Billiard Saloons: a barometer of the gold rush

When he was in Victoria awaiting a steamer to take him south — after a fruitless trip to the Fraser River gold diggings — Herman Reinhart noticed that there was no shortage of billiard saloons including one with six tables kept by a California gambler named Boston. “Here I saw the first 15-ball pool.” Fifteen-Ball Pool was the predecessor of modern pocket billiards.

On September 15, 1858 the Daily Alta California printed an article called “Stagnation in Victoria” which was submitted by their correspondent:

Everything has flattened out – subsided – wilted. We have a town of stores filled with goods, and few to buy…Houses and tents could be bought at almost any price. A large pavilion tent which had been used as a billiard saloon, having room for two billiard tables and seats for spectators, sold for $13…

Billiard Saloons and Fifteen-Ball Pool

In October 1859 it was reported that Fort Hope was flourishing. One of the indicators was that

Billiard Factory

Billiard Factory

billiard saloons “appear well supported.”

Playing billiards was a popular pastime in the 1850s, especially American Four-Ball Billiards, usually played on a large (11 or 12-foot), four-pocket table with four balls – two white and two red. Billiard balls were made from ivory tusks. Even cabinet makers made billiard tables.

Not quite as common as billiards was the game of bagatelle which was played by European miners. Considering there was a large number of French diaspora living in San Francisco, a good many of them probably succeeded in bringing the game up north to British Columbia.

 

In his book, Cariboo Yarns, F.W. Lindsay wrote that the well-known Cariboo packer known as Cataline, ran mule trains to Barkerville, taking a month to get there. Among the items they carried north were billiard tables. How did one pack a billiard table?