John Patrick Jack
Mannock was born in London on 24th September 1859 making his debut as a player
at the age of 19 in the London professional tournament of 1878.
At one stage in his career he
could play well enough to hold his own against any of the professional players
perhaps with a sporting start from just a few at the top of the tree. He stood
out in a class by himself as an instructor, he had a great knowledge of
billiards and the requisite gift of being able to impart his knowledge His
highest breaks as a professional were 282 (with spot and strokes barred) and
394 (all in).
Mannock was a prodigious
inventor of gadgets associated with billiards. Many were generally used in the
instruction of his pupils Typical of these was the "finger stall" which was an
apparatus clenched in the bridge hand, which was designed to form the correct
bridge position. W S Gilbert was one of his pupils and made reference to this
device in "The Mikado" when he wrote the immortal words "on a spot always
barred was doomed play, with fitless finger stall on a cloth untrue".
Jack Mannock lived for three
years in France and could speak the language fluently. During his time there he
obviously studied the Continental game and the expert use by their exponents of
the masse stroke. On 21st January 1891 he registered a patent on a cue which
was designed to "prevent making miscues especially in the masse stroke". A
feature of the shaft was that it was parallel for 8 from the tip. The cue
was also slightly shorter than usual being 55½ in length. Mannock
later designed an even more specialist masse cue which he describes in his
book, first published in 1904, as being "two thirds the length of an ordinary
cue" with it's 17 oz. weight "well inclined towards the tip".
His original 1891 cue, on which
all later models were based, was produced in two versions. Both had badges,
which were made from mother-of-pearl. But the earliest had the lettering
embossed and in later editions it was cut in. They both said "Anti-Grip Cue, J
P Mannock" but one version adds "Patented" and the other "Registered". These
cues also had a horn ferrule approximately ¾" in length. Both the
"registered" and "patented" first edition Mannock cues can be distinguished by
a slightly shorter badge than later versions, and the "J" in his signature had
a small loop. These earlier cues would also be a typical billiard shape. Being
the rarest and most collectable Mannock cues these examples are valued at
anything between £300-£500+.
The two authenticated cues of
this type which I have seen, were also stamped on the base. The "patented" had
an "0" and the "registered" had a mark which was difficult to distinguish, but
may have been an "M". Care should be taken in making too much of stamp marks
when deciding authenticity, a better test is the type and position of the
All of these early cues had an
ebony or rosewood machine splice with a steamed pear shaft. The steaming giving
the shaft a pinkish colour. Four tulip hand-splices were added at the bottom of
the machine splices and the structure was completed with a Snakewood front
An experienced maker of cues
using Ash, Maple, Greenheart and Pear knows that the latter wood is one of the
smoothest and nicest to play with. A good piece of Pear-wood will consistently
play a true shot and does not stick to your hand, hence Mannock's claim to have
produced an "anti-grip" cue. He designed the unusual splicing arrangement in
the way that he did because of the nature of the wood used. To make the Pear
stiff enough to use, the hand splices on the base supplemented the machine
splices, extending the length of the butt from 18" to approximately 23" thereby
reducing the length of the shaft.
The first Mannock cues also had
an Indian Rubber tube fitted tightly around the butt to prevent slipping whilst
making a stroke. Sadly, we have never seen a surviving example of this.
Around 1900, Burroughes &
Watts bought the patent design from Mannock and took over the production of the
cues. These cues were also manufactured with "patented" and "registered" badges
which were positioned half an inch higher on the butt so that a Burroughes
& Watts stamp could be placed on the flat below. The patented version was
only produced for a few years after which all their cues were marked
"registered". At this time Ash and Maple also began to be used for the shafts.
Pear and Maple shafted cues would fetch, £200-£300, Ash shafts,
being less common, would bring £250-£350. Burroughes & Watts
cues with a Snakewood front splice are also valued at £250-£350.
The early Burroughes & Watts
cues would also have letters stamped into the square base of the cue. These
were probably individual maker's identification marks and from the late 1920's
these letters began to be replaced with a number. At this time the cue was
streamlined into the snooker-cue shape of today. By this date the original
Snakewood splice had also been replaced with Burr or Yew.
Other companies have made cues
with a Mannock badge, but they are not based on the same design and are not
sought after by collectors. In this respect we have seen a "Mannock Victoria",
a plain ebony butted cue with a front splice which definitely carried an early
badge, although the authenticity of the rest of the cue was questionable.
Andy Hunter & David Smith