William Currie, Jr.
During the early 1980s, golfers thought wooden clubs were undergoing a revolutionary change. At the time, woods made from metal were taking the market by storm, primarily the result of the Taylor Made Golf Company's metalwoods introduced in 1979. Prior to this, most golfers had never heard of a legitimate driver or fairway wood made of metal. Metalwoods were seen only as the cheap, ugly clubs you rented at a driving-range if you were unlucky. To golfers in the 1970s, the concept of a stylish and well-made metalwood seemed like a space age idea. However, it was not futuristic at all-such metalwoods date back to the 1890s.
The first patent for a metalwood, a British patent (No.
5741) dated April 3, 1891, was issued to William Currie Jr., an india rubber
manufacturer (W. Currie & Co., Caledonian Rubber Works) in Edinburgh,
Scotland. According to his patent, Currie wanted to construct a brass clubhead
filled with elastic material exposed on the face:
The head is made of [metal], preferably brass, hollowed or chambered out into one or more compartments into which is placed and secured a filling of elastic composition. The filling that I prefer to use is a compound of one or more of the following substances, namely: india-rubber, balata or guttapercha or mixture of them, may be vulcanized in the manner well known to manufacturers of these materials. I would, however, remark that the materials may be used in an unvulcanized state if desired. I prefer, when making up the filling composition to add one or more such substances as ground or granulated cork, sawdust, wood pulp, rags, asbestos, or the like . . . .Currie specified a socket neck joint for his metalwood:
The filling composition may be fixed in the metal head by cement or by forming projections or spikes on the interior surfaces of the head, round which the composition would be run, or yet again by forming grooves in or upon such interior surfaces.
I propose to use the method which is at present used by all golf club makers for fixing on cleek and iron heads namely by means of a socket which forms part of the head.Currie's ideas came together in the club pictured. The brass head is filled with a mixture of gutta percha. Two screws extend into the head from the sole in order to provide projections on the interior of the head. The neck joint is a perfect example of an iron hosel, complete with nicking and a pin located in the proper position.
The clubhead shown here, the only known example, matches
the clubhead illustrated in Currie's patent, complete with a protruding
gutta percha face. The shaft is stamped "R. Forgan & Son \ St. Andrews,"
as they probably shafted this head. The only metalwood produced prior to
Currie's, a single example made as an experiment, was reportedly made in
Some eight years ago the first metal-headed driver was made, at the suggestion of a customer, by Messrs. Anderson, of Edinburgh, durability being the primary intention. This head was made of sheet iron, and the difficulty and expense of production were quite sufficient to prevent any repetition of the experiment. Some years after this, another Edinburgh maker [Currie] tried gunmetal for the same purpose, with doubtful success; and this was followed by the use of a white metal alloy of aluminium, this last idea being patented by Mr. Brougham (Golf, 27 Dec. 1895: 339).The gutta percha used in the face of Currie's metalwood is the same basic material used during Currie's day to make golf balls. In 1898 gutta percha was described as follows:
All guttapercha comes from the Straits Settlements, Cochin China, Cambodia, etc., and it arrives here [the U.K.] in a very adulterated condition. As it comes from the tree the gum is of a cream colour, but it is largely mixed with resin; white bark, gravel, and other impurities are added by the natives to give it weight.Gutta percha could not only become black, as mentioned above, it could be made red by using additives. Golf ball makers in the early 1890s offered both red and black gutta percha balls. In the advertising section of the October 9, 1891 issue of Golf, Peter Paxton announces "Red and Black Gutta kept in Stock." Usually, though, when gutta percha was used as an insert, it was black. One advantage in using red gutta percha, however, was that the clubmaker did not have to wait months for the insert to cure before sending a club out the door:
It reaches the manufacturers in a dry state, and the first process is to cleanse it of these impurities. By the time the pure gum is arrived at, the guttapercha becomes black, owing to oxidation. According to the thoroughness of this cleansing process is the quality of the guttapercha [sic]. After being well mixed by the use of masticators, it is made into long sticks, and the balls are moulded from these. The best balls are made from the pure gum, without any admixture whatever, but less pure qualities are used for cheaper purposes.
A ball is at its best six months after being made and painted, and may be said to deteriorate from that point. . . . Of course the best guttapercha will keep in condition the longest time, but even the best becomes hard and brittle in time from exposure to air (Golfing and Cycling Illustrated, 10 Feb. 1898: 11).
The question is often asked and debated, which is best-black or red golf balls to play with? And, while some golfers have a preference for the red as being more durable, still the majority of players hold by the black, soft and easily destroyed in shape as it often is by hard hitting. There is not the least doubt that this evil is caused by the want of seasoning or hardening of the gutta, after the manufacture. The heating of the gutta percha in warm water and consequent immersion in cold water after the moulding process, are the means of a certain absorption of moisture, which however carefully it may have been "cupped" or moulded, is only to be eradicated or cured by two to three months drying in a fixed temperature, neither too high nor too low. The red gutta ball, on the other hand, by having an admixture of foreign substances is less porous, and so less liable to take moisture into its composition in the manufacturing process; and though not capable of flying quite so farby reason of its composition is, for a new ball more to be depended upon in keeping the shape, and not hacking. When a golfer can rely on getting a thoroughly well seasoned black "gutta" to play with, it is by far the better ball, as regards its keeping shape and styling properties (The Golfer, 25 Aug. 1894: 12).Following Currie's patent, six more patents were granted for metalwoods filled with gutta percha (among other materials) at the face. A brief list of these patents follows:
James McHardy and Frank Bryan's British patent (No. 18,555) dated October 4, 1893, provides a steel or "steel equivalent" shell, open at the face, wherein gutta percha or wood is affixed; a splice neck attaches the head to the shaft.
Ralph H.C. Nevile's British patent (No. 22,157) dated November 20, 1893, describes an aluminum or alloy socket head wood. A recess in the back of the head may be filled with wood, cork, iron, etc. The face is preferably solid, but provisions in the patent allow an insert of leather or gutta percha to be attached to the face or set in a recess in the face if desired.
Malcolm Drummond's British patent (No. 5,368) dated March 14, 1894, provides for a metal head formed as a shell enclosed on all sides except the face-wood, gutta percha, celluloid, etc. to be inserted therein.
Thomas A. Vesey's British patent (No. 5,783) dated March 20, 1894, describes a hollow metal head, preferably steel, open at the front and filled with gutta percha, vulcanite, or other plastic-type material. This patent also mentions the possibility of using a regular wood shaft or a shaft having a metal core covered by wood or another substance such as india rubber (see p. 279).
Frank B. Felton's U.S. patent (No. 723,258) dated March 24, 1903, provides a rubber shell filled with gutta percha inside a metal head and a gutta percha striking-face.
Charles T. Thompson and Frank P. Mitchell's British patent (No. 27, 509) dated January 25, 1906, and their U.S. patent (No. 838,284) dated December 11, 1906, describe a hollow aluminum head filled with resilient material such as gutta percha, rubber, or rubber mixed with feathers. Circular openings across the face, crown, sole, and back of their metal clubhead were to be filled with interior material .
Of these six additional patents for metalwoods possibly filled with gutta percha, the author knows of three that were produced: Drummond's, Vesey's, and Thompson/Mitchell's. Metalwoods with gutta percha faces, however, are extremely difficult to locate.
A few final comments about William Currie Jr.:
In 1877 Currie received a British patent, (No. 4,838) dated December 20, that covered making either golf balls or the cores of golf balls from indiarubber blended with ground cork, ground leather, or vegetable fibers. The surface of Currie's ball was to be textured by lining the ball mold with canvas. Currie's was the first patent to cover only a golf ball. Two prior patents that discussed making golf balls- H. Nicholson's June 18, 1860, British patent (No. 1,478) and D. Stewart's August 31, 1876, British patent (No. 3,428)-also applied to making balls for other sports such as cricket, rounders, and tennis.
The same day that Currie applied for his metalwood patent (No. 5,741) he also applied for a patent to cover a combination wood head. This patent (No. 5,731) calls for "a vulcanite, celluloid, or wood head made hollow or with a portion of the face cut away . . . and replaced by an elastic composition" such as india rubber, gutta percha, or balata. The portion cut away could be located between the face and the back of the head and the resilient material placed therein would be visible at the top and bottom of the head. Currie also mentions the possibility of applying a metal faceplate to the front of the resilient material. No examples are known.
(This web layout does not follow the book layout. Locations and quality of clubs do not match the highly detailed printed pages.)