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Issue: CC101
26th August 2020

Fire Away!

1930s-1950s printed playfield bagatelle games

Artwork incorporating detail from 'A Little Game of Bagatelle' (1864), J.L. Magee

Pinball was a tabletop board game. 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.

Details at end of article

In the 1860s, Montague Redgrave, in Cincinnati USA, patented another version that improved the game further. He developed another mechanised 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. *Ball bearings are also used.

These days, colourful versions such as those featured here are just as likely to adorn walls as pieces of cool art!

Big Shot
Gotham Pressed Steel Corp.
1937, USA
Tin, 24ins tall.
Valued from £50-£75

Dan Dare Bagatelle
Chad Valley
1950s, UK
Wood & hardboard, 24ins tall.
Valued from £100-£125

Space rocket
Chad Valley
1950s, UK
Wood & hardboard, 24ins tall.
Valued from £50-£75

Super Gold Star
Lindstrom Tool & Toy Co.
Est. 1934, USA
Tin, 24ins tall.
Valued from £50-£75

Words and bagatelle photos by Terry Smith