English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Amateur Billiard Player : February 1998

The Amateur Billiard Player : February 1998

HISTORICAL POT POURRI

Photo of Peter Ainsworth (2k)

by Peter Ainsworth
Photo of Willie Smith (4k)

In the 1924-25 season
playing with a tip ‘stolen’
from George Nelson, Willie
Smith made a total of 45
breaks over 500, including
runs of 1,173 and 1,027
which were his first breaks
over a thousand.

One thing has puzzled me lately and I wonder if my
experience is fairly general. I find anything in the nature
of a screw back or a stroke requiring the maximum of side has
an even-money chance of ending hi a mis-cue. Of course, bad
workmen blame their tools, but I have been paying particular
attention to this problem of late, and I notice that many others
like myself come to grief at the same strokes. Now, I really
think that nowadays we are getting very poor quality tips. It is
quite impossible for the most expert cueman to bring off a
hefty screw if his tip is not hi first-class condition.

Not my words—although they might have been—the above
paragraph was written in 1926! Having recently discarded
four tips (at 55p each) in my search for something remotely
playable, I can sympathise with these sentiments and have
started to consider some alternatives to the ubiquitous “Blue
Diamond”

Option 1: Let someone else find one for you…

Photo of Table Diagram (4k)

Diagram 1: A stroke
played with strong top
‘and a little right hand
side’ making a cannon
around a hat, which
was apparently an
obstruction normally
encountered on a table
in 1830.
[Mingaud-‘The Noble
Game of Billiards’]

Willie Smith apparently had the same problem and found his
own solution, as recounted by George Nelson in 1925:—
“Willie Smith is a most dangerous
man to have in any billiard room,
for he generally has a look round
the cues, and if he sees a tip he
fancies, he may take out his
penknife and cut it off Last season
he took a tip off one of my cues,
and although at the time I told
him I thought that it would never
be any good, it was with this very
tip that he made his wonderful run
of breaks in the 1924-25 season.

The only thanks he gave me, was
to say, every time I met him
afterwards, “ave you come
across any good tips!”

Inexpensive as it may be, this
method has some obvious
disadvantages, not least is finding
a good tip which happens to be
unattended. Even so, I am pleased
to say that this fine Northern tradition is still being kept alive
by at least one of our leading amateur players. It would be
unfair of me to reveal his identity, as I noticed recently that his
current tip was getting very low and it would obviously have
a serious effect on his chances hi the Amateur Championship
if he had to use a new”Blue Diamond”.

Photo of George Nelson (5k)

George Nelson, who
was the Yorkshire
Professional
Champion between
1906-10, and in later
life joined with Willie
Smith to form Leeds
based billiard table
manufacturer ‘Smith
& Nelson Ltd.’

Option 2: Scientific analysis…

Coming back to George Nelson, who was Yorkshire
Professional Champion in the early part of the 20th century.

He would select a tip by subjecting it to a close technical
examination, which he describes as follows:—”One way I
have of testing a tip is to put it on a flat hard surface and
hammer it well with an old ball. If the tip spreads too quickly
and too much, it means that it is one of those soft, spongy
affairs that are of no use. If, on the other hand, the tip is as
unresponsive to the battering as cast iron would be, it is
equally unsuitable.”

I’m not sure my local sports shop would appreciate this
particular selection procedure, especially as it would probably
result in their entire stock being rejected.

Option 3: Back to basics…

Working on the theory that the quality of tips has been
progressively declining, then perhaps reference to the earliest
examples would be useful. Tips were supposed to have been
invented by the French in general—and M. Mingaud in
particular—in the early 1800’s
(although unsurprisingly, the
Americans make a similar claim).

And perhaps the earliest tips really
were the best if we look at an
example of the shots Mingaud
could achieve with them in 1830.
(See diagram 1)

The first reference in my library to
the actual making of tips (or points,
as he calls them) comes from Edwin
Kentfield in 1839 who reports:—

“Soft sole leather, or saddle flap,
is an excellent material for points;
but the author has found nothing
better than old harness or strap,
provided the leather be not too
old, which would render it hard
and useless.”

The shoe leather sounds a bit
dodgey, but an old harness
definitely has possibilities.

Now—where can I
find one for
less than
55p?


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