Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bassford Timeline

Abraham Bassford of New York City was selling billiard tables through the classifieds as early as 1823, according to the New York Evening Post. He also seems to hold the earliest billiard cushion patent on record:

Patent Gum Elastic Billiard Cushions

July 20, 1831, Patent No. 6,631X. (The so-called "X patents" indicate patent records lost in the USPTO fire of 1836, so we can't see the original.) Click to enlarge his advertisement, and see how he described these cushions.

Bassford was listed a turner, an ivory turner, and a musician in the 1820s, and his occupation became "billiards" in the 1830's.

In the 1840's, Bassford had a foundry, and made billiard tables supported by gilded, cast iron eagles. Bassford also became a piano maker in the 1850s.


Antebellum Billiard Table Patents

Here is a list of early Billiard Table Patents (pre-Civil War), developed from the USPTO annual reports in the New York State Library. (Click patent number to link to online patent records)

Patent Title Inventor Location Issued
6,613X Cushions for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Jul 20, 1831
5,952 Cushion for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Dec. 5, 1848
14,290 Billiard-Table Cushion M. Phelen New York Feb 19, 1856
15,994 Billiard-Table Cushion W.B. Carpenter New York Oct 28, 1856
18,799 Billiard-Table Cushion J.M. Brunswick Cincinnati Dec. 8, 1857
18,805 Billiard-Table Cushion H.W. Collender New York Dec. 8, 1857
18,841 Billiard-Table Cushion L. Decker Bergen, NJ Dec 15, 1857
19,074 Cushion for Billiard-Tables H.W. Collender New York Jan 12, 1858
19,101 Cushion for Billiard-Tables M. Phelen New York Jan 12, 1858
19,546 Billiard-Table Top or Bed C. Croley Cincinnati Mar. 9, 1858
19,755 Folding Billiard-Table C. Croley Cincinnati Mar 30, 1858
20,156 Billiard-Table Cushion G. W. Holman New York May 4, 1858
20,548 Pocket-Supporter for Billiard-Tables J. E. Came Boston Jun 15, 1858
21,159 Billiard-Cushion W. K. Winant Brooklyn Aug 10, 1858
22,001 Billiard-Table D. D. Winant New York Nov. 2, 1858
22,020 Cushions for Billiard-Tables L. Decker Bergen, NJ Nov. 9, 1858
22,064 Billiard-Table H.W. Collender New York Nov 16, 1858
22,263 Billiard-Table Cushion J. E. Came Boston Dec. 7, 1858
23,340 Cushion for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Mar 29, 1859
23,341 Cushion-Rail for Billiard-Tables A. Bassford New York Mar 29, 1859
23,458 Billiard-Table F. Fedderke New York Apr. 5, 1859
23,350 Improvement in Billiard-Table Cushions H.W. Collender New York Mar 29, 1859
24,279 Pocket-Handle for Billiard-Tables J.M. Brunswick Cincinnati Jun. 7, 1859
26,128 Billiard-Table Cushion G. D. Sharp New York Nov 15, 1859

List excludes Reissues. While there is at least one billiard table maker in Upstate New York during this time (Jeramiah Staats of Buffalo), all the NY patents were coming from New York City.

American Eagle Cast Iron Billiard Table

New York Evening Post, June 6, 1835 advertisement
To Southerners - The first cast iron Billiard Table ever in America, may be seen at the splendid Billiard Saloon, 218 Broadway, rear stairs. The broad rails are cushion eagles, entirely gilt, being at once emblematic of our country, the eagle her glory, the iron her strength, and the gold her riches. Let some Southerner treat his tour with this rich gem. Seven other tables in the room, all for sale, and in full operation every day and evening. Cloths, balls, cues, maces and every other article in the trade for sale as usual.
Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, various 1836 ads
Something New. - The American Eagle Iron Billiard Tables, with polished slate stone beds and patent gum elastic cushions. Southerners and the public are invited to try these very superior tables... 12 tables up for trial... ABM BASSFORD

Abraham Bassford, 1847, patent no. 5,952, CUSHION FOR BILLIARD TABLES

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Old Time Billiards

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Jan. 30, 1896
The Old Time Billiards
A Gray Headed Player Grows Reminiscent
A reporter of this paper dropped into one of our leading billiard parlors yesterday afternoon. As he gave a casual glance around the room his eyes chanced to rest upon a gray-haired man, who seemed to be taking a great interest in watching two well-known amateurs manipulate the ivories.
"This isn't anything like the way the game used to be played in my time--I mean when my hand was firm and steady, for I now begin to feel the approach of the end. In the old days, it was between the years '55 and '70 that I did the most of my playing--we need to play carroms on a six pocket 6x12 table with wooden beds and oval hard rubber cushions. It was before the marble or slate beds had been introduced in America. ... Finally, about the year '60 the pockets of the tables were reduced from six to four and the size of the tables to 5 1-2 by 11 with slate beds. In the natural course of events the regulation carrom table, a 5 by 10 with no pockets, was introduced.
At that time there were no clubs and few if any enthusiasts had tables of their own. Nowadays, nearly all the well-to-do citizens have private tables at their homes and all the club houses are furnished with them."

Found on www.fultonhistory.com, a great resource for searching historic upstate NY newspapers. This link is the page with the article.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Benedict Factory

In 1877, the Benedict billiard table manufactory occupied only the second floor. In 1879, Benedict claimed to be the only billiard factory in the state using steam power.

J.D. Babcock 1893 Advertisement

Then and Now:  Here is an unrestored end panel of this same model J.D. Babcock billiard table (courtesy of Bankshot Antique Pool Tables, Albany, NY). I've found that the engravings in ads during this era did not always represent actual tables produced by that particular billiard table maker, but this one certainly was accurate.

Utica Manufacturer in Syracuse

Here's an intriguing description of a billiard table in the Syracuse, N. Y. Daily Courier, Aug. 7, 1858:
Voorhees House Billiard Saloon -- Mr. G. W. Moulton, formerly of Weiting Hall, is putting up two of Green's Metallic framed, enamelled cushioned, marble bedded Billiard Tables on the lower floor at the Voorhees House, and will probably have them in operation on Monday. They are the most perfect specimens of the kind we have ever seen. The frames are got up in the ornate style of George IV, and the enamelled cushions are a novelty worthy a careful examination. These superb tables are the work of W. H. Green, Esq, of Utica, one of the most accomplished mechanics the country affords.

According to the Utica Daily Observer, Nov. 17, 1858, some familiar Utica faces were seen in the window of a billiard room on Broadway in New York city: "Wm. H. Green, of the National Hotel, Genesee St., was before the New York public with his patent billiard tables, of which there are six in his saloon."

I've had no luck finding William "Harry" Green's patent yet, but during the 1850's, billiard patenting still revolved mainly around the cushions.(See Antebellum Billiard Table Patents)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Castle Timeline

Charles L. Castle spent nearly 20 years in the Syracuse, NY billiard table industry, working as a carpenter, billiard mechanic, book-keeper, and traveling salesman. But in the mid-1890's, his (probable) employer, the Benedict Billiard Table Co. of Syracuse, transitioned from building tables locally to selling tables that were made in New York City by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company.

Castle opened his own competing business, and in 1899, the C. L. Castle factory was up and running, initially employing just two people.

1880 Census shows Charles L. Castle as a Billiard Table Maker
1890 After years listed as a carpenter or mechanic, C. L. Castle now works as a book-keeper at the same address as Benedict and Brunswick
1893 C. L. Castle works as a commercial traveler (traveling salesman) at the same address as Benedict and Brunswick
1899 New York State factory inspection shows C. L. Castle manufacturing billiard tables with two workman, 60 hrs/week
1917 C. L. Castle's business closes after he experiences a serious hip injury

Benedict Timeline

The Benedict Billiard Table Co. produced highly inlaid, elaborately ornamented tables, and in the antique pool table community, Benedict is still the best-known of the old Syracuse makers. This is thanks not only to the artistry of founder H. A. Benedict, but also to the business acumen of the well-connected second owner, T. W. Meachem.

1875 Heman Allen Benedict, formerly of Skaneateles, is manufacturing billiard tables in Syracuse, NY
1876 H. A. Benedict advertises new and second-hand tables, private tables a specialty
1877 H. A. Benedict advertises the "Syracuse Standard Billiard Table"
1877 New factory location on Gifford Street damaged by nearby fire
1879 Thomas William Meachem, formerly of Auburn, NY, buys the Benedict Billiard Table Mfg Company, H. A. Benedict remains as superintendent
1882 Heman Benedict leaves to manage Syracuse billiard table dealership of J. M. Brunswick & Balke
1885 Heman Benedict leaves the billiard industry, Brunswick, Balke & Collender closes their Syracuse ware-rooms
1889 First advertisement showing the Benedict and the Brunswick, Balke & Collender (BBC) billiard companies at same address
1896 The Benedict company has exclusive territory for BBC tables in 31 New York counties, manufacturing seems limited to cue racks and carom plugs
1900 The Benedict Billiard Table Co. is incorporated in New York
1903 T. W. Meachem sells Benedict Billiard Table Co. to Brunswick, Balke & Collender Co.
1913 The Benedict Billiard Table Co. is dissolved

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Babcock Timeline

The earliest billiard table maker in Syracuse, NY was Babcock Billiard Table Mfg., a two-generation family business that started soon after the Civil War and operated until the Great Depression. J. D. Babcock got his start cutting down the outmoded 12-foot billiard tables down to the newly popular 9- or 10-foot sizes.

1868 John D. Babcock, originally from Lysander, NY, advertises as a Practical Billiard Table Repairer in Syracuse
1871 J. D. Babcock is now advertising as a Practical Billiard Table Manufacturer, Dealer, and Repairer
1887 J. D. Babcock partners with John Wilbur Gould to form "J. D. Babcock & Co."
1894 Partnership with J. W. Gould is dissolved by mutual consent
1910 John D. Babcock dies at the age of 71, billiard company continues to run under his Estate
1912 Advertising changes to "Babcock Billiard Table Factory"
1916 Advertising changes to "Babcock Billiard Table Mfg., Ray B. Babcock, Proprietor"
1920 Marietta Betts Babcock dies, leaves billiard table business to younger son Ray B. Babcock, who has been managing it
1935 The business of Peter F. Gilboa, DBA Babcock Billiard Table Factory of Syracuse is liquidated in bankruptcy. Ray Babcock is a creditor.

Babcock provided billiard services for decades after the other Syracuse manufacturers closed, so their nameplate may appear on tables not originally manufactured by Babcock, by virtue of having been repaired and re-cushioned by Babcock in the 1920's or 1930's.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Here's some of the material I'm referencing (incomplete - this post will be updated).

Billiards and Saloons:

 Mel Adelman,
"Neglected Sports in American History: The Rise of Billiards in New York City, 1850-1871", Sport History Review, Volume 12, Issue 2, December 1981

R. A. Dyer, The Hustler & The Champ: Willie Mosconi, Minnesota Fats, and the Rivalry that Defined Pool (Guilford, CT, Lyons Press, 2008)

Michael Ian Shamos, The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards (Lyons Press, 2002)

Madelon Powers, Faces along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman's Saloon, 1870-1920  (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Ned Polsky, Hustlers, Beats, and Others (Chicago, Aldine Publishing Co., 1967)

Rick Kogan , Brunswick: The story of an American company, the first 150 years
(Lake Forest, IL, Brunswick Corporation, 1995)

Victor Stein and Paul Rubino, The Billiard Encyclopedia: An Illustrated History Of The Sport (Lunenburg, Vermont, Steinhour Press, 1994)

Raymond Calkins, Substitutes For The Saloon (New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1919)

The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, Modern billiards: A complete text-book of the game, (New York, Trow, 1904)

Oliver L. Briggs, Rules for Billiards and Pool; and an Illustrated Catalogue of Briggs Billiard Tables and Billiard Furnishings (Boston, Oliver L. Briggs & Son, 1893)

W. H. Griffith & Co's Illustrated Price List of the American Standard Bevel Billiard Tables, (New York, A. J. Rowley, 1875)

Phelen and Collender, Standard American Billiard Tables and Combination Cushions (New York, 1866)

Michael Phelan, Billiards Without A Master (New York, D. D. Winant, 1850)

Business and General History:

Thomas J. Schlereth, Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life (New York, Harper Collins, 1991)

Carol Sheriff, The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862 (New York, Hill and Wang, 1996)

Alex Groner, The American Heritage History of American Business & Industry (New York, American Heritage Publishing Co., 1972)

Howard P. Chudacoff, The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture (Princeton University Press, 1999)

Roy Rosenweig, Eight Hours For What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Other recommendations welcome!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Syracuse Billiard Table Makers

From the Antebellum Era into the Roaring 20’s, a billiard or pool table provided an amusement in social clubs and fraternal lodges, a status symbol in the homes of the wealthy, and a profitable investment for the billiard halls. Billiards played an integral role in men’s social lives, and the tables were beautiful articles of furniture, as well as complex manufactured products.

As a transportation hub and a booming industrial city, Syracuse, NY provided a ready local market for tables, with convenient canal and rail shipping for raw materials and finished goods. A number of Syracuse billiard table "manufactories" competed to supply every hotel, firehouse, saloon, and industrialist’s parlor along the Erie Canal with tables.

Here are the Syracuse Billiard Table Makers that operated between the Civil War and WWI:

Babcock: The longest-running billiard table makers in Syracuse, this two-generation family business started soon after the Civil War, and persevered until the Great Depression (John D. Babcock, Ray Babcock). For more, see the Babcock Timeline or posts labeled Babcock.

Benedict: Beginning in the late 1870’s, Benedict was known for elaborate inlaid tables, and is still the best-known of the old Syracuse makers (Heman A. Benedict, T. William Meachem). For more, see the Benedict Timeline or posts labeled Benedict.

Castle: Around 1900, the ranks of the Syracuse billiard table makers expanded, when Charles L. Castle started his own workshop, after decades of experience in the industry. For more, see the Castle Timeline or posts labeled Castle.

Stickley: Gustav Stickley's United Crafts produced furnishings for the elaborate private billiard rooms of the wealthy, and brothers L. & J. G. Stickley also sold billiard tables. Stay tuned for more on Stickley.

Jim's Castle

Jim Castle had heard stories about his great-grandfather's billiard business, but he'd never actually seen his ancestor’s handiwork. Today Jim is the proud owner of a C. L. Castle “Unity” pool table, made over a century ago in his great-grandfather’s factory, and his family has an heirloom with a very personal meaning.

The owners of Bankshot Antique Pool Tables always had a special affinity for the Syracuse-made tables, but Jim was able to shed new light on the billiard table makers as people and as businessmen. My curiosity led to some research, a press release, and a great story by the Syracuse Post-Standard on Sept. 9, 2012:
Jim Castle restores a pool table that was built at his great-grandfather's Syracuse factory