The feathery golf ball was made prior to 1860, and was believed to have first been made as early as the 15th century. It was made from a leather covering stuffed with feathers. The feathers, plucked from a goose or a chicken, were first boiled to improve their malleability. The leather cover was cut from two round pieces of leather for the top and bottom, joined by a rectangular piece for the middle. It was stitched together (with the stitching on the inside) leaving a small aperture for the stuffing. It was then soaked in a mixture of alum and water. Once boiled, the feathers (the volume of which was said to be enough to fill a top hat) were stuffed inside the cover, which was stitched up and left to dry. As the drying took place, the feathers expanded and the leather cover contracted, leaving a small, hard ball about the same weight and size as a modern golf ball. The feathery ball was then hammered into roundness, painted white and stamped with the maker's name.

It was a skilled and painstaking business making these balls, and even the most expert ball-maker could only make three or four balls a day. This made each ball very expensive, and as a feathery ball had a very short playing life - being made from leather and hit by an iron club, not to mention wet weather making it soggy - several balls would have been used in every round of golf. As a result, golf became a 'gentleman's' game, and great ball-makers such as William Gourlay, or Tom Morris, both of Scotland, were much in demand. Other well-known feathery ball-makers were John Sharp and Allan Robertson.

Feathery golf balls were superceded in the 1850's by balls made from gutta-percha. Original feathery balls are now extremely rare, and can fetch prices at auction of up to US$14,300!


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