Collecting with Jeff
by Jeff Figler
I think that most people have felt they have been behind the “eight ball”. If they have never been so, then at least they have heard of that expression, or of “dealing with a full rack”.
Of course, those two expressions are from the universally popular game of billiards, commonly referred to as pool. I myself, am pretty inept at the sport, but I have always found it fascinating to watch others, including my opponents, convert shot after shot, and not even give me a remote opportunity to make our game anything but a landslide.
However, having spent a bit of time around England pubs and having drunk my share of pints and quarts, I am familiar with not only billiards but snookers as well.
Historically, the best that can be surmised is that billiards most likely evolved from a lawn game, possibly similar to croquet, sometime during the 15th century in Northern Europe. Many feel that the game may actually have started in France. The game made its way indoors, and was played with a wooden table with green cloth (which was supposed to simulate grass). A simple border was places around the edges. Balls were shoved, as compared to struck, by wooden sticks called maces.
“Billiard” is derived from the French, either from the word “billart”, one of the wooden sticks, or from the word “bille”, a ball.
In the 1600s, the public knew enough about the game that Shakespeare mentioned it in Antony and Cleopatra. In the late 1600s, the cue stick was developed. When a ball lay near a rail, the mace was very inconvenient to use because of its large head. Players would then turn the mace around and use its handle to strike the ball. The handle was sometimes called a “queue”, meaning tail. Therefore, the word “cue” was derived, and used the last few hundred years.
Pool tables originally had flat walls for rails, and were only designed to keep balls from falling off. They often resembled river banks, and a “bank shot” was one in which a ball rebounded as part of the shot. Chalk was introduced in the early 1800s, and slate became a popular pool table material in the mid-1800s.
The various types of pool games, such as American Four-Ball Billiards, Fifteen-Ball Pool, and others, emerged. Troops during the Civil War held tournaments, and professional players toured military stations giving exhibitions. Cigarette cards were even issued featuring these renowned players.
Eight-Ball was introduced shortly after 1900, and is the most well-known and popular billiards game known to the world.
However, the popularity of the game declined in the 1900s until 1961, when the movie “The Hustler”, starring Paul Newman, depicted the somber life of a pool hustler. Suddenly, pool was back in the spotlight. The sequel to “The Hustler” was released in 1986, as Paul Newman and Tom Cruise both starred in “The Color of Money”. It brought the excitement of pool to a new generation. The game has continued to increase in popularity to this day.
In addition, collectors have been known to spend thousands of dollars on pool equipment as well.
In a 2008 Heritage Auction, Glenn Ford’s pool table was auctioned. Evidently, the actor Glenn Ford spent countless hours playing on his Brunswick table against such Hollywood celebrities as John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, William Holden, Toy Rogers, and others. The auctioned table went for nearly $8000.
Another Heritage item fetched a lot more in 2012. A world-renowned Jacob Strahle Inlaid Pocket Billiards Table from 1875 went for almost $19000.
Yes, the game of billiards, which has been played by people from all walks of life from kings and presidents to pool hustlers and domestic engineers is, and has been for centuries, a game of the masses.
I recently read that a 95-year old man rolled a 300 game, a perfect score. That was incredible in itself, but it was his tenth perfect game. That news piece brought back memories of my futile attempts when I was much younger to even get half that score. However, I do remember rolling around a 167 once or twice, and saying to myself that I would never score that high again. I was right.
But I must admit that bowling is indeed an activity (sport, game) for the entire family, and for all ages. Just stick your fingers through the holes and let the ball fly. Of course, if you have long fingernails you need to be particularly careful that you don’t break them.
But how did such a popular sport originate? Who came up with the idea of the activity that has evolved through the years that we nowadays know as bowling.
Well, the answer is not known. In the 1930s, a British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie discovered some objects in an Egyptian grave that resembled a crude form of bowling. So possibly the Egyptian started bowling. However, there is evidence that some form of bowling was played in England in the 1300s during the reign of King Edward III, and later when King Henry VIII ruled.
Most likely, English, German, and Dutch settlers brought some kind of bowling to America. The author Washington Irving mentioned that Rip Van Winkle awake to the sound of “crashing ninepins”. New York City’s Battery area was probably the location of the country’s first lawn bowling. That area in New York City, now called Bowling Green, is in the financial area.
In the United States, the popularity of bowling increased tremendously in the 1800s, and bowling clubs were common. In 1895, the American Bowling Congress was formed for men, and in 1917 the Women’s International Bowling Congress was started.
Bowling balls, which has been made of very hard wood, started to be made of rubber. In 1914, the Brunswick Corporation marketed the mineralite ball made of rubber.
Finally, in 1951, the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) acquired the patent rights to the automatic pinspotter. However, what really brought bowling to American households was the advent of none other than television.
NBC first started televising “Championship Bowling”, which was followed by “Make That Spare”, “Celebrity Bowling”, as well as “Bowling For Dollars”. In 1961, ABC began televising Pro Bowlers Association (PBA) competition.
Bowlers such as Don Carter, Dick Weber (and later his son Pete), and Billy Welu, among others, were seen on television by millions of Americans, and Chris Schenkel broadcasting talent became known.
It is estimated that approximately 95 million people enjoy bowling in about 90 countries across the world. Nowadays there is worldwide competition under the auspices of the Federation Nationale des Quilleurs (FIQ).
Collectors have been quick to look for bowling collectibles as well, notably of celebrities.
For example, the bowling ball and bag that were used by Carroll O’Connor in his role as Archie Bunker in the immensely popular “All in the Family” television show were auctioned. The ball is actually monogrammed with the initials “A.B.”. The items sold for nearly $1500.
Not surprisingly, baseball great Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals got into the act himself. As St. Louis was regarded as the bowling capital for many years, undoubtedly Musial hung around with some of the great bowlers on teams often sponsored by Budweiser. Musial’s bowling bag naturally had the Cardinals logo bird mowing down bowling pins. In a 2013 Heritage auction the bag went for almost $1600.
But none other than Babe Ruth tried his hand at bowling as well. This is evidenced by a bowling scorecard that he signed. The scorecard clearly shows that he rolled games of 196 and 191. Not bad for anyone. Actually, the scorecard was signed three times by Ruth, and sold for $2629.
Bowling is certainly a game for everyone, except maybe for those who have long fingernails.