More Unusual Billiard Tables



Days of Old number 8
More Unusual Billiard T

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 descri, 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.

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).

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. 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 Numbers 1 and 2 and also through Numbers 5 and 4 engaging into nuts set into the Number 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 an 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 Senior.

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 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”.

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. 8¾ in. long by 7ft. 3¾ 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 Limited. who were very well known manufactures of billiard tables at that time, but now, unfortunately no longer existing. Note the pre World War I price of £105.00 – this would be about £3,500.00 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.

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. 1½ 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!! 

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 as 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 Walter Lindrum, Joe Davis, Tom Newman and Clark McConachy!!

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.

© 1990 Norman Clare / 2018 E A Clare & Son Limited
Reproduction of this article allowed with permission from E A Clare & Son Limited