Unusual Billiard Tables

Days of Old No 8 - (June 1984)

More Unusual Billiard Tables

(Some additional more recent information and pictures have been added to Norman's original article)

Our regular readers will recall that in the September 1983 issue of "Cue World" some very unusual billiard tables made during the mid 19th Century by Eugene Magnus (see Days of Old No.7) which were made entirely from slate were described and illustrated, and now after further research five more unusual billiard tables are the subject of this article.

During the entire known history of the game of billiards there have always been enthusiasts who have tried to invent and introduce variations in the design of tables. In fact some variations which have been recently reported as new ideas are in fact very, very old.

Thurston advert round billiard table

 The collection has originals of this advert

One example is the recent press report announcing the introduction of a circular billiard table. However, far from being new, such a table was advertised as long ago as 1826 as will be seen from the accompanying photograph of a page in Pigots Directory of that year, and as our readers will observe it was called "The Chinese Billiard Table" - so much for the jokes which have been passed down about such tables for over 150 years. Note the "Flowery" language of the day by which John Thurston - "Most respectfully invited the nobility and gentry to inspect his new Chinese billiard table .... chiefly intended for the amusement of the ladies". You will note that these tables are offered in sizes 6ft. .7ft. 8ft 9ft. and 10ft. diameter - which makes one wonder which cloth mill manufactured billiard cloth 10 feet wide! (cloth for billiard / snooker tables is usually only about 76 inches wide).

Billiard T_Mars

Note - Only 6 legs on this full size Marsden & Saffley Billiard Table frame whereas a traditional frame constructed from wood has 8 legs

Just over 100 years ago during, the period 1877/1880 Messrs. Marsden & Saffley of Liverpool were producing some very unusual billiard tables. The under-framing and the six legs being made entirely of cast iron - the details being clearly visible in the accompanying photograph taken from one of the sales leaflets of that time - note the "Liver Bird" part of the Liverpool city coat of arms is cast into the end rail. (see also 'Other Articles' - Cast Iron Billiard Tables) The beds of these tables were made in the form of cast concrete slabs with tongued and grooved joints locked together by means of long bolts going right through slabs Nos. 1 and 2 and also through Nos. 5 and 4 engaging into nuts set into the No. 3 centre slab, thus bolting the whole of the bed rigidly together. A complete concrete bed is on display in the Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection at our Liverpool offices. Unfortunately, years ago before the writer started the museum collection the cast iron under-frame was sold for scrap iron as being of no commercial value whilst some other sections of concrete beds were used to repair the cellar floors.! Fortunately, however and original illustrated sales leaflet still survives and is on display listing the following claims to superiority -

1. The strongest (table) made

2. The beds are always dry - therefore no hot iron required,

3. Therefore the cloth retains its green colour,

4. Dowels (in the slate beds) entirely superseded,

5. Durability of cloth double,

6. Fastest table on records

7. Lighter by 5cwt than slate tables,

8. Cheaper by 10% than slate tables.

The sales leaflet then lists some 16 testimonials and newspaper reports dated between the years 1877/80 and with a comparison of running speeds of "The best" London tables - Manchester tables - Liverpool tables and finally showing Marsden's tables as giving the best performance! The table being greatly admired at the Agricultural Hall exhibition in London 1879 with an appreciation by John Roberts Snr.

Octaganol Billiard Table

This table is on display in the Billiard & Snooker Heritage Collection and has also been displayed at the Heritage Room, Sheffield, during the World Snooker Championships. Our records show that this table was made by Thurston's in 1908 and the ledger entry has a pencil drawing which seems to indicate that it fitted into the bay window of the room it was originally installed in.

Thurston Octaganol Billiard table


Octagonal Carom Billiard Table

This picture shows a 'Carom' version (no pockets) of the octagonal table

During the early years of the present century Thurston's introduced another very unusual billiard table this time of octagonal design (see accompanying photograph and the diagram) the table having eight straight cushions - the 2 "side" cushions being longer than the others - note - the 6 pockets all have the appearance of "middle pocket openings" being set into the straight sections of the cushion rails. The table was described as having ... "The eight wide angles of an octagon giving unlimited scope for ingenious cannon play"... and.... "The game being full of scientific possibilities enables the ladies to meet their menfolk on more equal terms by reason of the great variety of possible strokes"

- I am not sure I understand these selling points. A few of these tables are still known to exist one in Australia - a second in South Africa an another somewhere in East Anglia (The table in the collection was collected by N. Clare and his son Peter from East Anglia).

Orme & Sons round billiard table

Also during the first decade of the 20th Century another attempt was made to introduce another unusual billiard table by "The Oval Billiards Co." (Orme & Sons the billiard table manufacturers of Manchester being the actual proprietors). As the name implies this table was in fact Oval measuring some 10ft. 8 ¾ in. long by 7ft. 3 ¾ in. wide. The accompanying illustration published alongside this article is a photograph of an original sales leaflet in the possession of the writer passed down from his father E. A. Clare who during the period 1903 to 1912 was the Practical Manager and Billiard Fitter based in Belfast for Orme & Sons Ltd. who were very well known manufactures of billiard tables at that time, but now, unfortunately no longer existing. Note the pre Word War I price of £105.00 - this would be about £3500.00 or more in today's values. I remember my father telling me that he sold several of these tables but they were not successful and were later sold off at give away prices of £5.00 each. Some years ago - before the writer had established the museum of billiard antiques in Liverpool he had the opportunity of acquiring one of these tables when taking over the stock in Trade of Fitzpatrick and Longley the Sheffield Billiard Table Makers - but it was left behind as being valueless rubbish! So a bit of billiards history was lost.


round / oval billiard table

A short article in a magazine, June 1937,about the 'Oval Table'

It is not surprising that circular and old tables were not successful as it was clearly impossible to accurately judge the angles of rebound of the balls off the cushions. My father, however, told me that some of the professional players of those days amaze spectators by thieving "Cannons" with the cue ball rebounding off several cushions before making the final contact. He explained that these strokes were "Designed" by placing the players cue ball and one object ball anywhere on the table and playing a hard forceful shot - then wherever the cue ball came to rest the second object ball was placed at that position - the cue ball and the first object ball were then placed in their original positions and the same stroke repeated - thus scoring the amazing "Round the Table Cannon'

Coming nearer to the present days during 1930 Thurston were once again responsible for introducing another unusual billiard table. The original idea was developed by a Mr. R. S. Goddard of the then very well known suppliers of slate beds to the trade, the intention being that enthusiastic billiard players could practice their shots on this M.I.P. table, (the initials standing for Multum in Parvo - Much in Little) which measured only 6ft. 1 ½ in by 4ft. 6in. and yet provided all the principal shots of a full sized 12ft. table. As can be seen from the illustration the table had 3 baulk lines complete with half circles, 2 corner and 2 middle pockets. Mr. Goddard had apparently evolved the idea after watching the leading professional players and It was also claimed that you could play snooker on the M.I.P. billiard Table. Instructions for snooker using only 5 red balls were published stating that the 5 red balls should be arranged to form a pyramid behind the pink spot - I do not know how you can make a pyramid out of 5 balls!! 

MIP Billiard table

The Collection now has an example of a Thurston MIP table on display

The Reverend Hall - Yarn M.A. a leading member of the B. A. & C. C.( Billiard Association & Control Council) of that time wrote on 18th May 1930 - I have played billiards and snooker on the M.I.P.. Table and it is certainly the best undersized table upon which I have ever played. It is the only small table I know upon which actual practice has not been wasted when the players changes over to a full sized table. It is near to perfection as possible The good player since he has standard cushion - cloth - pockets and balls can Top of the table play, Nursery Cannons, Middle Pocket "Losers" are all waiting for his cue". The M.I.P., table was also recommended by Walters Lindrum, Joe Davis, Tom Newman and Clark McConachy !!

MIP Billiard Table advert

two pages from the 'Billiard Player' magazine giving information on the MIP table

MIP Billird Table 1930

In the long, run, however, as in many other walks of life that which seems to many to be a good idea - does not find ready acceptance by the public at large and all five of these unusual billiard tables have failed and completely disappeared from "The World of Billiards and Snooker"

additional information added to the article - As Norman said at the start of his article people try to invent or should we say re-invent billiard / Snooker / Pool tables and here are a few more recent examples of such inventions-

Octagonal pool table

This table was advertised in October 1986

L shaped pool table

 The 'L' shaped Pool Table was advertised along with the 'Round' Pool Table in July 2000 and in December 2008 there was an article in a local Liverpool paper about a Pub called the 'Madhouse' in Margate, which has one of the 'L' shaped tables.

 Round pool table

In February 2018 Will Wherton emailed the Snooker Heritage website to ask if we had any rules for the circular Pool table pictured above as he had just finished refurbishing one. He had found it in a skip and thought it would be a feature at the Pontins Holiday Village at Brean Sands in Somerset. Sadly we were not able to provide any rules but Will was kind enough to send a couple of pictures of the refurbished pool table.

During Renovation



© 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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