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Those Were the Days… ~ John Barton

In the old days serious pool players carried one cue and maybe one spare shaft to play their trade.

Not a lot of players even had two piece cues of their own and if they did then those cues often stayed in the player’s main pool room in a locker. I am speaking of the period leading up to the late 70s.

Until then the dominant professional games were 14.1 straight pool, one pocket and 9-ball. Of those 14.1 was the one that the elite pros played while 9-ball and especially one pocket were considered hustler’s games only good for gambling. So if you were a straight pool player then you only needed one cue to play with and you proudly brandished it.

If you were a hustler, like my new friend and author Alf Taylor, then you more often didn’t even admit to owning a cue much less proving that you did. Consequently there wasn’t a lot of choices for cue cases and what was there were mostly for one single cue and maybe one spare shaft.Only carom players carried multiple cues and they usually had a large leather tube with all the cue parts tossed in together.

In the late 70s and early 80s the idea of having a break cue for 9-ball came into fashion and manufacturers encouraged the trend. Now players felt that they needed to have a larger case to hold two cues and at least one spare shaft, so naturally the industry responded by providing larger cases.

Centennial cases came out with a 2×4 version of their 1×2 tube case. In an earlier article we traced the evolution of that style. It’s George followed suit with not only a 2×4 version but a 3×6 “tour edition” for the super serious professional player. Centennial cases came with one huge pocket which resembled a men’s toiletry kit, but bigger. Its George had similar pockets but smaller with a single zipper down the center. (Sidenote: It’s George was hustler jargon for “I can’t lose” and it’s Tom was the opposite meaning “this is no good”).

Along about the same time Joe Porper came out with his line of cases in vinyl which were light in weight and snug fitting and had generous pocket space. Most custom case makers followed suit and the era of the 2×4 and larger case was firmly established by the mid 80s. Fellini never did make larger cases and this trend might have been a factor in the decision to quit making that brand.

In any event, nature abhors a vacuum, so it follows that players were eager to fill up those cases with not only cues but every manner of accessory that enterprising inventors could bring to market to entice them with. It all began with the humble Tip Tapper (actual product name) back in the 70s and has blossomed into an all-you-can-afford buffet of items that are considered indispensable to the modern pool player. Now we have a variety of tip tapping and shaping devices as well as cue extenders and jump cues that all need to be stored in the case for instant access.

Back in the early 90s I designed the first Instroke cases with pockets that were about 7 inches in length. Then with the advent of the jump cues with 12” in handles we lengthened the lower pocket to 14” and added a jump handle compartment on the side which has become kind of a standard on many production cases. In the last four years we have done cases with pockets of all shapes and sizes to hold many specialty items, and we have seen many other makers do the same.

On top of the increase in pocket size we also have seen a huge assortment of configurations evolve.

Back in the day the main case was a 1×1 or 1×2, then the 2×4 came along followed by the 3×6. Now we see cases like Whitten’s 1×4, JB Cases 2×3 and 3×4, 4×8, 6x12s and more. In fact I developed the 3×7 because when I did the 3×6 I saw that I could fit an extra tube in the back and decided to use that for a jump cue butt. There is almost no configuration that a person cannot get these days.

If one maker won’t do it then another will. I often say that the player can carry everything they need to play pool in their case except skill. That said, there are some things that a player needs to be aware of when ordering a case and especially a larger one. Building a long tube to hold a lot of weight is not easy to do in leather or vinyl. The reason for this is that the way a case swings puts stress on the handle and strap retainers in ways that purses and backpacks don’t get. So when looking for a case it’s imperative that you check the durability of the handles and straps.

Back when I started making cases in 1991 I wasn’t as smart about this as I should have been and so my cases were not as strong as they should have been. Speaking of durability with the evolution of larger cases and pouches comes the human need to stuff those pouches full of indispensable items, which means you will want to check the stitching, zippers and other stress areas on the pockets to make sure that they will hold up to being filled up as well as to being brushed against doors and the like.

Lately there has been a trend to get back to simplicity with people ordering cases with no pockets or even with detachable pockets.

GTF, Ron Thomas, Whitten, Rusty Melton and just about any custom maker will make cases that have no pockets for you. When I made the first GTF cases I was fortunate enough to attend the World Championships of 9 Ball held in Manila in the Philippines during the time we were developing that case. I took one case with me, a simple black nappa GTF 1×2. Walking around Manila and going to various pool rooms I felt like a player from the old days.

I felt like a warrior who only needed his cue to do battle, with nothing else to weigh him down. And as it happened I played some ten ball for money and broke and ran my first rack. I lost to the sharks there but for a moment this guppy got to feel what it must have been like for the gunslingers of old to walk into a pool room Eddie Felson style and know you owned the room with just one cue in a slender leather cases.

Until next time keep those cues protected!

Photo: Ksionic/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall

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