Brief history of French billiards.
The current French billiards results from the transposition on a table of a billiards game on the ground. The first known table was commissioned by Louis XI (1423-1483), King of France, to carpenter Henri de Vigne in 1469. It was made of wood and twice as long as it is wide. Its stone bed was covered with cloth and its cushions were composed of hemp [1- 3]. Also part of this order: an arch, a pin, balls and maces . This type of playing equipment did not change for at least 225 years, as can be seen in 'A Game of Billiards' [i], painted around 1620-1626 by Adriaen van de Venne (the player is Frederick Henry of Nassau, Prince of Orange (1584-1647))
and in the print of 'Third Apartment' [ii] engraved in 1694 by Antoine Trouvain (1656-1705) (the player is the King of France Louis XIV (1638-1715))
goal of the game was to knock down the pin. From the 1500s, tables started
to be equipped with pockets to trap an opponent's ball. Notice that the
first known printed billiard rules (5 pages of ) date from 1654 only.
The drawing 'Ladies and gentlemen playing billiards' from 1756 [iii], by Johan Esaias Nilson (1721-1788)
that at that time, the pin (probably replaced by a ball) and the arch
disappeared, and that ladies were still using a mace while men were already
using a cue. Note that the pockets, clearly visible on the drawing, began
to disappear around 1850 to give way to the French free game .
as it is practised today developed mainly in the 1800s as a result of
b) the appearance of firms dealing only with billiards (tables, cues and balls) (from 1816)
For more details on points a and b above, see section 'Collection 1. Q'
c) the construction of table beds made of slate from Italy (1830s) on which the quality of the ball rolling is better than on wood or marble
(d) the replacement of the natural rubber of the table cushions by vulcanized rubber which is more stable and resistant (1845)
e) the use of table diamonds as aiming referenties (around 1850)
f) the production of synthetic balls that starts in 1868 (for details, see section 'Collection 3')
(g) the use of electricity to light and heat table beds (early 1900s)
h) a constant development of billiard clothes, especially those made by the Belgian firm Iwan Simonis founded in 1680.
For more details:
V. and RUBINO P., The Billiard Encyclopedia. An Illustrated History of
the Sport. Balkline Press Inc., New York, U.S.A., 2008, 629 p.
British Museum, London.