2014 0323 collectors 01

Antique carpet balls

The rugged mountains of Scotland would remind an Appalachian of home. Perhaps that is why so many from this British territory migrated to our mountainous terrain. As they filtered into North America they brought with them countless customs and much of their culture. Out of those faraway nostalgic highlands they brought an interesting parlor game called Carpet Ball.

The game was considered an indoor Victorian ball game played on carpet, hence its name. Antique carpet balls were kept near the front door in Scottish mansions in the 19th Century, according to Paul Baumann author of "Collecting Antique Marbles." One box would have been outfitted for the outdoor game of croquet and the other for the indoor game Carpet Ball.

The balls themselves are made of stoneware or ceramic mostly decorated in a handsome plaid or a starry ringed dabbed pattern. There is a variety of colors used for a set of patterned balls plus the added cue ball is usually white or self-colored. They can range in size from 2.5 to 3.5 inches. The speculation is that children used the smaller balls.

Many of the balls were made in England's Staffordshire region along with so many other fine ceramics. Even so it has been documented that 1796 was the founding date of Thomas Taylor Bowls Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland where many of the balls were first made.

Carpet bowling was an indoor cousin to the outdoor game of bowls in Great Britain. Basically the game surrounds the idea of taking the cue ball and trying to knock the fellow player's balls out of play. Usually there are six players with two balls each on two teams. Though the game is considered pretty much a 19th Century phenomena it is having a resurgence of popularity in Canada and Great Britain.

What is also becoming popular is collecting the attractive balls known as Piggies in Scotland (the white ball is a Jack). Many folks like to collect the balls not for their gaming interests but to display them along with their fine china. They do make an attractive presentation gathered in a wooden bowl on a sideboard.

Prices of these fascinating balls could be into the hundreds of dollars for the real antique. Reproductions are also on the market - made in Scotland just like the real thing and they can sell for less than $100. Provenance is important when making a purchase as is condition and purchasing from a reputable dealer.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.

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