Bagatelle Game, 1871

Posted on 05.06.13 – History, Timepiece

Bagatelle Game, 1871

What do you do to alleviate the boredom of the cold winter months? Do you watch movies? Or do you play games?

Today there is an endless array of games from which to choose, from board games and puzzles, to card games, and even games on your phone. How about pinball? Although today most pinball machines are located in arcades, not too long ago they were tabletop board games. The origins of pinball can be traced to games like bocce and ground billiards in which balls were rolled on a course. Ground billiards evolved into the tabletop game with which we are all familiar, and often refer to as “pool.” Eventually, tabletop billiards evolved into an even smaller scale version called bagatelle.

Bagatelle originated in France in the early eighteenth century. Players used a stick, or cue, to hit a small ball into pins, then later, holes. In the mid eighteenth century Japanese billiards improved upon this game further to include metal pins to guide the ball, and incorporated a metal plunger to send the ball on its course. Japanese billiards was still a large format game, mounted in its own table.

In the 1860s, Montague Redgrave, in Cincinnati, Oh, patented another version that improved the game further. He developed another mechanized spring loaded plunger that would launch the ball into the field of play. He also incorporated marbles as the balls, and reduced the size of the game course to fit on a table. Redgrave’s “Parlor Bagatelle Table” set the stage for the modern pinball machine. The “Parlor Bagatelle Table,” on the market in 1871, helped households allay their boredom, while appearing stylish and “suitable for the elegantly furnished drawing room,” according to the packaging. Redgrave implored buyers to admire the beauty of the black walnut, and appreciate the compact size of his patented bagatelle. Redgrave’s patent was so innovative for board games that the game came with a warning on the back. Buyer’s were cautioned to beware of “certain parties vending a spurious imitation” to his patented bagatelle.