Billiards is a game with a rich and wonderful tradition dating back to the 14th century in its earliest form. Elegant and refined, and yet still casual, it’s gripped the hearts of everyone from dive bars to kings’ courts.
Enthusiasts and decorators alike can find the beauty in a table and cues, and even more so, they may find hidden treasures in the right selection of vintage pool cues. As display pieces they can tell a story and add to the ambiance of a room.
The right piece for your collection, whether a vintage or a custom pool cue, can also be an investment in value that tells a story on your wall. In this article, we’ll explore how you can identify the best pieces for you by cue maker, quality, wood made, and more.
What types of pool cues are there?
The type of cue that is being used will depend on the game being played.
For English snooker and pool, ash wood is used, and is distinguishable by its visible grain along its shaft.
A snooker ball is significantly larger than a pool ball, and so a snooker cue is somewhat thicker: the tip will taper to 9-10mm in diameter, while an English pool cue will taper to 8-9mm.
However, an American cue ball is the largest of all, and the cue tip will taper to 13-14mm. All three will traditionally have a leather tip in order to cause more grip to the ball when struck, roughened by chalk as the game is played. The traditional American pool cue shaft will be made of maple and lack the grain of a British cue.
While these are context clues to the purpose of a cue, the easiest way to tell is by checking the types of tips of each cue. While they all are leather at the very tip, they will be supported on an end cap, or ferrule.
In the case of an American cue, the giveaway is a cap of white plastic: this is used to enhance the shock-absorption of the cue in order to facilitate the best shot possible from a solid hit. In contrast, English ferrules will be metal: stainless steel for snooker and brass for pool, in order to strengthen the cue.
While these are all standard builds for professional or casual play, custom cues will often make use of exotic woods such as ebony, rosewood, or mahogany. There may even be decorative additions designed into inlays in order to set one’s personal cue apart from the rest. More modern models may include materials like titanium, aluminum, even fiberglass.
Notable pool cues manufacturers
Among the top name brands in manufacturers include:
Each of these brands has brought their own legacy and build to their lines, and many will display their logo on each of their models, so once you get a sense of their signatures, you’ll have no problem identifying other models by the same maker.
Once you get a more refined sense, you might see the distinguishing characteristics in each maker. McDermott cues, for example, pride themselves on cues that allow adjustable weights so that even if a cue is unique, you need not trade it for another model if it doesn’t fit your strength and playing style.
Of course, not every cue will be from a big name manufacturer: artisans and masters of their work often rise above a label. To learn the names to know in individual manufacturers, look no further than the International Cuemakers Hall of Fame.
These are the best of the best, and if you’ve found one with the individual’s maker’s mark on it, consider yourself in the presence of an investment-grade pool cue.
What affects the value of antique pool cues?
There are several factors that might tell you if your pool cue, or a find in a store, might be worth something, now or in the future. These include the cue’s condition, quality of make, age, and any uniqueness to the model.
In terms of age, many of the most popular finds will come from the boom periods of professional billiards: the 50s, the 60s, and the 80s. These were eras in which pool became truly popular due to the influence of Hollywood movies like Paul Newman’s The Hustler as well as the rise in the pool as a spectator sport.
In particular, if an acquisition is a cue that has been used by a famous player, the value will immediately rise. It will be important to have some sort of proof of the cue’s history, as with any claim on an item’s history. A low quality cue might fetch a higher price with unfounded claims, so ”buyer beware” is a key warning in the case of collectible cues.
While a cue’s age may diminish its overall quality, beware of restoration services that may cause the value to drop. An original, in what condition you can have it, is preferable to a collector over a refinished shine, as any indication of restoration will hint at a change to the original build.
A model’s uniqueness, as mentioned above, may well increase its value. A one-of-a-kind model ordered from a quality maker may well end up being an investment-quality custom billiard cue.
As these designs can be modern or traditional, lavish or subdued, an eye for design may take a backseat to understand who made it, how many of the model was made, and their quality and history. Although inlays of turquoise may seem garish to one collector, it may have been commissioned from a top quality maker and one’s own personal tastes can tell the wrong story about its value.
How much is my pool cue worth?
If you’ve got a cue on hand that you want to look up out of curiosity, you’re in luck: pool cues have a blue book just like cars. The Blue Book of Pool Cues can help you figure out what to expect in a base price for your model, once you’ve determined its make, quality, edition, and condition. If you suspect that the cue has been used in a capacity that may raise its value, such as by a famous player, you’ll need some level of proof in order to bank on that value paying off.
One way to gauge the market once you’ve confirmed quality and make is to search what the markets have shown so far by simply Googling your model or searching auction sites like eBay for sold items. Past precedent on prices will go a long way to confirming your cue’s value.
The AZ Billiards Forums are also an excellent resource to speak to the community of collectors directly, so that you can learn from veteran appreciators and those with the knowledge to assess and appraise your hidden treasures.
How do I identify my pool cue?
In order to determine if your cue is made by a quality manufacturer, look for a maker’s mark or any other identifying signatures by the inlays and design. Distinguishing marks are often found on the butt of a cue for a one-piece cue, or on the joint for a two-piece cue.
If you’re particularly lucky, the design you’ve found will also distinguish itself by having a stamp that identifies it as a first edition. Much like books, the first edition of a product will automatically increase its value and desirability.
Where to buy?
Auction sites such as Etsy and eBay are great for finding individual sellers, some of whom might not understand the value of what they have on hand. In addition, houses like Heritage Auctions may carry the occasional true treasure, though expect it to cost more if being sold through an auction house.
At Vintage Cues for You, the owner and operator buy, restore, and sell cues in order to preserve this history and craftsmanship.
Collectors Weekly also offers a wide selection of finds to suit the style and value of many hobbyists.
Whether for artistic collection or investment, pool cues carry a lot of history and can provide equal value, both financially and emotionally. If you’re just beginning your journey into collection and research, the above factors should help you become a more discerning buyer.
As the history of billiards is celebrated over centuries, so too should the art and craftsmanship that it brings to the world. An elegant and stylish collection of cues will help set your own games room apart from others and provide a great return in value as well.