Art & antiques by Dr. Lori: Pool sharks from history
The sport of billiards, as we know it, originated in the 15th century with the ruling classes of Europe. The game quickly attracted court members and commoners alike. Billiards has long been a game that has blurred socioeconomic lines. The age-old game now enjoys a revival in the world of antiques collecting.
The earliest version of our contemporary game of pool originally was called ground billiards. It was a game played outdoors on grass, like croquet. Over time, the game was moved indoors and played with cues on a green fabric-covered table to recall the color of the grassy lawn.
While the French kings were the first to own billiard tables, circa 1470, many of history’s most famous figures played billiards.
Some historic pool sharks included Mary Queen of Scots, William Shakespeare, Mozart, Napoleon, King Louis XIV, King Louis XVI and Maria Antoinette, General Lafayette, President George Washington, President John Quincy Adams, President Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Cornelius Vanderbilt and H.G. Wells, to name a few.
Today, many people are partaking in the revival of pool, collecting pool memorabilia, and decorating game rooms with vintage and antique pool tables, racks and accessories. Stars like Ozzy Osbourne had an antique pool table in his Malibu, Calif., home and Elvis revived interest in the game with a table in his basement den at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn.
Game rooms featuring billiards tables and bars recall the golden age of billiard salons. Following the gaming tastes of America’s businessmen and robber barons like Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan in the early 20th century, collectors continue to seek out antique billiard tables, cue racks and vintage billiard balls.
The strong market for period billiard tables made of maple, walnut and rosewood entices collectors to pay upwards of $25,000 and $100,000 for some fine Victorian tables.
Some of the most popular Brunswick pool tables were the Union League, the Nonpareil and the Monarch lines.
Often, these large scale and impressive billiard tables were intended for a home’s overtly masculine game room reviving the classical decorating style of the late 19th century.
In America, the majority of pool tables were produced by Brunswick-Balke-Collendar. In the Victorian age, circa 1837-1901, pool table designs featured solid hardwoods, inlaid ivory diamond sights, marquetry work, Roman style leaf motifs and-or geometric Greek key patterns borrowed from the architecture of the ancient world.
It is not uncommon for a collection of antique billiard objects including a table, cue rack, cue sticks and hand-made leather pockets to have an insurance value exceeding $125,000.
Whether or not you play the game, don’t disregard that really heavy pool table in your grandmother’s basement – odds are it is quite valuable.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide.