In this article we're going to cover what is called the transformation years of billiards starting with 1674 and working our way up to the year 1800. By the year 1674 the game of billiards was still very similar to the version played on the ground. The only significant change was moving the game itself to a table.
However, in the next 100 years, changes to the game would come quickly which would make the game look more like the modern version that we play today. The elements of ground billiards would slowly disappear altogether. What would replace these elements are those which made for some very different variations of the game itself. The games became more complex and required a great deal more skill. In the 1700s began what is referred to as the transformation to the modern game.
The innovation which probably changed the game the most during this time was the creation of the billiard cue. Makeshift cues had been used until this time. It was actually the mace that led to the creation of the cue stick and ultimately to the disappearance of the mace altogether. Players began to use the narrow end of the mace to make their shots and because of this discovered a new way of playing. Prior to this, the mace had always been used to "push" the ball forward, kind of like a miniature shuffle board stick. The narrow end had always been the handle.
The new way of holding the mace to make shots came from the difficulty of making shots where the cue ball was pressed up against the cushion of the table. Thus the narrow end was better suited for making these shots. By turning the mace around and shooting with the handle, players discovered an immediate improvement to their accuracy and control.
With the invention of the cue came other improvements such as leather tips, chalk, slate beds, fine cloth, rubber rails and standard sizes for tables. Better cushions made for better shot making. This began the birth of "carom" games that started in and swept across France. Gradually as time went by, billiards was looked at as a scientific game as well as a game of skill. The rules of the game, which included the equipment used, began to become standardized. By the mid 1700s billiards had spread from Europe throughout the whole world.
With the market and demand for billiards increasing at an alarming rate, a demand for standardized rules, tables and equipment had to be met. This of course led to big business. Manufacturing plants of tables and equipment began to pop up like daisies. Everyone was trying to get a piece of this ever growing market, which included merchants, investors and even kings.
Once again, monarchs competed with each other, not only to make the best tables and game rooms but to grab the largest piece of the marketing pie that they could get. Many craftsmen and merchants actually worked for kings trying to capture as much of the market as they could. Some would specialize in making quality cushions while others would concentrate on cue sticks. Others would work exclusively on designing tables.
Importers would spend fortunes trying to get the finest materials in which to make the table cloths. It was this industrialization that forced many of the changes that the game had undergone. After all, with every new innovation and improvement that meant more sales as everyone had to have the finest billiard set up that they could get.
This was now big money. Innovations that caught on big meant profit for a lifetime. .
By: Michael Russell