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Tuesday, 30th September 2008
I might just be possible I am

going to do a Gerald Ratner here. You know the chap when asked how he could sell his stuff so cheap he told everyone. Maybe saying 'Because its cr*p' might have been a bit extreme but largely correct.

Suddenly the scales fell from the eyes of the Great British public and they saw what they had not previously realised. Quite why they had not noticed before is beyond me but it is a fine example of style over content in my book and just what happens when you rub peoples nose in it.

Anyway within weeks the Ratner empire had collapsed and Gerald never really recovered.

I am certainly not going to be as extreme as Gerald, for one thing I do not believe cigarette cards fall into the category of cheap glass decanters but everything has to have some degree of balance. Flicking through this site you are going to find me lashing great praise upon set after set.

Now I am not the type of person that believes the great purchasing public are a bunch of sheep that need to be herded from one purchasing opportunity to another and without gentle application of cattle-prods wallets are never going to come out of pockets.

Nope, all my customers are at least as adult and as responsible as myself and are capable of making their own minds up. Praise be that this ever remains so.

So what is this all about then?


These cards a very popular and often I find a billiards set in the request list sent. It is a very popular theme indeed. I can see a great many situations where these cards are just right. The dimensions of the table being rectangular are just demanding to be put onto a cigarette card.

Ogdens, Trick Billiards

50 cards with a green background with three balls stuck on them and in some cases, not that many.

The fact I do not really enjoy the game (for that read I am no good at it <g>) does not help.

Billiard Halls were always smoke filled, male dominated areas with a slightly edgy atmosphere. Violence could break out at any moment in these halls. At least you get that impression when you see them depicted in the 1930's Hollywood movies.

Billiards has never really been much of a spectator sport, it never really made it to television unlike its relatives, snooker and the fast paced pool. It has to be said the cigarette cards depicting billiards does actually capture the excitement of the game.

Although Wills did produce a set of Billiards, Ogdens were the great champions of the sport with Billiards by Tom Newman and Trick Billiards. Be glad the sets depict a British Billiard table as the French and American billiards tables did not have pockets.

This gives me an opportunity to tell you a story of the time I played a game of snooker. To set the scene, I was at some conference or another where the candidates were taking life far to seriously for my liking especially as the stuff being talked about would not have stretched a five year old. The days were wearing on and the nights were finding me at the bar more frequently and for longer periods of time. Being on the road for many weeks on end is one of those strange lifestyles. People think its exciting and it is so difficult to explain the misery of the event and just how alienating the experience of not really knowing what part of a particular country you are in, worse yet when globe trotting. Anyway one night at about 3am the snooker room was discovered and an impromptu tournament broke out. The table lights were powered by the feeding of coins into the slot. As is always the way nobody had the right coinage but that failed to stop us, deciding we could see just as well with or without lights. The game began and balls were struck with much authority and discussion. After about ten minutes not a single point had been put on the board. Now this was unusual even for a game I was involved in. However due to our tired and emotional state probably not surprising. After twenty minutes though it was getting faintly ridiculous and not a little embarrassing. I had afterall been telling everyone what a wizard I was at the game. It was a few minutes later the error of our ways was revealed when my playing partner 'stubbed' his toe and in trying to save himself made a last lunge at the table only to rip the protective plastic cover off to reveal the cloth and pockets beneath. My memory fails me at this point.  

tedious, but true

Billiards is all about break-building. Whilst the break continues the opponent has no choice but to watch the game, there is nothing he can do about it. To some degree, this makes, billiards and its cousins quite original in the world of sports.

The maximum number of points which can be scored from one shot is ten, and this is a shot to get excited about. For the most part a break is made up of two's and three's. Imagine then the excitement of the match which ensured the great Joe Davis secured the English billiards championships (effectively the world) when in the early thirties he beat C. McConachy by 25,161 points to 19,259.

What a treat. Imagine though the excitement of the match when the great Left-handed Australian, Walter Lindrum got to the table and played a match that lasted over a fortnight.

The organising body were often obliged to change the rules to contain the break-building abilities of the top players as hour after hour they would play cannons racking up tremendous scores in two's.

Because of the nature of the game the opponent would have to sit in his chair watching the game as often the player playing would make mischievous quips like, 'How do you find the table is running today?' etc.

Okay so I am making mischief here. However if you thought the front of the cards adequately captured the excitement of some of these great matches wait till you get reading the reverse of the card.

A kiss cannon. Aim to hit red half ball, with top and left hand side on cue ball. This stroke must be played smartly, with a free cue delivery. Position: Red 14ins from No4 cushion and touching No 5 cushion. White 4ins from No.6 cushion and 29ins from No.1 cushion. Cue ball 24ins from No.5 cushion and 7ins from No.4 cushion. (measurements taken from face of cushion to centre of ball, on a full-sized table, with ivory balls.)  

A great many of the Wills series cards ended with the explanation of how the measurements were taken in case you were wondering.

As the kiss cannon is pretty much a staple of the game variations on the theme were described on card 3, 6, 10, 23, 24, 26 and of course 42.

Now a kiss cannon is but one variety of cannon and yep, you've guessed it, a good many other cards deal with other types of cannon. Now I will not be describing them hear just in case some of you do not have the heart tablets to hand and find the excitement just a bit too much.

long tall sally

Now in case all this talk of kissing has got too much in this largely male dominated sport there is such a thing as a long jenny and her sister, the short jenny.

Despite various attempts at determining who/what or why Jenny was I have failed, it'll be on the back of the cards somewhere I expect.

The Wills, Billiards set was produced in 1909 which when you look at the cards is a surprisingly early date for such modern looking cards.

They were produced with the help of John Roberts. Which typical of the cigarette card producers was a very big wheel in the world of Billiards. They really intended the set to be an authority on the subject.

Note the fact the balls are made of ivory. With continual playing these balls would often become irregular and take on some interesting properties, enabling some pretty exciting trick shots.

Not half as exciting as the first attempts at making artificial billiard balls. Made of a material that when bashed together hard enough would explode, now that really could liven a game up.

A steeplechase Stroke:
This is a perfectly simple stroke and is so unexpected. The object white is hanging over the middle pocket and the red and cue-ball are evenly spaced at the angle shown, three inches apart. A half-ball stroke without the use of side will bring off this stroke providing that the butt end of the cue is raised a little to cause the cue-ball to be slightly 'stabbed'. It will then gracefully 'hurdle' the white and occasionally a cannon can be scored as well as the in-off.'

It was another 20 years before Ogdens came out with the first of their sets, Billiards [1928] Things had moved on and the reverse of the cards reveal in titles such as 'Useful In-Off white played to force an opening for a break.' and then a few years later they brought out a set for the more adventurous at heart, Trick Billiards [1934].

This is the set illustrated on this page and as you can see there is quite an art form in both the devising, drawing and execution of the shot itself. The steeplechase shot is described in the box out just in case you want to have a go.

Although the card predicts a goode deal of points being racked up more likely there will be a tearing of cloth and hefty bill and the search for another billiard hall begins.

Now I have been making merry with this set but my opinion counts for nothing really. In the right setting these cards can look very dramatic. The minimilist who wants some extravagant gesture could do worse than framing a set of these onto a powder blue wall, if it does not ruin the zen beauty of the place. I am something of a maximilist in this sense.