Rare Old Books



Books from the Great Age of Billiards

Up until now, I have concentrated on items that were still quite common or easy to get a hold of. Some of the rarer books that you might like to track down include, such titles as the Badminton Library, this book was first published in 1896. This book is becoming more of a collectors item, all the time. My copy is in good condition and was obtained by swapping a hand-spliced cue with my friend Andy Hunter. If you have never seen a copy of this book, take a look at the illustration on the left.

I have seen many lists of books for sale, but to this point none of them has included a picture so that you know what to expect.

My books are not for sale but I feel that you might like to see a picture so that you know what you are looking for or what to expect when your parcel arrives through the post.

The chief writer of the Badminton Library billiards book was Major Broadfoot; the book also contains sections written by other writers. The book is particularly interesting due to the black and white photographs and the section on the history of the game told in contemporary, turn of the century language. My copy is a first edition, I have seen others that are marginally better in terms of condition but I feel that the book is looking well for a centurion.

A book that is much thinner and brighter in the cover is ‘The club series billiards by Major General A W Drayson’. This book is among the first to mention the game of snooker within its text as it concentrates mainly on how to play billiards. Snooker warrants a few lines in the back of the book along with Russian pool, Black pool and Pyramid pool. These games are all gambling games, played on a billiard table with a variety of coloured balls and of course a cue. My copy see illustration, is an 1892 version with a title page that includes the words “the art of practical billiards” This book can be picked up quite cheaply and is a nice little book to have in your collection.

If you look at the cover of this book, it seems clear that other books in the series would have covered Chess and Card Games of one sort or another?

An early book that exclusively looks at snooker, is the book by the “Bos’un”, the title of this book is “Snooker how to improve your play”.

I have only seen this book with a stiff paperback, if a truly hard backed version exists, I have never seen one. The text and diagrams are quite good, but the most interesting part for me is the section on temperament. It seems that regardless of skill and the passage of time, the people playing then were little different from the players of today. This book is well worth getting, if you have the opportunity. Again for a look at the cover, our illustration is to your left.

I recently bought another little red book from Roger Lee at the Crucible in Sheffield. This book is entitled, “Practice strokes at billiards” by F M Hotine editor of Modern Billiards. This book is particularly interesting for the advertisements that it contains as for the text about the game of billiards. One of these pages is for Kent and co while another mentions the company of A W Gamage. Incidentally a friend of mine recently sold an A W Gamage cue. This book is written with a little wit and is easy to read when compared with more serious works. The illustration to your left gives a nice view of the attractive red, green and black cover.

My copy is not dated but in the introduction mention is made of the Great War, thus dating it after 1918.

While on the subject of little red books, I must make mention of my fourth edition copy of “Billiards for everybody” by Charles Roberts, son of the great John Roberts. This book carries a stern warning about fake chalk being sold as genuine St Martin Blue Chalk. The need for such an entry must have caused something of a stir at the time?

This book is filled with lots of detailed text and some quite intriguing photographs and warrants serious attention, if you should come across a copy. Another interesting part of this book is the offer from Charles Roberts to carry out coaching at his home.

I don’t know whether the text inside was represented in any other of his books but this is one of three that he wrote.

At a glance you might think that from the illustration, these last two books were printed by the same company but from reading the dedication, this seems not to have been the case.

I have concentrated in this piece on the little pocket books available around the turn of the century and a little after the first world war, I couldn’t finish without showing you the covers of the Melbourne Inmans book on billiards and the prettily titled book, “Dainty Billiards”, by Tom Reece.

My copy of the Reece book was published in 1925 and is packed with intricately drawn diagrams and contains text explaining them all. The sub title of the book reads “How to play the loose cannon game” as you will see from the illustration conveniently placed to your left. This book clearly took many years to research and was produced towards the latter part of Mr Reece’s career. As you are no doubt aware Tom Reece hold the world record for making a beak at billiards although it never receive d official recognition as neither a referee nor member of the public were present throughout, the break was 435,135 and is, commemorated on every model of Reece cue that was produced.

I like this book although the text is somewhat beyond my level of understanding.

Finally for this little piece, I want to mention the Melbourne Inman book in more detail, the copy that I currently own is a little different from most of those on offer at the moment as the cover is slightly altered. The book has a very good section on great players of the time and also some players recently retired at the time of writing. My copy is a reprint and yet seems slightly less common than the earlier edition. Many of these books are sold without their dust wrappers or make sure if you buy on mail order that yours still has the wrapper in place, it is worth paying extra as it will have protected the book quite well over the years.

David Smith