The Rarest of Finds
The unearthing of two dozen photos of the legendary 'Old' Tom Morris and his peers, which are set to go on sale for over HK$4 million, has wowed golf historians.
For decades, these images gathered dust in a shed while their owner gave pride of place to a set of hickory golf clubs she felt sure were more valuable.
It was only when she attempted to sell the clubs that she learned how wildly off course she was.
While the clubs were virtually worthless, the rare pictures of Open winner 'Old' Tom Morris have been described as the golfing version of Tutankhamen's tomb.
The 24 pictures feature both Old Tom – four-time Open winner in the 1860s – and his son, Young Tom, the game's first true prodigy, who won the title four times on the trot before dying in tragic circumstances, aged 24.
The images were bequeathed to the woman owner's family, friends of Old Tom, after his death in 1908. By the early 1990s, they lay forgotten in her potting shed at her home outside St Andrews.
Then, in 1991, she asked a well-known English collector to look at the clubs with a view to selling them.
When he and an American collector friend, who was in Scotland on holiday, visited her home weeks later, they informed her the clubs were of little value. Disappointed, she remembered the black and white snaps in the shed.
Heading down the garden, they pulled open the wooden door which hadn't been open for years. In one corner they found a group of framed photos sat among a bunch of 19th century terracotta pots and gardening items. The glass on the frames was so dark with dirt and dust they had to wipe it away with a wet rag just to see the image below.
The first image was a head and shoulders portrait of Old Tom himself. Hiding any excitement they felt the collectors carefully wiped each one with the rag and each one was more exciting than the last. Not only were the photos of Old Tom and his son but images of his greatest rivals from the mid-1800s, like first Open champion Willie Park and Allan Robertson, the famous clubmaker who is considered the world's first professional golfer.
Then it got better. Returning to the house, there were even more photos in her attic. All but forgotten, some of the photographs were still in the black funeral frames they had been placed in after his death.
Months of negotiations followed but the two collectors finally bought the collection between them. Over the next decade they were studied and restored. In 2006 the American collector died and his part of the collection returned to the English collector as per their longstanding agreement.
The collection, which first went on public exhibition at the inaugural St Andrews Golf Festival in May, is now on tour for six months – including New York and the Open Championship at Royal Lytham in July – before going on the market. They are expected to garner a price tag of at least £350,000 (HK$4.2 million). For more information visit www.oldgolfimages.com
Written by The Editors
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