Billiard Rules, Maces etc.
DAYS OF OLD
No. 2 - July 1982
Some additional pictures have been
added to Norman's original published version of this
Last month I mentioned a rule book
dating from 1779 and some of the rules may be of interest so I
quote a few of them here:-
Rule No. XLVII - When a person
agrees to play with the cue, he must play every ball within his
reach with the point thereof, and if he agrees to play with the
butt of the cue, he has no right to play with the point without
permission of his adversary.
Rule No. XLVIII - When the parties
agree to play point and point of the cue, neither of them have
right to use a Butt during the game or match without permission
etc. but they have a right to play with the point of a long cue
over a mace etc.
In the same book of rules it also very
surprising to find there is a 'play again' rule in Billiards,
expressed as follows :-
Rule No. XXXVI - Whoever stops a a
ball when running, with hand or stick or otherwise loses the lead
and if his adversary don't like the ball he has to play the next
So we find what is considered to be a
recently introduced 'play again' rule in Snooker, actually existed
in the game of Billiards over 200 years ago!
I also referred to the very primitive
billiard tables of the early 18th Century - consisting of a wooden
bed with a plain wooden rim to prevent the balls falling onto the
floor, and to the fact that maces were used to propel the
Without doubt the first improvement in the table was the fitting
of a form of "Cushioning" around the inside of this wooden rim, a
fairly obvious improvement really, which reduced the noise of
impact caused by the balls striking against the plain wooden rim,
and also improved the rebound of the balls, especially when
striking the rim at right angles.
This "Cushioning" was formed by building up layer upon layer of
felt or list (list being the trimmings or selvedges from the edge
of woven woollen cloths), and sometimes by stuffing the cushioning
with horse hair.
The photograph shows an old
cushion rail showing the layers of list cushioning. This rail is
part of the Heritage Collection,
This was the only improvement in the
billiard table itself during the 18th Century. However during this
period the first great improvement in the equipment was introduced
when during the second half of the 18th Century we have reliable
evidence that cues - rather like present day cues - began to take
the place of maces.
This evidence exists in an old book containing the rules of
various games including billiards which was published by Hoyle's in
1779 from which it is clear that cues and maces were both being
used at this period of time as these rules required the players to
elect when commencing the game whether they would use a cue or a
mace. Rule Number XLVI which reads:-... "When the parties agree to
play mace against cue - the mace player hath 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"...
We have also very firm evidence that both cues and maces were
still being used concurrently from the engraved print depicting
Thurston's original billiard room at Catherine Street (Catherine
Street was off the Strand London, but has long since been
demolished) which is used as the front piece to Kentfield's book
entitled "Kentfield on Billiards", The first edition of which was
published in 1839. This illustration clearly shows at this date
that maces as well as cues are in the cue racks, although the
players are depicted using cues (see the accompanying
During the time of change over from the mace to the cue - the
rules of 1779 also indicate that strokes could be made using the
point of the cue or providing your adversary agreed you could use
the butt of the cue presumably as if it was a mace, and this is
accepted as the reason why to this day most English cues still have
a chamfer on the butt and indeed very old cues have chamfers on
both sides of the butt.
The photograph shows 3 Maces - the first is about 200 years old
and is made from from one piece of ash, the head being integral
with the shaft, overall length is 45 inches (114cms). The other two
maces shown in this photograph are of later manufacture measuring
57 inches long (145 cms) overall and have the name Thurston -
Catherine Street - London stamped on the underside of the head,
thus establishing that they are about 160 years old.
The heads are made from a separate piece of hardwood (rosewood
or similar), and are fitted onto hickory shafts. There is a
'sighting line' on the upper surface of the head, and the heads are
slightly angled so that these maces would be used by right handed
players, so that the shaft would come past the right side of the
body the sighting line would be correctly aligned for the right
handed player to aim correctly. Amongst may similar maces which can
be seen in the Billiards Room of the National Trust property Dunham
Massey, near Altrincham, Cheshire, there are a number of maces with
heads angled the other way so that they are suitable for left
The five cues illustrated are of French Origin dating from the
late 1800's and have very elaborated inlaid and decorated butts,
the one on the right of the picture being inlaid with ivory, all
these old cues have chamfers on both sides of the butts.
According to the available evidence the earliest cues were not
fitted with 'Tips". Indeed it is accepted that it was a French
Infantry Officer Captain M. Mingaud in 1807 was the first player to
fix a leather tip to the point of his cue. He was in fact in prison
at the time (some say as a debtor and others say it was for
expressing political opinions), but he was able to play billiards
probably because families could provide comforts for relatives in
prison in these times. It must be remembered that infantry officers
usually had their own horses and so he had an old leather harness
available from which he punched out small discs of leather which he
then fitted to the point of the cue and shaped it to form the
earliest type of tip. This simple item was to revolutionise the
game as hitherto impossible strokes could now be achieved.
Although Monsieur Mingaud invented the leather tip - it is
accepted as reported in last months (refers to June 1982 issue of
Cue World) article that it was a Mr. Bartley, proprietor of the
Billiard Rooms at Bath who about 1820 first applied 'side' by
striking the cue ball off centre (Notes- our friends in the U.S.A.
call this applying 'English' to the ball). However, it is also
clear that by the time Monsieur Mingaud published his book 'The
Noble Game of Billiards' about 1830 (the oldest existing book in
the possession of the writer is the second edition which in dated
1831), he also made great use of "side" in order to achieve many of
the strokes which are described and illustrated in his book, and
are described as 'Extraordinary And Surprising Strokes' which have
excited the admiration of most of the Sovereigns of Europe
Meanwhile although during the late 18th and early l9th centuries
the cue was replacing the mace, the leather tip had been invented
and chalk was being used, the table itself still varied in size and
was still of very light construction with a wooden bed and stuffed
cushions. It was not until 1826 that the next great improvement was
introduced by John Thurston who used slate instead of wood for the
bed of the table.
© Norman Clare 1990. © E.A.
Clare & Son Ltd. 2018.
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from
E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.
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