Considered the sport of kings and commoners alike, billiards – and its 15-ball version, pool – has enjoyed a long and colorful history in America. Tall tales credit the Spaniards for bringing the game over in the 1580s, yet historians fall in favor with the Dutch and English settlers who are believed to have helped the pastime spread throughout the colonies. Popularity reached a fever pitch in the 1850s, after Michael Phelan, an Irish immigrant, set the standards and rules still in practice today, and wrote the first American book on billiards. Even then-president, Abraham Lincoln, was an avid fan of the growing pastime, and the first ‘celebrity’ owner of a Brunswick pool table.
The J.M. Brunswick Manufacturing Company, founded by the Swiss-born John Moses Brunswick, started out primarily making carriages, until Brunswick himself encountered a billiards table in Cincinnati, and was inspired by the elegance of the design and the sport’s growing trend in America. The company started making its own brand of billiard and pool tables in the late 1840s, and would go on to merge with their competitor, the Great Western Billiard Manufactory owned by Julius Balke in 1874, and subsequently Phelan and Collender, the latter of which Michael Phelan was a founder. Thus, the esteemed Brunswick Balke-Collender Company was born in 1884, and would continue to dominate the market for quality billiard and pool tables for more than a century.
Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery is pleased to offer a classic 1920s Brunswick Balke-Collender pool table in our upcoming April 16-17, 2016 Auction. The striking ‘Medalist’ pool table incorporates aspects of Art Deco design, with its sleek ornamentation of geometric marquetry, handsome finish and imposing craftsmanship – most noticeably the four ‘elephant’ column legs. The table, manufactured circa 1928, represents one of Brunswick’s greatest times, as business boomed from the Industrial Revolution to the Jazz Age. Thanks to Benjamin Bensinger, who led the company during the start of the decade, Brunswick extended its brand to include phonographs. Soon, B.B.C was racking up a star studded roster that included entertainment giants Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Al Jolson who all recorded on the Brunswick Hall of Fame Records. The onset of Prohibition – which affected many a pool shark and spectator – caused B.B.C to shift its manufacturing interests to refrigeration and soda fountains. Brunswick would also come to the aid of Europe during war time by producing defense equipment, and installing over 13,000 pool tables in military bases in order to boost troop morale. To this day, Brunswick enjoys a notable place in the sports and recreation market, upheld by the quality and artistry they bring to their products. To own a pool table from the Brunswick Balke-Collender Company is to truly own a playful piece of American history.