English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : March, 1912

The Billiard Monthly : March, 1912

“Remarkable” Billiard Invention


(Special to The Billiard Monthly.)

Mr. Mark Silverton, of East Fife, has invented a wonderful
instrument, by means of which any person with a
working theory of billiards, though without practical knowledge,
may become a crack player, able to rattle up his or
her hundred break with the best. At present the instrument
can only be used on English tables, but the patentee hopes
to make it adaptable to French table within a few months.

By the aid of this machine anyone who understands the
half-ball aim and the natural angle may score with the
certainty of a John Roberts; and it is not unlikely that the
introduction of the “The Billiardplaga” to the billiard
world will have a very serious effect on professional players.

In the course of an interesting interview with Mr. Silverton
last week, I raised this question of the displacement of
labour, but failed to enlist that gentleman’s sympathy.

“Machinery always displaces a certain amount of labour for
a short period immediately after its introduction,” was his
dry remark. “Why should professional billiard players
escape the penalty of that law any more than miners, for
instance? Besides.” he added, with grim humour, “let
them take situations as markers for my ‘Billiardplaga’—
until I find time to invent an automatic scoring-board.”

The “Billiardplaga,” to my non-technical mind, seems a
combination of pianola, typewriter, adding-machine, gramophone,
and pocket gasworks. It is a conglomeration of
levers, keys, wheels, pistons, and cylinders. But though I
cannot help being impressed by its remarkable performance
at the table, I miss the human personality. The” Billiardplaga
“may kill the professional player, but I do not believe
it will ever appeal to the spectator like our leading exponents
of the game. How can one be enthusiastic over the performance
of a machine! After the interest aroused by the
first exhibition, one calmly takes every new and wonderful
piece of mechanism for granted and thinks no more of the
extraordinary brain that dreamed it into life.

The “Billiardplaga” in Mr. Silverton’s billiard-room is
suspended from a moving crane which travels along two
rails slung from the ceiling parallel with the sides of the
table and about seven feet from the floor. It occupies the
space of a portable typewriter and is worked from the baulk
end, where the players are seated during the game. In the
bottom cushion-rail is fitted a series of keys marked “halfball,”
“bottom,” “screw,” “running-side,” etc., through
which the movements of the machine are controlled by an
action somewhat on the lines of the well-known Bowden
brake. The wires pass from the cushion-rail to the floor,
under the players’ stool, and so up behind to the travelling
crane. Nothing impedes the view of the game, and all
the fittings are made with an eye to the decorative effect.

As cue-room is not required where this instrument is in
use, it is obvious that the billiard-room of the future will
tend to become less spacious.

“Before I begin with a demonstration of the powers of
the ‘Billiardplaga,'” said Mr. Silverton, seating himself
at baulk, “perhaps I had better tell you that this little
invention of mine is the outcome of a discovery I made some
years ago and to which, by the way, I observed in last
month’s Billiard Monthly one of your fellows has given
axiomatic shape. Billiards is an exact science; and, like
your confrere. I believe that there is not a stroke upon the
table that cannot be executed and controlled by mechanism,
and accomplished in this way every time, as he so cleverly
puts it. Now, behold!”

The red ball had been placed on the billiard spot, the
plain white on the centre, and the spot white was in hand.

Pressing a key the inventor brought his machine down with
a slightly whining noise over the D. It hovered over the
spot white and dropped from somewhere in its internals a
four-pronged clutch which seized the ball and placed it in
position for the stroke. This clutch then disappeared whence
it came, and the “Billiardplaga” was lowered nearer to
the bed of the table until about an inch and a half from the
cloth and immediately behind the ball. Here the machine
settled for a second, and with piston-like action a six-inch
cue shot out from the under part of it and hit the ball,
making the losing hazard off the white into the top right

All this happened while I gaped. The pocketed ball
coming back to baulk via the returner, and being put upon
the table a g a i n, was grabbed by the “Billiardplaga” as
before and placed for the next stroke. This time the instrument
made a beautiful gathering cannon, getting into
position at the top of the table in two strokes, and with
uncanny rapidity ran up a break of 250.

At this point Mr. Silverton stopped and, suggesting that
I should “have a go,” showed me how to handle the
instrument. To play the “Billiardplaga” is as easy and
simple as going to sleep; one has only to keep an eye on
the balls and press the keys. Although a comparative duffer
at billiards, after the first few preliminary fumbling attempts
I managed to make a break of 174.

“My own average,” said Mr. Silverton, applauding this
effort, “taken on the B.C.C. system, is 2,193.”

“Your average, did you say?” I was impolite enough to

“Of course. I play with an expert knowledge of the
‘Billiardplaga,'” he went on, “and under perfect conditions.

With very fast cushions and a very slow cloth, for
instance, it would be impossible to rely on the balls reaching
their appointed and expected positions, and this would
throw me out. But my own table—(A Burroughes & Watts?)
Yes, certainly!—my own table by Burroughes & Watts is
ideal in this respect. The pace of the cloth is equal to the
strength of the cushions, and the balls are accurately
balanced. These conditions provide that unity, as it were,
in the table which makes top-notch billiards possible. Even
with this invention of mine I frankly admit I could not
score so well on an inferior make of table, the various
parts of which do not harmonise. But enough of that. I
daresay you are anxious to understand how my little
machine works?”

“If you think I can, yes. But I have no skill in
mechanics. And your invention seems a most complicated

“Oh, it’s perfectly simple,” laughed my host. “To grasp
in your mind the whole movement of any piece of machinery,
get hold of the primary action and trace it step by step
until the total combination is as clear as a well drawn
street map. Now then, never mind that guiding rule for
the present. This is what will interest you.”

And for the rest of the visit I was in a haze of engineering
terms transmission of motion, reciprocating action,
pivoted slats, and what not. But out of the haze I found
my way with a vague idea of how the latest billiard marvel
works. The little cue swings by two bars hung on broad
pivot bearings. These bars, fixed one at each end of the
cue, are so delicately adjusted that there is no difficulty
whatever in hitting the ball in any way desired. By an
interlocking action of certain levers which work automatically,
“screw,” “stab,” and similar shots are made. The
motive power is compressed air, and the various strengths
for different strokes are adjusted by a tiny expansion engine
which reduces the “atmospheres” to whatever number the
player deems suitable for his purpose. The whole machine
is kept steady while the stroke is being made by gyrostatic
action. The only difficulty Mr. Silverton has to overcome
is the question of the lighting of the table. The space taken
up by the ordinary pendant being used now by the travelling
crane, the lights will have to be fixed elsewhere. The inventor
has experimented with an arc lamp fixed to the roof, but
this throws a shadow from the moving instrument. Burroughes
& Watts’ patent “Searchlight” pocket lamps have
also been tried, but not with the success desired by the
experimenter. He hopes, however, to get over this small
obstacle before the season ends.

“By the way, Mr. Silverton,” I asked. as I bade him
good-bye, “how do you get the masse shot with the ‘Billiardplaga’? I don’t think you played that to-day.”

He smiled. “The masse is used only to get you out of an
awkward situation. There are no awkward situations
created by the ‘Billiardplaga’ That is where it beats the
professionals hollow. You’ll just catch your train if you

Laurence Kirk

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