Billiards keep the upper class boys at home

An upstairs billiards room in the Hartford, Conn., house of Mark Twain and his family from 1874 to 1891. Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark, this is where Mark Twain wrote his best known works. Photo by Robert Fulton, Library of Congress, HABS CONN,2-HARF-16.

 

An upstairs billiard room is an effective antidote to athletic sports that “disintegrate family life,” says the Toronto Mail and Empire, September 9, 1905. With athletic sports, “The boys are at baseball matches, the gymnasium, on the road bicycling. They are never at home, except to eat and sleep.”

If a man installs “a well-equipped billiard room near the roof, with good air, adequate privacy, and satisfactory means of refreshment, his sons, after business hours, are much more likely to come home and bring their friends with them to play until dinner, rather than go to their clubs. It is a fact that billiard rooms, which used to be in the basement, have gone upstairs. Men will go upstairs to play billiards when they will not go down. In the basement they are too near the servants, whose ears are preternaturally acute. Upstairs there is greater freedom for conversation.

The billiard table, says the Mail and Empire, must measure 4 by 9 or 5 by 10 feet, and have strong support. Billiard cues require special attention. The proper wood is ash, “with leather tips that are made by French peasants, and are not procured elsewhere.” For the heavy end of the cue, “Bead like mouldings that assist the hand in its grip are preferred. The most expensive cues are ornamented with successive curving bands of coloured wood inlays, and these are so perfectly joined that they look like enamels, the effect being that of peacock’s eyes.”

The billiard room should provide “plenty of clear space around the tables… no projections to imperil the arms and shoulders of enthusiastic players… raised seats conveniently out of the way for onlookers… recesses for cues and other things.” Enclosed within the mahogany walls of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s billiard room, it was noted, there are “niches for cues and cupboards for refreshments and cigars.”

Unfamiliar Canadian History Stories 100

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