One of the cornerstones of golfing literature is coming up for sale on November 17, 2010, at Christie’s South Kensington: Thomas Mathison’s ‘The Goff. An Heroi-Comical Poem. In three cantos’, published in Edinburgh in 1793.
This modest looking 4to volume (227 x 180mm) in a contemporary binding is the first separately printed book devoted entirely to golf. A poem of more than 300 lines, ‘The Goff‘ satirises in a mock heroic style a game of golf played on Leith Links.
The two opponents, identified in the ‘Notes’ at the end, are the Edinburgh bookseller, Alexander Dunning (‘Castalio’) and Thomas Mathison (1721 – 1760) himself (‘Pygmalion’), Edinburgh-born and trained as a legal writer. Mention is made of the ‘Caledonian Chiefs’, the leading golfers of the day and foremost members of Edinburgh’s social and professional elite, who formed the earliest known golf club, the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, in 1744.
The book was first published in 1743, and although stated on the title-page to be the second edition, this is actually the third edition (the true second appearing in 1763). It is difficult to say which should be considered the rarest edition. ESTC records seven holdings of the first edition, but just two of the second, and lists only two locations (National Library of Scotland, and United States Golf Association) for the 1793. This edition contains an addenda in which the names of “the most celebrated goffers left blank in the first [and second] edition” are supplied.
Surprisingly, it was not until the 1820s that another work entirely devoted to the game, ‘The Rules of the Thistle Golf Club’, was published.
A copy of the third edition sold for £21,500 in a Bonham’s Scottish Sale in August 2009. The only copy of the 1743 first ever to have been offered at auction (in later binding) made £17,000 in a 1986 sale at Phillips Chester.
Bound with 10 other pamphlets of mainly Scottish interest, the estimate is £30,000 – £50,000. Contact Julian Wilson (+44 (0)20 7389 2157, email@example.com for more information