The Case of the Monroe Billiards Table

By Christian Trabue | July 12, 2017

Billiards is a cue sport that includes a variety of games that generally include a cue stick that is used to strike billiard balls on a table bounded by elastic bumpers known as cushions. Generally regarded to have evolved from stick-and-ball games played outdoor on lawns, cue sports date back to the 1340s and were similar to croquet. The first known indoor billiard table belonged to King Louis XI of France (1461–1483) and his successors popularized the game among the French elite.

The executioners of one royal, Mary, Queen of Scots, (1542–87) had used the cloth from her own “table de billiard” to wrap up her body. However it’d be a misnomer to say that the queen’s body was covered in “felt,” since the industry refers to this material as “billiard cloth.”

There are three major subdivisions of games within cue sports: Carom billiards refer to playing on tables without pockets; “Pool” is the world’s most popular cue sport played on six-pocket tables varying in length from seven to nine feet. The third is Snooker and English billiards, classified separately from pool based on culture and terminology. There are other variants that make use of obstacles and targets, like bumper pool.

Enservio Select was called upon to appraise a six-pocket, nine-foot, gully-return billiards table with square legs, a straight sided cabinet, mother-of-pearl inlay, and pin-striping claimed to be worth $20,000.

The insured provided a photograph of the claimed pool table and informed the team of a plate on the table which read, “Marvel Billiard and Bowling Supply Company,” which the insured believed was the table’s manufacturer.

Photo Credit: World Champion Jeannette Lee of Black Widow Billiards on a Mosconi table.

Upon investigation, Enservio found that Marvel Billiard was a supply house and not a producer. Marvel sells numbered pool balls to operators and distributors, as well as playing surfaces that operators can install to bring used older tables up to date. As is often the case, when billiard supply companies visit a home or business to work on a table they sometimes apply their own commercial name plates.

The team conducted further research and found the table to be most likely the Monroe edition, first issued by Brunswick in 1926 and presumably named after James Monroe (1758–1831), the fifth POTUS and last president among the Founding Fathers. A storied brand, Brunswick was founded in 1845 and it was known that Abraham Lincoln bought a Brunswick table in 1850.

The Monroe is a known and desirable pool table “designed to meet a medium-priced demand” according to the company’s 1926 product catalog. The legs are made in the square style, glued up of 5-ply stock and reinforced with glue blocks in all corners. The sides are dowelled and bolted into the legs and the table is made rigid by cross stretchers. Enservio’s research found that these attributes matched up with the claimant’s Monroe table.

The Monroe edition features a playing surface (the “bed”) made of three pieces of slate, regulation size of one-inch thick, with joints secured by brass dowels and sockets. It has no screw holes on the bed. The original table also featured cushion rails (the inner sides of a table) made from vulcanized rubber to cause billiard balls to rebound.

The traditional green color of the cloth represents the grass from the origins as a lawn game. In this case, the billiard cloth was green in color and in a decent shape that correlated with the table’s age and usage.

As is typical of most pool tables, the claimant’s Monroe featured four corner pockets and two side pockets. Early original pool tables were made with only four pockets. In the 19th century most tables featured drop pockets whereas contemporary tables feature a “gully return” that captures the sunk balls in a collecting tray. The change in design from pocket to gully came about largely for commercial reasons in pool halls and bars, where a game of pool required loose change inserted in a coin slot to release the balls from the tray. The team discovered little difference in relative value between the drop pocket style table or one with a gully return like the claimant’s. Some consumers cosmetically prefer the Victorian style of netted drop pockets and find gully returns too noisy and a potential source of problems as they wear out and cause balls to become stuck or jump the tracks.

The Monroe edition also features “sights” or diamonds, named after their shapes. These evenly spaced markings are inlaid pieces usually made of mother-of-pearl, set at precise points along the rails and positioned to allow expert players to take strategic aim with the billiard ball for producing bank and kick shots.

The claimed table is also composed of square legs, straight sided cabinets and mother-of-pearl inlay with celluloid pin-striping. These models were most often African quartered (“ribbon”) mahogany but sometimes made of oak. The Monroe edition came in three stock sizes – 4 x 8, 4.5 x 9 and 5 x 10, and it was determined that comparable tables to the claimant’s most closely associated with the eight-footer. Upon completion of its analysis Enservio confirmed the claimant’s table to be a Monroe.

Enservio was able to locate a supplier in Albany, New York who carried the identical Monroe billiard table restored in mint condition and currently priced at $11,000. Based on the extensive research of the Monroe model, the condition of the claimed table as well as comparable tables on the market like the one in Albany, Enservio determined the replacement value allotted to the claimed Brunswick pool table to be $11,000, a difference of $9,000 from the original claimed amount.

Christian Trabue is a member of the Appraisers Association of America and a Fine Art Review appraiser for Enservio (www.enservio.com), a provider of contents claim management software, inventory and valuation services and payments solutions for property insurers. She can be reached at ctrabue@enservio.com.

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