Update: The Edward Penfield golf calendar from the year 1900 sold for $5,250.
What you see: The June/July page from an Edward Penfield golf calendar for the year 1900. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $8,000 to $12.000.
The expert: Laura Polucha, a cataloger in Swann’s illustration department.
Who was Edward Penfield, and why would he have been chosen to illustrate this golf-themed calendar? He was probably among the most famous and prolific illustration artists of all time. He’s credited with bringing the phenomenon known as the “poster craze” to America. In 1899 and 1900, he was working as the art editor for Harper’s, which was one of the largest magazine groups in New York, and he was actively taking freelance projects. That’s how the calendar came to be. His association with [publisher] R.H. Russell started in 1896.
Do we know if Penfield played golf? It’s certainly conceivable. It was a very popular activity of the time. But Penfield’s health was known not to be strong, even in his youth. It’s possible he played golf vicariously through these images. He produced his first golf calendar for Russell in 1899, and it was so popular that Russell asked for another one in 1900. That’s the version we have in our auction.
How different are the illustrations in the two Penfield golf calendars? They’re nearly identical except for the cover and the illustration for February.
Why might R.H. Russell have wanted to print and market a golf-themed calendar in 1899 and 1900? What convinced the publisher that it would sell? Golf really started to emerge as a popular pastime in the 1890s, which was a period of profound change in the country. There was more leisure time and more recreational opportunities for the middle class. The calendar would have appealed to players and to the general public.
Do we have any idea how many copies of the golf-themed calendar were printed, and do we know how many survived? I can’t speak to how many were printed in either year, but the 1899 and 1900 calendars are very rare, especially in complete form. This is the only 1900 calendar we could find that appeared at auction in the last 20 years.
So the Penfield golf calendars were subject to being broken up? A lot of dealers would break them up because the illustrations have stand-alone appeal as single sheets.
What details in these illustrations mark them as the work of Edward Penfield? His style is characterized by the use of large, flat shapes, and large, flat areas of color, and simplified figures with bold outlines. The style translates well to the posters he was producing.
Would Edward Penfield have hand-colored the illustrations, or provided a color guide, or would someone at R.H. Russell have chosen the color palette for the calendar? Edward Penfield was heavily involved in the printing process. He really liked rich, multi-color effects. His process began with him sketching the subject and the layout and then making a master drawing in ink, using a pen and a brush to add watercolors. Once he had the master drawing, he laid down tracing paper on top, using a different piece of tracing paper for each color. That would be his maquette [original artwork]. It was not uncommon for him to stay with the pressman until the desired effect was achieved.
What sorts of effects would Penfield attempt? There was the splatter effect, where one plate would cover up some area of another to produce a new hue where they overlap. In the September illustration, you can see in the area at the lower right how the green of the grass lays on top of the yellow and orange of the sand to create a darker green color.
What is the Penfield golf calendar like in person? What doesn’t come over on camera? When examining it with a close eye, you can see the impressions are very deep in the thick stock of the paper. It’s well-colored.
What is your favorite illustration from the Penfield golf calendar, and why? I’m drawn to the November/December page, primarily because of the couple’s fashion. My favorite detail is the hosiery throughout the illustrations, which is fantastic. I’m a fashion historian and a fashion fanatic, and it attracted me. In the early 1900s, there were advances in high-speed knitting technology that lead to a wider availability of hosiery in brighter colors and patterns. Penfield had an eye for patterns. Here, I love the gentleman smoking a pipe and wearing socks with orange interlocking circles at the top. Hers have a bold diamond print. If you look closely, you’ll see her socks don’t quite match. I find that so charming and fashion-forward for the time. She wouldn’t get away with that off the golf course.
Do we know if slightly mismatched socks like hers were actually available for purchase in 1900, or if Penfield had the illustration colored and printed that way simply because he liked it? It’s hard to say for sure. I haven’t heard about a trend for mismatched socks [in 1900]. I have a hunch it was Penfield’s decision.
The thing that jumped out at me in looking through the illustrations is the depictions of the players. There are a few solo men, and a few solo women. The couples are always one man and one woman. The cover shows a mixed group, but we never see a foursome, and we never see an all-male group–not once. Why might Penfield have done this? Was the sport of golf this co-ed in America in 1899 and 1900, or is Penfield just drawing the figures he wants to draw, reality be damned? This is a fascinating observation. What’s really interesting is the February illustration for 1899 showed two men playing together. It was replaced the following year by a man and a woman playing together. It’s interesting that that was swapped out. Women gradually participated in more sports in the 1870s, and by 1900, women commonly played sports like golf and tennis. Though they were barred from entry at many golf courses in the U.S., some did allow women. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Long Island allowed women in 1891 and was so popular, it installed a nine-hole golf course for women two years later. They couldn’t participate in tournaments, as far as I know. It was a genteel pastime, like croquet.
What condition is the Penfield golf calendar in? Overall I’d say it has really good, strong impressions, and the colors are bright and vibrant. It has punch holes at the top, which were placed by the publisher. It has the typical age wear you see in things like this.
Do we know anything about how this particular copy of the Penfield golf calendar managed to survive so well? I’m guessing that calendars are even more vulnerable than posters to being thrown out, because they’re literally date-stamped… Some are so visually appealing, they make you want to keep them around. I have a few calendars I haven’t parted with. It speaks to the enduring appeal of the images.
This question might be a little odd, and please call me out if I’m wrong. But it looks like the man in the January illustration and the woman in the March/April illustration appear together, as a couple, in the November/December illustration… do you see what I see? I agree that the April golfer is the same woman in the November/December illustration, but January… I’m bouncing between them, and his hair looks slightly different from the November/December man. It’s a sweet thought, but I can’t confidently get behind it. The man looks different.
Do prints, paintings, illustrations and other artworks that depict golf have an automatic, built-in audience? I’m guessing this calendar might not draw as much interested if its theme was, say, curling. In general, it’s been my experience that golfers have a fervent love of the sport and gravitate to artwork with a golf theme. What makes the calendar special is you don’t need to be a golfer to appreciate the artwork. It’s designed to have mass appeal.
What’s the world auction record for a Penfield golf calendar, and for any work by Penfield? A complete 1899 Penfield golf calendar–nine sheets, plus the cover–sold in February 2020 at a different auction house for $21,600. It appears to be the most expensive Penfield sold at auction also.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’m a cataloger for illustration art. I typically handle original art. This sale, overall, has been really unique for me. I’ll remember the calendar as one of the stars of a robust and respected collection. [The auction showcases the Dick McDonough collection of golf illustration.] I’m eager to see how it does.
Images are courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.
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