Q. History of European French billiards (carom) cues.

Here is a 140 cm long mace, probably English dating from around 1800,

of which the mahogany head

......

is provided with a central sight line, see picture left (*).

This very rare type of instrument is the precursor of the current billiard cue. It was already used in the 1620s to shove a billiard ball with its head as can be seen in the painting 'A Game of Billiards' [i], dating from around 1620-1626, by Adriaen van de Venne .

The player is Frederik Henry, Prince of Orange, count of Nassau.
Louis XIV uses a longer mace in a print of 'Third apartment' [ii] dating from 1694, engraved by Antoine Trouvain (1656-1705).

Ladies of the time also play with a mace in the drawing 'Le Noble jeu de billard' (1643) [iii] by Abraham Bosse (1602-1676).

In the detail below, you will notice a lady holding in her hand a mace turned on its side, a "sweeping" position that enables to roll her ball - keeping close contact with it - on the billiard table.


The progressive replacement of a mace by an untipped billiard cue that could only hit the centre of a balll, began around 1680, was already well advanced in 1700, and lasted until about 1900 [1].

Billiard cues dating from the 1700s and the early 1800s are shown in:

  • 'La partie de billard' [iv], made around 1725 by the famous painter Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779), whose father (Jean) was a member of the carpenter corporation of Paris in 1701 and was billiard maker [2].


  • the drawing 'Ladies and gentlemen playing billiards' dating from 1756 [v], by Johan Esaias Nilson (1721-1788). It should be pointed out that gentlemen already use billiard cues while ladies still prefer maces, probably to be able to bend less and keep elegant (see for example the drawing 'le Noble jeu de billard' above).


  • the painting 'Jeu de billard' (1807) [iv] by Louis Léopold Boilly (1761-1845), where a woman plays with a billiard cue.

  • a German watercolour (ca. 1745) shown in [3] page 65, in which the cue is adorned with a triangular plate for use of its butt end as a mace.

  • figures of bevelled cues (16-18) and one-piece maces (19 and 20), of various sizes,

    ...

    from Recueil de planches sur les sciences et les arts de l' Encyclopédie Diderot et d'Alembert, tome VIII, Paris, France, 1771, plate IV. Both ends of these instruments were used to play at billiards. Cues (17 and 18) were known as a 'Geoffrey' [4]. Their bevelled point could hit a ball below center.
Note that Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) used a one-piece ivory mace with a carved gold head [5] (made by Jean-Antoine Belleteste 1731-1811). Napoleon (1769-1821) played with a monobloc cue as can be seen in [3] p. 31 where he is represented with his wife Marie-Louise of Austria and Marshal Ney. According to Gelli [6], the cue, crafted by an Italian cabinetmaker, was made of rosewood and decorated with several ivory inlays, including imperial emblems. The one he had in exile on St. Helena island was not decorated and 1.37 m long [7].

Sometime between 1807 and 1818, billiard cues began to be tipped with leather. This invention attributed to Mingaud and the use of chalk finally enabled the players to apply "English" (= "side") to the cue ball by striking it off centre. Two-piece cues appeared in 1829 [1].

Who built the oldest French billiard cues?

Originally, the builders may have been corporations making furniture and occasionally some billiard tables and cues ([4], p. 495). In France, these corporations consisted of craftsmen (cabinetmaker, wood carver, gilder, designer ...) who were restricted to the conduct of only one trade, as for example the father of Jean-Baptiste Chardin (**). The Allarde decree of 1791 removed these corporations and their rules. From that time on a cabinetmaker was for example allowed to open a workshop where billiard cues were made and decorated. French firms whose activity was solely billiards gradually appeared: Chéreau in 1816, Hiolle in 1820 and Hénin Aîné in 1830.
Hiolle is the first one to build only cues.
According to the 1831's 'Dictionnaire Technologique ou Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel' (tome 18, p. 69-71, Librairie Thomine, Paris, France), Hiolle at that time already:

  • glued veal head skin cue tips on a harder leather base which itself was affixed to an ivory ferrule
  • sometimes covered with ivory and veal head skin the butt end of a cue, provided with two opposite triangular bevels to use it also as a mace (see Section L. 2. d)
  • manufactured cues/canes with screws similar to the one shown in Section J. 2.

Other billiard firms, like Finck (1839), Dorfelder (ca. 1860) and Schröder & Kartzke (1884) in Germany, Sampaio (1880) in Portugal, Brunswick (1894) in France, and Van Laere (1906) in Belgium (see more firms ) were set up later and there were gradually fewer and fewer craftsmen.

Unsigned billiard cues from the 1800s are shown in:

  • sections B and M. Here are six of them.

They are marquetry cues. The first one, without splice, is the oldest and dates from about 1825. The Boulle marquetry of the last two is very rare. All cues are monobloc except the next to last.

  • an engraving of 1837 by Charrier (see Section D. Rare Books) where the cues are monobloc with triangle and tip without ferrule.

  • two Finck's catalogues which can be found in reference [4]. One of them, in black and white p. 283, is relative to the period from 1840 to 1880. The other one, in colour pp. 94 - 95, is not dated. The cues shown there were also sold by Schröder & Kartzke (***). Below, some of them

in different styles and designs.

The first signatures appeared in the late 1800s.

A catalogue of the firm Barbier Fils (***) informs about billiard cues sold in Paris in 1901. Here are a few of them

without splice (1 to 3) or with forked (4, 5, 8 and 9) or '4-point' (6 and 7) splices, bordered or not by veneers (****). They are provided with bevels, simple (2 and 3 with escutcheon) or adorned with mother-of-pearl arrows (triangular plates) with veneers (4 to 9). Cues 8 and 9 are decorated with wooden marquetry. Other materials such as copper or ivory are also listed, as well as the possibility of adding splices, a screw in the middle, a rubber bumper, etc... Note that the price of a cue can thus increase by a factor of 50.

The early 1900s were particularly rich in inventions. Cues, signed, patented and bearing names,


from bottom to top 'La ROYALE', 'La VICTORIEUSE', 'La TECHNIQUE', 'La St. MICHEL', 'L'UNIVERSELLE', 'La MONARCH', 'La GALLIA', 'La REFORM', 'La St. MARTIN', were created in various countries. They were in 2 to 4 parts, often with variable weights and some of them were produced for more than 50 years (for more details see Section A).

Around 1920, marquetry cues, such as those in Section M, and 'cue-maces', like the one

described in Section J. 1, stopped being manufactured. From that date on, triangular plates disappeared and almost all cues have borne the stamp of their manufacturers.

Section G gathers more than 230 cues of 38 firms from 8 different countries. These cues differ in their shape (truncated cone, 'bottle', 'hexagonal' and 'fancy turned'), number of pieces (1 to 4) and points (0 to 8), construction wood, carvings, inlays and grips. Here are some of them:

six Hiolles

and, from top to bottom, two Hénin Aînés, one Brunswick, two Van Laeres, one Sampaio and one Finck.

It should be pointed out that most of these firms have closed now and that Hiolle, Hénin Aîné and Van Laere were among those that existed the longest.

Below, a few fine handmade carvings and mother-of-pearl inlays.



Motif

And finally, here are the results of a study of all the cues of the collection shown in Sections B, G and M.
In general:

  • from 1825 to 1980, the diameter (d) of the butt end of a cue gradually decreases from ± 36 to 31 mm and that of the other end from ± 17 to 10 mm. The second decrease is proportionally bigger (41 versus 14 %). It is shown below for two cues, one very old dating from 1825 (d = 17 mm) which never had a cue tip (or which lost it) and the other one dating from 1980 (d = 11.5 mm), i.e. a 32 percent decrease.

    .....

  • from the late 1800s, cues in several parts saw the diameter of their collar gradually pass from 19 to 22 mm and their balance point move away from the butt end
  • the butt end of all the cues is very fragile until about 1920, as well as the butt joint of more than one piece cues. Few of them remained intact until today
  • the wooden joints far outweigh those in metal.

______________________________________________________________________________________


[
[1] SHAMOS MichaŽl, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards. Ed. Lyons & Burford, New York, U.S.A., 1993.
[2] de SALVESTRE François, Les ébénistes du XVIIIIe siècle. Ed. G. Van Oest et Cie, Paris - Bruxelles, Belgium, 1923, page 49.
[3] SHAMOS Michaël, Le billard et le billard américain, Ed. Minerva, Paris - Genève,1992.
[4] STEIN V. and RUBINO P., The Billiard Encyclopedia. An Illustrated History of the Sport. Balkline Press Inc., New York, U.S.A., 2008.
[5] Madame CAMPAN, Mémoires sur la vie privée de Marie-Antoinette. Ed. Mongie Aîné, Paris, France, 1822, Tome 1, page 283.
[6] GELLI Jacopo, Il biliardo. Ed. Hoepli, Milan, Italy, 1906, page 86.
[7] Musée des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau, France.

(*) The identification of this two-piece mace is based on the shape of its head, the angle of attachment of the handle (see photo on the right) and William Hendricks' History of Billiards. Ed Hendricks, Roxana, U.S.A., 1974.
(**) Note that André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), raised to the rank of First cabinetmaker of Louis XIV, was not subjected to this restriction.
(***)
See Section Books F. Lists, Miscellaneous, Catalogues.
(****) These cues are also shown in the catalogue of Gobin Frères (Bagnolet, France) of 1912 (***).

Credits:

[i] British Museum, London.
[ii] Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF.
[iii] Copyright: Musée des Beaux-arts de Rennes - Jean-manuel Salingue.
[iv] WahooArt.com.
[v] National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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