Phelan’s “The Game of Billiards” circa 1850

While browsing through Google Books the other day I ran across this 1858 edition of Michael Phelan's "The Game of Billiards". It is now available to you within AZBilliards by going HERE. This is an absolutely fascinating book with some rather surprising revelations. For instance, if you ask most pundits about the jump shot they will tell you that is was invented by Sammy Jones and perfected by Earl Strickland, or some variation on that theme with different names. But Phelan explained and diagrams the shot in this pre-civil-war book!

The book explains how players must go about making their cue tips by hammering leather out until it is flat and hard and then using sandpaper to shape and rough it up. It also describes the pool table as being 6' X 12' and discusses masse shots and describes them as an expertise that is required of all players. The games were a bit different back then. Make certain you read about two-ball pool. And, much to my surprise, it uses the term 'pool'. I had always thought that the term 'pool' came about during the great depression when pool table were prevalent in betting parlors where bets were pooled together. But in this book it even speaks of a place on the table called the 'pool spot'.

For me, the best part of this book is the 'Definitions" section that begins on page 65. Here are some interesting definitions of the day:

HAZARD: You make a hazard when you drive any of the balls into any of the pockets. 

SCRATCH: When accident befriends you, and you win a stroke or count without either intending or deserving it, you are said to have made a scratch.

BANK: When you make your own ball hit any of the cushions before striking the object ball.

PRIVILEGE: A word used in some games of Pool to express that the player, having lost the lives or chances which were given to his ball on its entry into the game, now wishes to purchase still another chance as a privilege from the other players.

TAKING A HAZARD: A term used to express that a player is so confident of making a certain hazard that he will undertake to do it, under penalty of losing, in case he does not succeed, as many lives as he would have gained if successful.

BREAK: The position the balls are left in after a shot has been made.

DISCOUNT: When one player is so much the superior of another that he allows all the counts made by his opponent to be deducted from his own reckoning. Thus, if his opponent make a run of ten, ten is added to his count, and ten deducted from the discounter's reckoning.

But my favorite is the definition of a "Pool Sharp", which we now call a shark. It is very long, and you must read this as it is both hilarious in its form and still contains many grains of truth for today.

Read and enjoy this book. If you are a fan of the game it will contain many surprising tidbits for you. And the writing style is great.