Museum Moment: Crombie’s Decorative Art Shows Growing Appeal Of Golf In Early 20th Century

Oct 27, 2011

By Susan Wasser

During the 1890s, when golf’s popularity was rapidly spreading throughout Europe and the United States, there was a natural proliferation of commercially manufactured golf-related consumer goods that reflected the public’s growing interest in the game.

At the onset, printed materials, specifically magazine advertising campaigns for a product, were used to attract the public’s attention. Artists were commissioned to produce engaging images, often comical in nature, to appeal to the consumer. The popularity of these images was often transferred to use on multiple mediums such as wall art, textiles and ceramics. Charles Crombie, a popular satirical artist, was extremely successful in migrating his illustrations from printed art to ceramics.

Charles Exeter Devereux Crombie was born in 1880, the son of a Scottish architect who moved his family to Lambeth, England. In the 1900s, Crombie was working as an artist specializing in cartoons and publication illustrations for The Bystander and Punch magazines. His ability to translate social observation into visual humor acquired a loyal and dedicated following among magazine readers.

In 1905, Crombie was hired by Perrier Mineral Water Company of France to create a sequence of colorful comic interpretations on the Rules of Golf. Twenty-four stone lithographs were produced in 1906 by the London publishing house, Kegan , Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., as a promotional series titled “A Series of Mishaps” and marked, “by special appointment to H.M. King Edward VIII.” On the reverse side of each of the illustrations was a Perrier advertisement.

The bound portfolio was such a huge success that a second edition was published in 1907. In order to distinguish between the first and second editions, a slight variation was made. On the first edition print, the Perrier copyright notice is placed at the bottom of the box containing the caption, while on the second edition the copyright is below the margin.

The illustrations portray Edwardian golfers in various predicaments paradoxically and comically interpreting the Rules of Golf. Additionally, a relevant literary verse in English and French is presented below the illustration. Crombie had the ability to twist the Rules governing the royal and ancient game to produce a comical reaction.

Each lithograph is an interesting interaction between one of the Rules of the sport and the image which acts as a visual retort to the passage. Humorous and amusing, they were instantly successful, often separated and hung on the walls of countless clubhouses and bars.

The popularity of Crombie’s “A Series of Mishaps” was recognized by Charles Noke, art director at Royal Doulton, as viable images for his Series Ware. Since dining and social gatherings were the primary forms of entertainment, it was natural for golfers to provide their guests with decorative service ware.

Doulton of Lambeth was founded in 1815 by John Doulton as a manufacturer of ceramics and stoneware. In 1902, the Royal Warrant was granted and the name Royal Doulton was adapted. By the end of the 19th century, Doulton’s most popular product was Noke’s “Series Ware,” in which mass-produced pieces were decorated with transfer prints from different artists.

The pieces were comprised of basic cream-colored pottery stock which was then decorated with transfers and hand-tinted in various themes, one of which was golf. Charles Crombie’s “Rules of Golf” were part of six different golf-focused Series Ware produced by Royal Doulton. Others included Proverb Plates (rack plates with floral or grapevine borders with one of seven proverbs surrounding golfers), Gibson Ware (“The Gibson Girl” created by American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson featured eight quotes on small decorative ceramic pieces), Bateman Ware (featured humorous scenes of Henry Mayo Bateman), Diversions of Uncle Toby (Uncle Toby was a character in Laurence Stern’s novel, Tristam Shandy), and The Nineteenth Hole (this series depicted a scene of two golfers enjoying a post-round drink with a view of a golf course in the background).

The “Rules of Golf” ceramic series was produced between 1909 and 1932, and could be purchased as complete place settings, serving dishes, platters, jugs, vases, punch bowls, coffee/tea service, candlesticks and ashtrays. The humorous images featured five proverbs combined with eight different groups of characters, including illustrations of golfers with and without caddies. Each piece featured one of the following proverbs, in capital letters:

• “Give losers leave to speak and winners to laugh.”
• “He that always complains is never pitied.”
• “All fools are not knaves but all knaves are fools.”
• “He hath good judgment who relieth not wholly on his own.”
• “Every dog has his day and every man his hour.”

The decorative images were applied to the blank or unglazed bisque ceramic piece via the “print and tint” transfer ware method. The process began with the image getting engraved into a copper plate. A loose liquid glaze was rolled on the copper plate and applied to print the image on tissue paper. The tissue paper containing the glaze was adhered to the ceramic piece to transfer the image.

The item was fired in a kiln at low temperature to permanently adhere the image to the ceramic. Once cooled, a worker hand-painted the colorful glazes to the piece and then applied a final clear glaze finish. Some of the larger decorative items, such as vases, have gold or silver gilding on the handles. A final firing in the kiln completed the process.

By the mid-1930s, partly due to the onset of World War II, the production of golf ceramics had stopped.

The USGA Museum has a selection of both Charles Crombie’s “A Series of Mishaps” second-edition lithographs and Royal Doulton’s “Rules of Golf” Series Ware in its collection. The ceramics represent the progression and public appeal of golf-related decorative items for commercial and domestic use as the game gained popularity. Today , Charles Crombie’s lithographs and ceramics pieces are highly sought after by individuals who acquire golf-related collectibles.

Susan Wasser is the coordinator of special projects for the USGA Museum. Contact her at swasser@usga.org.

The “Rules of Golf” ceramic series was produced by Royal Doulton between 1909 and 1932, and could be purchased as complete place settings, serving dishes, platters, jugs, vases, punch bowls, coffee/tea service, candlesticks and ashtrays.


Charles Crombie's illustrations portray Edwardian golfers in various predicaments paradoxically and comically interpreting the Rules of Golf. Additionally, a relevant literary verse in English and French is presented below the illustration.


The popularity of Charles Crombie’s “A Series of Mishaps” was recognized by Charles Noke, art director at Royal Doulton, as viable images for his Series Ware. Since dining and social gatherings were the primary forms of entertainment, it was natural for golfers to provide their guests with decorative service ware.