Make Your Top Ten Choice




I have been asked on a few occasions by fellow collectors which is my favourite cue, a question to which I have never been able to give a straight answer.

I have the problem, (if it is a problem) of choosing one from about two hundred and fifty plus old cues, and for me it would not be the case of just picking the rarest or most expensive. So when a visitor to my Billiard room asked me, which cue would I grab and save if the house was on fire it made me think that I would in all probability not survive the inferno. You see I would be so busy running around my Billiard room picking up a cue only to then change my mind and swap it for another in a vain to escape with my prize that I’m sure I would be well cooked before being able to settle on one. So to make my survival more probable I decided to allow myself ten cues, I think I could escape with five grasped firmly in each hand before being overcome by the smoke.

So, I’m standing on my drive watching the flames engulf my home, looking over the ten cues still held firmly in my hands. Did I pick the right ones? There is that nice double butted one, and then there is that rare one… So I pull my shirt over my head and dive into the flames for a second sortie. Did I forget something? Oh yes, the family, I must not forget to wake the wife and kids first!

These are the ten cues I would pick out, not necessarily the most valuable or the rarest but the ones that mean the most to me. They are not in order of preference, but just as I find them as I walk around my room looking through the cue racks. Choosing only ten is hard enough, sorting them out into order of preference would be far too difficult for me to do.

The first is a Burroughes & Watts cue Butt, and not really a cue in the true sense of the word, but would have been used with a rest for when using the tip end or on its own for when using the leathered butt end. It must predate 1885 as this is when the rules were changes to outlaw use of the butt end of the cue, and it’s longer than a conventional cue at some sixty inches. It is made of mahogany with an ash shaft and a thin wooden ferrule or washer at the junction between the two. It is probably one of my oldest cues and comes from that transitional period when the mace gave way to the cue.

Next is another Burroughes & Watts cue, this time the famous Burwat Champion. Not because it’s so famous and is one of the cues every serious collector must own. Not because it was the cue that Alex Higgins liked to play with and made famous after an appeal on T.V. for another one after breaking his own. It’s not even the one that is in nicest condition of the four that I own, as that honour goes to an earlier version that is in immaculate condition. It’s also not the rarest of my Burwat Champion cues as I have a later version with a maple shaft, which is believed to be very difficult to find. The one I would save is a tulip wood spliced type, the one that I play with on a day-to-day basis and seems to be the one that I play the ‘least worst’ with, well at the moment that is!

The next is again a Burroughes & Watts cue, but this is a miracle cue! It’s a nice double butted cue with an ash shaft and came to me from a fellow collector a year or so ago. When I first received the cue in the post I proceeded to try it out on my table as I do with all of my cues if they have a tip in place at the time. This one had a nine-millimetre tip, which is a little smaller than my usual choice, but I wanted to try the cue out just the same. I spread the balls out nicely on the table and started to attempt to pot them, but just in random order rather than in the red colour red sequence. To my surprise and delight ball followed ball, right into the heart of the pocket, no misses, no wobbling in the jaws. As the numbers rose so did my elation, ten, twelve maybe even fifteen balls in a row flew perfectly into their desired targets and I was not even trying. I had found ‘my cue’, a magic wand with which I could work miracles, so maybe I had been playing with the wrong size tip all this time! I was over the moon with my new purchase, so I immediately phoned my playing partner to tell him the wonderful news, and to invite him around the next night for a game. My elation turned to pure frustration the next day when to my horror the beautiful straight, perfectly balanced cue that I had left on my table had turned into a ‘broomstick’! It was now a chunk of dead wood, it seemed the pockets were now much smaller and the balls a lot bigger. Well that is the conclusion I came to because every ball I struck with the cue ball either wobbled and flew out or did not even get close enough to the pocket to have a dogs chance of going in. What had happened to my magic cue, why had it gone from so right to so wrong over night? To this day I am still puzzled and I occasionally get out the cue and try it in a vain hope that the magic returns. So this is a cue that must survive the fire just in case I can one day shake it into life and produce the kind of magic that I once saw it give me.

Next it another cue that came to me from a fellow cue collector, who is also a well known authority on cues. This is a Thurston cue, quite an early example with its wide leathered butt and in my eyes a very attractive cue. It is ash shafted, machine spliced and quite light at just 13 ounces. The butt is very ornate with a variety of woods used on the splices and the “Thurston & Co” name inlaid in what looks like satinwood. Altogether a nice looking cue and one that I enjoy handling.

A Riley cue had to be included somewhere in the choice and although I have lots of Riley cues this is one of my favourites. It’s known as “The Ladies Cue” and is hand-spliced ash with a snakewood butt. The badge is unusual in that it is a small ‘shield’ shaped piece of ivory not unlike the shape of an American police badge. It is considered to be quite a rare cue and I must admit to have never seen another although there must be other collectors out there that also have an example. It is not surprising to me that it is an uncommon cue as such small numbers of women would have played sufficiently enough to warrant their own cue and so not many would have been purchased. I can’t imagine that many men would have walked into their cue retailer and asked for a ‘Ladies Cue’ unless they were to quickly add, “it’s for the wife, really”!

Also included in my ‘ten cue grab’ is a “Black Arrow Cue”, made in Blackpool. This cue again is chosen for it’s good looks plus its rather unusual construction. The first half of the shaft, the ‘pointy’ end is maple, there is a machine splice halfway along the shaft after which the lower half of the shaft is ebony tapering slimly into an ornate set of various spliced woods on the butt. The badge itself is long and slim and not only carrying the Black Arrow name but also the name of Willie Holt. The cue makes the claim that it is “A spot above the rest” with a logo of a spot ball pictured above a rest head. I wonder how many board meetings passed before that little gem was thought up? Bad pun aside, the cue is to me a very interesting one, it’s unusual in its construction and a pleasure for me to look at.

A Howarth Nuttall cue comes next, the company was based in Nottingham, for those of you unfamiliar with this manufacturer. This cue, the “Exhibition Cue” was a “hand made” cue and top of their range according to their 1930’s catalogue that I happen to have. It was priced at the princely sum of 21 shillings (£1.05), not a lot you might think but in comparison to their bottom of the range cue at 5 shillings (25p) which they also claim was “hand made” you can see how prices have changed! This cue is attractive with an ash shaft, double hand spliced butt with burr over ebony. It plays rather well too, but not the ‘wand’ that I once thought I had discovered.

In comparison to the other cues a relatively modern cue comes next, a Cannon Match cue, this cue is well balanced and has one of the nicest pieces of burr walnut front splices that I have ever seen. It is hand spliced and has a maple shaft and is one of the few maple cues that I have felt comfortable playing with. I generally find that I prefer ash or even a pear shafted cue when I can find a good one, but this maple cue has tempted me to pick it up and play with it more than once. The Cannon Match cue generally makes a good playing cue and is often sought after by players looking for an older cue that also plays well. Although the fact that it is a one piece cue does mean that for club players it is not as easy to transport as the many modern two piece options, anyone got a saw?

Back to an old cue for my next choice, a William Cook cue made by Burroughes & Watts. This is an ash shafted cue with a plain hand spliced ebony butt, it has a round ivory badge with a black line around the circumference as opposed to my other slightly later Cook cue which does not have the line. This cue deserves to survive as it has obviously had at least two reprieves from the scrap heap in the past. At some point in it’s life, and I believe it was many years ago it has had two new shafts spliced onto it, (not at the same time of course!) probably because of bad warping or maybe splitting near to the tip. It is of course not possible to say for sure why it was done but it is clear to see that the present shaft is the third one it has had. Shaft number three looks itself to be very old and shows age in the colour of the ash, it also has no ferrule and the tip it came to me with and still has is obviously the old wafer type. The tell tale signs of the past alterations are in between and just above the tips of the ebony splicing. On to what was the original ash shaft is patched a second piece of ash this is done in what I would describe as a type of mortise and tenon style. At some point in time this second shaft obviously failed so a third and final piece of ash was grafted on in what looks like a joint for a two piece cue but must be a doweled join, and has an ebony ferrule or washer between the two parts. Whoever owned this cue long ago must have treasured it a lot to go to such lengths to preserve it in playing condition, and the cost of the repairs must have exceeded the cost of buying a new cue. I feel that a cue that has seen so much ‘life’ must deserve to be saved again, and so it will be one of the cues tightly grasped on my exit from the house.

Next up is a “Tom Newman Champion cue”, it is not a particularly rare version, probably the easiest one to find. It is not even the one in the nicest condition of the three different Newman cues I own. The reason it is included is because it has a yet unidentified coat of arms and the letters “B, E and G” on the top of the ebony splicing. These are in the form of a transfer in gold and were obviously put on when the cue was new. Why they are there I have yet to find out, it could be a retailers mark but that does not ring true with the coat of arms. There is even the possibility that it is a ‘mess’ cue and carries the coat of arms from the regiment of the officers that used it in their recreation time. The coat of arms is rather difficult to make out as it is a little faded but I hope one day some one can shed some light on it. Anyone out there with any ideas?

The next cue is one that just has to be there, it’s a J P Mannock anti-grip cue. A nice looking cue and one which should be present in all good cue collections. I am fortunate enough to have several to choose from, so should it be one of the earlier Billiard shape examples with the snakewood front splice or one from the more useable later Snooker shaped ones with a burr front splice? A ‘patent’ cue or should it be a ‘registered’ cue? I don’t have time to do the “eenie-meenie-miney-

moe” bit as the smoke is getting rather thick now I’ll take one of the earlier snakewood versions even though it is not very playable due to the whippiness of the pear shaft, but I think it looks the nicest.

A Joe Davis cue is next, a player familiar to everyone and at least one of his cues must appear in any collection. I have a lot of his cues to choose from but this one is my favourite. It’s a Riley black tombstone version celebrating his 146 Snooker break. It is machine spliced, ash shafted with a burr maple front splice. I also have another tombstone Davis cue that is earlier and celebrates his 105 Snooker break and 2501 Billiard break, that cue is hand spliced, but it’s the black badge machine spliced cue that I’m taking with me. I think it is in fact the combination of the black badge with its white lettering placed against the pale burr maple front splice that attracts me so much.

Next one in my hands is a fitting follow up to the Joe Davis cue in that it is a Fred Davis cue. It’s badged as his Champion cue, “nothing special about that I hear you cry, they are very common”. Well yes that is true, but this is a hand spliced version with a snakewood front splice which is not so easy to find. But it is not for that reason that it is included, but more out of sympathy for this underrated champion from the past. Everyone knows about his older brother’s great achievements but many forget that Fred was in fact world champion nine times also. Yes I know this was in the days when few were competing for the title, but that could also be said of Joe’s years at the top too. It seems to me that he was constantly overshadowed by Joe and never really given the credit that was due to him, he was always known as Joe’s younger brother rather than Fred Davis the champion. So it is with some sympathy for Fred the man that one of his cues is included rather than for the cue itself, even though the cue is quite nice all the same.

The penultimate cue in my hands is a W A Camkin cue, and for those of you unfamiliar with the name, Bill Camkin was a promoter of Billiards and Snooker matches in the early part of the twentieth century. He also had a business supplying and restoring tables, one assumes that he had the cues bearing his name made for him by some other cue maker which he then retailed. This cue is included not for sentimental reasons but purely on its looks, it has a maple shaft and ebony butt. It is hand spliced and has instead of the usual single front splice four splices running all the way around the butt, which are made up of what looks like walnut over maple veneer. The Camkin machine spliced cue is easier to find but this hand spliced version with its extra splices is much less common and so it is one of the cues coming with me on my escape.

The last cue to be grabbed is by an unknown maker but never the less has to come with me. It is a very old Billiard cue and has an ash shaft and plain ebony butt, it does not sound too interesting so far does it? Well this cue just feels wonderful, its butt is very wide at 38 millimetres and leathered so as to be able to be used to strike the ball with as well as the tip, this predates the cue before 1885. The ash shaft tapers quickly leaving the last foot or so almost as narrow as the 9.5 millimetre tip, this make it very whippy of course no good for Snooker but gives perfect feel for close up Billiard play. The ash itself is well figured with an almost perfect set of ‘arrows’ to sight down. The ferrule is over an inch long and made from ivory, so the fact that it has survived intact is quite something. Although the butt has no makers name it is obviously a quality cue, that paired with its wonderful condition means it has to included in my handful.

So that is my list of cues to take with me should the unthinkable happen, although I’m sure that my temptation to return into the house to rescue more would be overwhelming.

For those of you that are mathematically competent, you may have felt that I have exceeded my ten cue limit. For those of you that have difficulty with numbers to which I include myself, there are only ten cues listed, honest!

David Thomas Lyttleton