Friday, June 11, 2010

Games of Precision and Simplicity

Simple games are often the best, and the games of the Regency involving sticks, balls and string were often simple indeed. But they were old games, sometimes ancient, and they required great skill to become really proficient.

Ringtoss, in its outdoor versions called quoits or hoopla, is a basic game--toss a ring in the air and catch it on a stick. It had its origins in ancient Greece, and this illustration from 1815 shows how charming it looked played in the Regency.

The 'devil on two sticks', later called diabolo, had its origins in ancient China where it evolved from the Chinese yo-yo. It enjoyed a resurgence of popularity just a few years ago, but as you can see, ladies of the Regency era  (this illustration is Parisian 1815) found it amusing also. Official rules did not appear until 1881, but numerous tricks can be performed by a proficient user of the sticks.

I find 'bilboquet' a particularly interesting pastime, though I cannot find a Regency illustration of the activity. There are two variations of the game--a cup-and-ball version, and a ring(or pierced ball)-and-pin version. The game is know world-wide--called kendama in Japan, where it is still popular, it is also known in Mexico, among the Inuit and First Nations peoples of North America, as well as in Europe.

This 1840s American illustration shows boys at play, 

and this plate, with its humourous illustration, shows the pierced ball and pin in action.
This illustration from a modern package shows the cup and ball in use.
This charming painting by French painter Jeanne Bole though painted in the 19th century, shows a child in 16th century dress holding a cup and ball (very similar to a modern wood version that I own). We do know that the game was popular in France in the early 16th century.

An on-line antique auction site ( recently had the following description of an item for sale:
"A Regency rosewood bilboquet. The delicately turned stem with scalloped holder. The entire strung with pierced ball." It sounds charming, and I'm wondering what price it fetched.

These simple games cannot compete with the technical wizardry of a 'Wii', but I am certain they provided just as many hours of entertainment. Simple games for a simpler time? Perhaps....

'Til next time,


Janet said...

I remember the cup and ball game - we had one and would play for hours, challenging each other to get the higher number!

And although the Wii is amazing and highly entertaining, there's nothing like getting outdoors for a game or two. Croquet, Lesley-Anne? I would have thought it to be an older game (do I remember a version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice showing them playing - or was that cricket?)

Great post :)

Shannon said...

I recall getting a cup and ball game in one of those pre-packaged Christmas stockings you can buy these days. Quite an adorable little game.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Yes, it is a great game, Shannon, but when you get a wooden ball swinging at the end of a string, anything can happen. I'll wager there were a good number of black eyes, and maybe even knocked out teeth as a result of some light-hearted fun.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Croquet? You know Janet I'll have to look it up again, but I seem to recall that it was post-Regency, although it did appear in a couple of movies. It is so picturesque and offers such opportunities for conversation that movie makers love it. But I think it was a Victorian invention. I'll try and let you know.

Grace said...

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