Billiard Snooker Cues


We should first of all establish that when we are talking about a Billiard Cue, this expression also embraces Snooker Cues. In practise there is no difference at all between a Billiard Cue and a Snooker Cue, although, sometimes players will state with an air of authority that one should use a lighter cue for Billiards than for Snooker. In practise however, the player should use whichever weight of cue he prefers. (Since the start of the 21st century there has been a noticeable preference for heavier cues 17 ½ oz and more.)

We do not know who first invented a Billiard Cue. Like the Billiard Table itself, and other accessories, it has probably slowly evolved, reaching the present generally accepted shape and style round about the beginning of the 19th Century.

It is accepted that cues came to England from the Continent around about 1800. Prior to this period of time the implement used for driving a Billiard Ball on a Billiard Table was a "Mace" . Generally the Mace was made from Ash, and took the form of a tapering shaft about 4ft. long, which broadened out into what I think can best be described as a spoon shaped head, terminating with a flat face measuring approximately 2" x 1" which was used to push or propel the ball in the required direction.

Mace - billiard cues

A selection of Mace Cues

We have here available for your inspection a very good example of a Mace made entirely from a piece of timber. In more recent times the head of the Mace was made from a separate piece of timber into which the shaft was fitted.

By the early part of the 19th Century Billiard Cues as we now know them had become firmly established, and they completely ousted the Mace, except for the fact that the Mace did continue to be used by lady players, and so it was sometimes called a ladies cue. The Mace was used with one hand only, it was not necessary to form a bridge or rest with the other hand. There is a story which suggests that at some time in the past a player found it advantageous to turn the mace round, and play the shot using the end of the shaft. To do so, it was then necessary to form a bridge with the other hand.

At this early stage, the Billiard Cue Tips had not been invented, and so the ball had to be struck dead centre, otherwise the cue would slip off the surface of the ball.

The actual invention of the leather cue tip is attributed to a Frenchman named Mingaud. He is said to have been a retired Infantry Officer who tried sticking a piece of saddle leather to the end of his cue. One record of this event suggests that Mingaud invented the leather cue tip in the year 1807, whilst serving a prison sentence for airing his Political views. Evidently he was allowed to play Billiards whilst serving his prison sentence, and he realised that many bad shots were the direct result of the cue slipping of the ball, and so it was that he tried a leather tip as a means of preventing miss-cueing. On leaving prison he developed his invention/discovery and so for many years Billiard Cue Tips were almost entirely of French manufacture. (As a point of interest because of the 'French' connection the size of tips has always been in metric sizes. The only UK manufacturer of tips was E.L. Fletcher & Son Ltd of Baldock, now part of Peradon's the famous UK cue makers)

Bringing our thought back again to the Billiard Cue itself - many cues are still made from Ash, although, now the most popular timber for cue shafts is Canadian Maple, but, a very large variety of other types of timber including Hickory and Hornbeam have been used with complete success. In quite recent times Ramin has been used by some Italian Cue Manufacturers.(Note; When Norman wrote up his lecture the comments with regard to Ash and Maple were true but after the greater interest in Snooker as a result of T.V. coverage Ash cues became the norm. Due in no small part to the fact that the 'new' professionals , who had picked up old cues , that were made of Ash, when starting out set the 'fashion' for their fans etc. to follow. Ramin cues in the UK were generally those imported from the Far East. Ramin is now on the list of endangered trees threatened by over felling.)

Until comparatively recent times nothing was stipulated in the rules concerning the dimensions of a Billiard Cue, but generally the length has been somewhere between 4ft. 8ins. and 5ft. The present day accepted standard length in the United Kingdom being 4ft.10ins., and we seem to have settled for a tip size slightly less than ½" (11mm) and the present day cue has a butt measuring approximately 1 ¼" diameter, although not many years ago they were much broader and approximately 1½" diameter. (Tip size on Snooker / Billiard cues now tend to be 10mm and on UK pool cues 8.5mm. With regard to cue length in the modern day 57 inches [145cms] to 58 inches [147 cms]).

In very recent times a rule was introduced by the Billiard Association and Control Council, stipulating that a Billiard Cue should not be less than 3ft. in length. This was brought about due to the fact that a professional player - I think it was Mr Alec Brown - used a very short piece of timber, only about 6" long with a tip on one end to play a stroke. I understand that the referee gave a "foul" and this resulted in very considerable argument, as Mr Brown pointed out that this small implement was in fact one of his Billiard cues, and that with accordance with the rules he had played the stroke with the tip of the cue. Thereafter he adopted the title of "The Fountain Pen Cue Man".

When during the middle years of the 19th Century, a demand for heavier cues developed, the additional weight was obtained by splicing/gluing on heavier pieces of timber such as Ebony to the butt end of the cue. The art of machine splicing butts developed in France, whilst the English method was simply to plane the sides of the butt flat, and then to glue on the additional pieces of heavier timber. For a time this was known as the "English Splice", although in more recent years we have simply referred to it as being "Hand Spliced", whilst the other method was known as the "French Splice" and in more recent years simply as "Machine Spliced".

In very recent times, due to the high present day cost of labour, the work of making hand spliced cues has ceased, only machine sliced cues are now being manufactured. (This is no longer true, checking with Peradon's, who were established in 1885, there is a strong demand for UK made hand spliced cues and the majority of the bespoke cues made via their site are hand spliced)

It is also interesting to note that during the 19th century, many cues were manufactured with elaborately decorated inlaid butts. Not many have survived, but we do have a few available for your inspection, and it should be noted that even in these days jointed cues were in fact quite popular, although many players think that they are a very recent idea.

French Billiard Cues

Billiard Cue with decorated inlaid butts

Patent for a 2piece Billiard Cue
Another Buttery patent concerning two piece cues from 1885 which shows that they were not invented in the 1970's!

Perhaps I should take this opportunity of telling you that very few Billiard Cues are in fact perfectly straight. One often sees players rolling a cue on the surface of the Billiard Table in order to test it for straightness. Most cues have slight variations somewhere along the length of the shaft - they are not perfectly elongated tapered shafts, and so, even, a very good cue will sometimes "lift" slightly when rolled on a table.

Unfortunately, I think for the Billiard Trade, most traders have encouraged players to think that Billiard Cues should be perfectly straight, and so we have made a "rod for our own backs".

If you want to examine a Billiard Cue for straightness, you should do so by closing one eye and then sighting down the length of the sue - rather like sighting a rifle, and then turn the cue slowly in your hand. You will then be able to see any unevenness in the length of the cue. Note, however, that many very good players in fact use cues which are quite badly warped.

One other small point which may be of interest concerning the design of Billiard Cues is the small flat area which still exists on the butt of most cues. This is said to be handed down from the days of the Mace, when it was permissible to play with either end of the cue according to the wishes of the player and the stroke required. Nowadays of course this flat surface is simply used for the maker to fix this nameplate.

Since the original invention of the Billiard Cue Tip by Mr. Mingaud, cue tips have also developed considerably. Double Tips, otherwise two piece Tips, were developed during the first half of the 19th Century - the base layer being harder than the crown, and indeed sometimes made of fibre, whilst in quite recent times Three Piece Tips have become very popular. The best quality tips now being made from Chrome tanned leather, and sold under the brand names of "Blue Diamond" and "Elk Master" which are of American manufacture.

I should perhaps also briefly refer to the Billiard Chalk. It seems that chalk was used on the ends of cues even before the leather tips were used, in order to try and prevent or reduce miscuing. It is perhaps interesting to note that even today we use ordinary white chalk on the wooden chuck in a lathe in order to grip a Bowling Green Bowl firmly during the turning process. Originally the chalk used was white, but this made such a mess of the playing surface that the green and blue Chalks were introduced, which were not so noticeable on the green playing surface of the Billiard Cloth.

The earliest reference I have found concerning the use of chalk in order to give the cue a better "bite" or "grip" seems to indicate that during the 1820's John Bartley of Bath (see Article Past Master No 1 Kenfield & Carr) first used chalk in order to apply "screw" or "side" to Billiard Balls, having discovered the advantages of using chalk for this purpose he astonished the spectators by the shots he was then able to play.

 Bartley Billiard room

John Carr, who acted as marker, came to know the secret, and apparently made a small fortune by selling "twisting chalk" to other players, with the promise that they would be able to perform similar shots, and as many players will admit chalk on the tip of a cue certainly makes a tremendous difference to the players ability in controlling the cue ball.

Billiard Snooker Chalk is a manufactured commodity, and can vary in texture and quality tremendously. Present day chalks contain a considerable quantity of abrasive matter, and I have been told that in recent years before the war, one well known American Chalk of the brand name "Spinks" actually contained finely ground glass.


©2009 E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. - All items displayed are from the N. Clare collection. Reproduction of article allowed only with permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.  

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