear wood for shafts, having long since learned that a wood shaft is prone to cracking and breaking at the knot.) The splice on this club measures 5 1/2" long, as compared to the typical 4" splice clubs made in the 1800s. The neck measures 7/8" across at the tip of the scare, as compared to the 5/8" measurement found on all 19th century clubs.
The AD shaft is stamped "J_J_", identical to a stamp found on an 18th century round-toe, ash-shafted heavy iron which recently changed hands between two of the top private collectors.
Differing from the 17th (if not 16th) century Troon woods and those modeled in their style, which have 4 pegs in the horn, extended backweights and pointed toe, the AD putter has 3 pegs in the horn, lead relatively flat to the head, and a round toe. The first two characteristics are shared by other clubs from the 18th century. For example, on July 14, 2000, Sotheby's offered "An extremely rare early long nosed wood circa 1750" with a £70,000 - £90,000 estimate as lot 575. This 41" driving putter also had a thick, well-tapered ash shaft, and its rounded head and slightly protruding lead were similar to that of the AD putter. At 1 3/16" and 2 3/8", its face depth and head width was just slightly smaller than that of the AD putter.
The one aspect of this AD putter that remains an enigma is the huge, round, bulbous nature of the head which does not fit into the natural evolution of the head shape that can be seen from the Troon woods to those made by James McEwan and the Cossars, to those made by Tom Morris and Robert Forgan or any other 19th century clubmaker. Aside from the AD putter, there are only four remaining putters that were clearly made before the end of the 18th century. As the first written reference to a putter is not found until 1690 (a letter of that date mentions a "short putting club" see The Chronicles of Golf, p. 147), putters were not a mainstay of the 17th and 16th century golfers arsenal, most likely because there was little need for a flat-faced putter. Three-hundred years ago, what we call a "green" today was simply the small worn area extending just a few feet around the hole. But as circumstances warranted at some point in the years prior to 1690, a clubmaker devised a new "specialty" club-a putting club-to replace the play club which served double duty by holing out. Early putters could have been made with a huge, broad head in order to load it with lead, the early clubmaker initially thinking the obvious, that more lead would help propel the feather ball forward on the often rough and uneven terrain. Despite the clubmaker's best intentions, putters were seldom used until the 1800s. Hoyle's Games Improved published in 1790 lists six clubs as "used by good players," and the putter is not mentioned.
The Dickson Family
In the game of golf, the name "Dickson" goes back to the 17th century. A 1629 complaint filed with the Privey Council of Scotland identifies William Dickson and Thomas Dickson as golf ball makers. "The Craft of Shoemakers in Canongate, Edinburgh" minute book lists Johnne Dicksonne, William Dicksonne, and Andro Dicksoun as "Gowff Ball Makers" between 1639 and 1649. In Golf In The Making (p. 120), Henderson and Stirk refer to a "Leith Church" document that identifies three clubmakers named John Dickson: John Dickson (1678-1729), the father of John Dickson (1710-1755), the father of John Dickson (1735-1787) who was "buried in Bakers ground '6 paces South from the middle of the Bakers Window'.
The Dickson family's clubmaking prowess was even rhapsodized the 1743 printed poem The Goff, wherein Thomas Mathison refers to a competitor's club as made with the "finest ash shaft" and having a head that was "Pond'rous with lead, and fac'd with horn." Mathison then states this club was "the work of "Dickson, who in Leitha dwells and in the art of making clubs excels."
The Dicksons were also associated with royalty. The May 1792 issue of Scotts Magazine (p. 223) refers to an account of the Duke of York (who later became King James II) playing golf on the "Links of Leith with some of the nobility and gentry" in 1681-1682 . This account then quotes "Mr. Tytler of Woodhouselee", as follows: "I remember in my youth to have often conversed with an old man, named Andrew Dickson, a golf club maker, who said, that, when a boy, he used to carry the Duke's golf clubs, and to run before him and announce where the balls fell."
The McEwan Connection
Born in 1747, James McEwan himself began working as a clubmaker in 1770 only two miles down the road from Leith, in Edinburgh. As he founded and built what became the longest established clubmaking business in the long nose era, James would have known other clubmakers in his area as well as the reputations of the earlier local clubmakers such as the earlier Dicksons, whose work he needed to match or exceed-if not on occasion repair. No doubt this knowledge would have been shared with his son Peter (who took over the business after James died in 1800) and passed down to his grandson Douglas (born in 1809 and head of the business from 1834 until his own death in 1886).
In 1896, Golf printed a picture of eight antique clubs the McEwan family had collected over the years. One of the clubs was described as a "spoon with unvarnished apple head, ash shaft, list grip, written on the sole, "Made by Dickson of Leith, in the year 1700," the article notes that the handwriting on not just that club but each of the clubs belonged to Douglas McEwan. Another one of the eight old clubs was described as a "driver with a very small thin head, apparently apple, and a hickory shaft, list grip, stamped AD."
In the June 7, 1901 issue of Golf Illustrated (p. 213) Dr. J.G. McPherson "whose ample store of golf knowledge frequently enriches the columns of Golf Illustrated" is quoted as stating "McEwan the club-maker of Bruntsfield links, had shown me a club which Andrew Dickson received from the Duke of York (afterwards King James II) . . . Andrew was a fore caddie to his Highness on the links of Leith, and a great favourite. He excelled in the art of making clubs, being considered better than William Mayne, the club-maker to James I. This club does not differ much from the best modern club. It has the horn and lead in the same parts of the head, and is 'skared' similarly. The shaft is made of split ash, now sawn, as is now done.... [and] the tapering of the shaft is well executed, stiff in the top half, and gradually suppling to the 'whipping.'"
The "AD" Stamp
The catalogue for the 1911 Glasgow International Exhibition (GIE, p. 901) lists a driver stamped "AD" that was reported as part of a case of clubs and balls and described as being the work of Andrew Dickson: "What is probably the oldest of the clubs is marked 'A.D.' the initials of Andrew Dickson, a clubmaker of Leith, who, according to Tytler of Woodhouselee, had acted as forecaddie to the Duke of York when the future James VII played on Leith Links in 1681-1682."
As shown above, at least two clubs marked "A.D." were referenced in print around a century ago: The McEwan-owned driver from the 1901 GIE and the 1911 GIE driver (it is not believed that these were the same clubs, as the McEwan AD driver was listed on loan from the McEwans in 1901 and nothing was listed as lent by them in 1911). Both AD clubs easily date at least back to the 1700s. The AD driver in the 1911 GIE was accounted the oldest in a case of old clubs and as "one of the oldest clubs in existence" when described later in the September 14, 1911 issue of Golf.
A play club stamped "AD" was discovered more recently. Dating prior to the 1800's, it features a list grip and two knots on the toe of the head. The club sold privately in 2001 for $380,000. This club is finished in brown keel, a very distinctive old paint, which suggests a middle or later 18th century date and is also found on approximately a dozen clubs including two thistle-stamped McEwan clubs made only by James McEwan between 1770 and 1800. The bulk of these clubs also have three pegs in the horn, like this club.
An alternative explanation to this attribution is that the AD initials are those of an owner because there were other golfers living during the 18th and 19th century whose initials are also AD. As initials are but one or two letters, they are open to discussion. In the 1880's, clubmakers marked clubs with their names, not initials, so that initialed clubs so that clubs from this era with initials would probably identify an owner. However, in the 1700s Andrew Dickson was the lone clubmaker reported to have marked his work with his initials. And it apparently was an established practice for a clubmaker to do so in the late 1600s as a letter written in 1692 to John MacKenzie tells of a set of clubs made for him that were marked "with the letters G.M. as the trades man's proper signe for himselfe, and JMK for your marke" (Chronicles of Golf p. 149.) The AD on this club is not found on just one club, but, as detailed, the initials are found on four clubs all from unrelated sources, and all clubs dating to the 1700s.
The McCaul Stamp
This putter head also bears the stamp "Jas McCaul," which is not original to this club, as none of the original finish is found in those letters (as it is in the A.D.), and the letters have much sharper edges than the worn A.D. edges. James McCaul is identified in The Reverend John Kerr's 1896 work, The Golf Book of East Lothian as a member of the Tantallon Club in North Berwick and as one of the founding members of the New Lufness Club established in 1894. McCaul is also named in the 1909 edition of Who's Who in Golf as a member of eight different clubs.
It is evident that McCaul, a well-to-do and avid golfer, was something of a Victorian golf collector who recognized the importance of this implement, stamping it with his name for his collection and for posterity.
Dating from well back in the 1700s, this putter attributed to Andrew Dickson is the largest of its type and among the most beautifully crafted and important long nosed clubs ever to be offered at auction. Please refer to page 193, lot 346, for a larger photograph of this putter.