Billiards in the Regency Era

Here I am again, answering a question from another reader on what I know of the game of billiards in the Regency era. Specifically, the person wanted to know whether the billiard balls were solid colored, striped, numbered? From the research I have done, thus far, (I would welcome any who know more than I to chime in.) I know the balls were made from ivory (female tusk was preferable for some reason,) and they plugged the hole where the nerve ran through the tusk with ebony.

The article from Wikipedia speaks to many of the rules, and, in truth, it has been many years since I have played billiards. I used to be quite good. A former beau was a superb player so he taught me a few tricks. LOL! If you never have played the game, the rules and terminology can be a bit confusing, especially for the traditional game of billiards. English billiards

“Dating to approximately 1800, English billiards, called simply billiards in many former British colonies and in Great Britain where it originated, was originally called the winning and losing carambole game, folding in the names of three predecessor games, the winning game, the losing game and the carambole game (an early form of straight rail), that combined to form it. The game features both cannons (caroms) and the pocketing of balls as objects of play. English billiards requires two cue balls and a red object ball. The object of the game is to score either a fixed number of points, or score the most points within a set time frame, determined at the start of the game.

“Points are awarded for:

Two-ball cannons: striking both the object ball and the other (opponent’s) cue ball on the same shot (2 points).

Winning hazards: potting the red ball (3 points); potting the other cue ball (2 points).

Losing hazards (or “in-offs”): potting one’s cue ball by cannoning off another ball (3 points if the red ball was hit first; 2 points if the other cue ball was hit first, or if the red and other cue ball were “split“, i.e., hit simultaneously).

One might find this piece especially helpful. A Practice Treatise on the Game of Billiards: https://books.google.com/books?id=RB1dAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA9&dq=billiards&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiQrsP4wJDMAhVDeCYKHSvlA6MQ6AEIKzAA#v=onepage&q=billiards&f=false

The game of billiards in England was not standardized in Regency England. There were a number of variations on how the game was played. In addition, billiard tables, cues and balls were all custom-made. Also, it might be useful to know English billiard tables had pockets, while billiard tables on the Continent did not.

Billiards in Regency England did not use as many balls as are used in the game today. In most cases, there was a single red “object” ball and two white “cue” balls (one for each player), with one of the white cue balls marked with a black dot, to distinguish it from the plain white ball. As the game evolved, to propel the players made use of the opposite side of the stick to get better results which came to known as “cue.” As the tip of the cue were, generally, very smooth, it was difficult to control where the ball went once it was struck. Someone around 1807 (do not know who) thought to place a small piece of leather on the tip of the cue, giving the player more control of the ball.

The use of several multi-colored balls was not introduced until 1819, with a table game known as “pool.”  So, if the story is set before 1819, the characters only have to deal with three balls on their billiard table, two white and one red. One might find this article on Regency Redingote helpful: You can find it here: https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/billiards-in-the-regency/

Other Sources:

Billiards During the Regency and Victorian Era

Entertainment in the Georgian Era

The History of Billiards

An Odd History of Billiards and Pool

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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