Today sees Dreweatts auctioneers hold its sale of the Norman R Bobins Collection of British sporting prints at its Donnington Priory salerooms near Newbury, Berkshire.

Among the largely hunting, racing and equestrian subjects collected by Chicago banker Bobins over 25 years is a wonderful print of perhaps the best-known picture of a golfer ever painted, and the first British golf engraving.

Commonly called ‘The Blackheath Golfer’, and famously dedicated ‘To the Society of Goffers at Blackheath’ by the painter Lemuel Francis Abbott (c. 1760 – 1802), a fine early example of the classic portrait of William Innes (1760 – 1803) and his caddie is going under the hammer, with an estimate of £6,000-£ 8,000.

Some of you will be familiar with the image, reproduced as it has been countless times over the last 200 years or so: a leading member of the golfing Society that was to become the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, Innes is posed haughtily on the Heath in the uniform of a Captain, Morden College and a windmill in the background. He rests a long-nosed wood over his shoulder and clutches a large feather golf ball in his other hand. Behind him is his caddie, dressed in the pensioner’s uniform of the nearby Greenwich Naval Hospital, carrying a bundle of early clubs under his arm (bags weren’t regularly used until c.1890).

First published in London in 1790, it is difficult to establish categorically the first issue of the mezzotint, though it is extremely rare – perhaps less than 15 are known to exist. The market has been saturated with various reprints and reissues throughout the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th. This is undoubtedly an early pull from engraver Valentine Green’s copper printing plate and appears to be a magnificently rich, velvety impression, in superb condition. It is a view emphatically endorsed by Nick Potter, specialist dealer in sporting prints, pictures and memorabilia, see nickpotter.com. He describes the Bobins print as “the finest impression I have seen”.

In his 30 years in the trade, Nick says he has only handled three, maybe four, truly early examples, making Abbott’s 1812 portrait of Henry Callender, another Blackheath golfer and the nearest to a companion piece, appear relatively common.

According to different accounts, the original oil painting (painted in 1778) was either destroyed with the Blackheath Club’s early records in an 18th century fire, or during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 when mutineers in Lucknow burnt down the house of Innes’ illegitimate grandson, a General in the Indian Army! Which hints at the somewhat mysterious character of the enigmatic sitter – he has been identified as a London merchant and M.P. for Ilchester, an upstanding figure in his community who died without issue; yet some have suggested he was involved in bribery and the slave trade and had nine children out of wedlock!

Also in the sale is a fine large engraving of Charles Lees’ ‘The Golfers, A Grand Match played on St Andrews Links’, together with the very rare key plate, guided at £1,200-£1,800.

Contact Specialist Robert Hall, rhall@bloomsburyauctions.com for more information.