Mace to Billiard Cue
DAYS OF OLD NO. 9 - (November & December 1984)
MACES TO CUES
(Some additional pictures have been added to
the article which were not included in the version printed in 1984.
Norman had covered some of the first part of this article in Days
of Old No. 2)
The further back we research into the
history and development of the game of Billiards, the tables and
the accessessories, the more interesting it becomes. This article
in the "Days of Old" series, looks at the development of the
Many present day players of snooker, will
probably be surprised to learn that 500 years ago, the game was
played on the ground, out of doors, and so the "implement" from
which the cue has developed is not recognisable as a cue.
The first illustration with this article shows a
group of "shepherds" playing billiards in 1480, it is taken from a
French wood cut or carving, and can be accepted as a fair
recording, by the craftsman who executed the work, of the game of
billiards as then existing, readers should especially note the
"implement" used to propel the balls on the ground, and should also
note the hoop or hazard and the King Post. (Some similarity here
Now look at the second illustration, which shows
King Louis XIV (wearing hat), playing billiards in 1694, and you
will again see the hoop or hazard, and the King Post - obviously it
is the same game, but now the game has come indoors, and has been
raised up to table height. The implements, - now called maces,
which are the forerunners of the billiard cue, are also obviously
the same as previously used, when the game was played on the ground
out of doors.
The next stage in the development of the billiard
cue, was brought about by some players turning the mace around, in
order to strike the ball with the thin end of the shaft, instead of
with the head of the mace - such an act is recorded in the Billiard
Room Scene, executed in marquetry work, on the lid of a box which
was quite recently sold by auction in London, here you can clearly
see the player using the "wrong end" of his mace, and so-again I
think it can be accepted as a fair recording by the craftsman,
showing how the mace was sometimes used the other way round.
Players evidently found they could
achieve scoring strokes more readily using the pointed end of the
shaft, and so I think gradually over quite a long period of time,
this became the accepted practice. If our readers will look at the
next illustration, which shows a billiard room in the year 1770, it
will be observed that the striker is using a mace in the accepted
fashion of that time -but the none striker is clearly holding a
cue. The use of the cue to strike the ball developed in France,
during the last quarter of the 18th Century, and was later
introduced into England.
Evidence of the time of change, can be confirmed,
by reference to the "Rules of Billiards", as published by Hoyle, in
1779 - wherein rule XLVI states ... "When the parties agree to play
Mace against Cue,, the Mace Player has no right to use a Cue, nor
has the Cue Player any right to use a Mace during the game or
Match, without permission from his adversary".
The following rule XLVII, then goes on to say ...
"When a person agrees to play with the Cue, he must play every ball
within his reach with the point thereof, if he agrees to play with
the butt of the cue, he has no right to play with the point
thereof, without permission from his adversary".
Further evidence of the time of the
change, from the Mace to the Cue, is provided by reference to the
book entitled "A Practical Treatise on the Game of Billiards", by
E. White, published in 1807, where in Chapter I, he states ... "The
instruments employed for the purposes of striking the balls are
two, the Cue and the Mace. The former of these is a long round
stick, usually made of Ash, and shaped in the form of a cone, being
broad at one end and at the other converging to a narrow flattened
or rounded point. The latter consists of a long slender rod, with a
thick piece of Mahogany or other wood affixed to its extremity and
adapted to it in such an angle as to rest flat upon the table,
while the stick is held up to the shoulder in the act of striking
... of these instruments, the Cue is by far the most universal in
use". White then goes on to observe in a footnote that ... "The Cue
is the only instrument in use abroad ... but in England until of
late years, the Mace has been used almost exclusively, which the
foreigners hold in the utmost contempt". Part of the
information in that chapter may have relied on a later Hoyles book
published in 1788. Which as you will see also mentions the fact
that the 'English' prefer the Mace. Perhaps this confirms why the
'British' style cue still has a 'flat' on the butt!
At the same period of
time (1807), that White wrote his treatise Monsieur M. Mingaud -
formerly a French Infantry Officer, is credited with the idea of
fitting a leather tip to the point of his Cue, using leather taken
from old harness (remember Infantry Officers always rode on
horses). This simple idea, long since universally adopted, is
undoubtedly the first important improvement in the equipment used
for the game of billiards.
Both Maces and Cues remained in general use, side
by side for a very long time, as can be confirmed by pictures of
Thurstons Catherine Street Billiard Room, published at various
dates between 1830 and 1850, which clearly show both of these
instruments in the Cue Racks.
Now it is also interesting to note, that during
the period of change over from Mace to Cue - players were permitted
to strike the ball with either end of the Cue! This fact which will
certainly surprise many players can be confirmed by reference to
the advice given in two books, both published in the third quarter
of the 19th Century - viz:- in Chapter II of "The Billiard Book",
by Captain Crawley, published in 1866, in the paragraph giving
advice on "The Cue", he states - "The long tapering stick with
which the ball is struck, is called a Cue. The best Cues are made
of thoroughly seasoned Ash. The butt or handle should be well
flattened on one side, in order that it may be used to strike with
when necessary !" - Hence the Chamfer still to be found on the
butts of billiards /snooker cues, of English manufacture - now
mainly used as the position to fix a makers nameplate.
Again - in the book entitled "Practical
Billiards", by Dufton, published in 1873, he actually produces the
illustration shown in this article, which demonstrates the best
stance to adopt when playing a stroke, with the butt end of the
It was not until the Billiards Association was
formed in 1885, and rules of play were properly established, that a
rule was introduced stipulating that the ball must be struck with
the tip of the cue.
From this date forward, our readers might think,
that there could be no further development in the instrument now
called the cue. Far from it however, as although from 1885 onwards,
most thought was given to specifying the Full Sized Billiard Table,
and finally the model submitted by Thurstons was adopted in 1892 as
the standard to be stipulated in the rules, the size of the balls
etc.., was also specified, but it was evidently not considered
necessary to specify what was or was not a billiard cue.
As a result many
enthusiasts "invented" and took out patent protection on their own
ideas of what a perfect or ideal cue should be. I have selected a
few examples from patents filed during this period, and I think
readers will first of all be interested to note (see the
illustration), that patent No. 8849 by Mr. W. Buttery, dated 22nd
July 1885, shows a cue joint, identical with some of the joints
used in two piece cues today!
Next see the illustration of the "spring loaded"
cue, under patent No.. 4170, by Mr. A. J. Aspinall, dated 25th
March 1886 - would such a cue be permitted under present day rules,
so long as the ball was struck with the tip? It is doubtful as the
present day rule states ... "and shall show no departure from the
traditional and generally accepted shape and form".
On 22nd January 1887, a Mr. E. Edwards, patented
a part wooden - part tubular metal cue (see illustration), which
was adjustable for both length and weight, to suit the requirements
of different players.
The famous professional player - J.P. Mannock,
under patent 1117, dated 21st January 1891, introduced a cue, which
was claimed to prevent the making of "miss-cues", especially in The
Finally it is perhaps 'interesting to note the
old Burroughes & Watts advertisement, of 1889, for "The
Portable Billiard Cue", in which the sales description makes it
clear that it is a two piece jointed cue, with a replaceable screw
tip - features which many players may think have been only very
recently introduced!(Note this comment dates to 1984)
It was still to be very many more years before
the somewhat loose definition of a "Billiard Cue" was included in
the rules, which throughout the period from 1885 until 1938 (53
years), had nothing at all to say about how short or how long a cue
should be, and even to this day, although a minimum length of 3ft
(910mm), is now stipulated, there is no maximum length.
The story behind the very sudden introduction of
the minimum length and the loose definition of a cue in 1938, is
interesting, since when the rule has remained unchanged, and so
this concludes the story or history of the billiard cue.
It was at 3.45 p.m. on Monday 14th November 1938,
at Thurston Match Room, Leicester Square, in the Daily Mail Gold
Cup Snooker Tournament, when Alec Brown was playing Tom Newman.
Alec Brown - having potted a red ball during the
third frame, found himself left with the cue ball closely
surrounded by other reds, except for a narrow path to the black
ball, which was situated above its own spot.
The black being the only colour "on", Alec was
faced with an awkward stroke - having to be made either from the
opposite far end of the table, or by leaning over and using a "mid
air bridge". Instead, after some thought and study, he produced
from his vest pocket a very short cue - made of Ebony, about 5in
long and fitted with a fountain pen clip - it had a leather tip on
one end which he duly chalked and then played the stroke.
There was silence and then consternation - Tom
Newman protested, Alec Brown claimed that it was one of his cues,
Charlies Chambers the famous referee, examined it, and handed it to
Newman, who promptly put it in his own pocket, saying, "it could be
useful". Chambers however walked to the scoreboard, and added 7
points to Newmans score. In other words he decided it was a foul.
At the request of the spectators, he then read from the B.A. &
C.C. Handbook of Rules, wherein under General Rule No. 6, it stated
... "All strokes must be made with the tip of the Cue", and so
Chambers had decided it was not a Cue - maybe - Just maybe, he was
wrong. As of course there was nothing at all at that time in the
rules stipulating what was or was not a billiard cue.
As a result of the controversy that followed, the
B.A. & C.C.(Billiards Association & Control Council) met
just 8 days later, and decided to define a "Cue". The definition
which they adopted and then included in the rules, still stands to
this day and reads as follows - under the heading Section 1 -
Equipment - Rule 3 "A Billiard Cue as recognized by the Billiards
Association and Control Council, shall be not less than 3ft in
length, and shall show no substantial departure from the
traditional and generally accepted shape and form". What a good job
this wording was not established when Maces were still in general
use! Otherwise we would still be playing with them.
Alec Brown, had acted in good faith - both he and
his father had been using such a miniature cue for some 18 months
previously, in private games, and so to him goes the credit for
causing the definition of "A Cue" to be established, and ever
afterwards he was always known and introduced as the "Fountain Pen
Fortunately, the material from which "The Cue"
should be made, has never been stipulated, and so even in quite
recent years, cues made from new materials have been tried and
tested, probably the best known being the "Apollo" tubular cue,
made from an aluminium alloy, which for a time was very popular.
More recently, cues made of fibre glass have been introduced, but
have failed to find acceptance, and about 70 years ago, a cue made
of split cane, rather like a fishing rod was marketed for a short
time, and it was reported in the "Billiard Player" of July 1930,
that a cue with a normal butt and a steel shaft was in course of
preparation, but evidently nothing came of it.
In recent years, although the general shape and
form of a billiard cue has not changed to any great extent, very
great changes have taken place in the method of manufacture. At the
beginning of this Century, most billiard cues were being made
entirely by hand; but now they are much more accurately produced in
computer controlled lathes.
(Since the article was written
therer has been a move back, particularly by keen players, to have
hand made cues - the long established and famous UK cue makers
Peradon have a web site where you can design your own cue and order
it on line - visit www.cuewizard.co.uk )
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