Willie Smith was one of the
all-time greats of billiards and throughout the 1920's he was generally
regarded as the best player in the World. However, Smith was engaged in an
almost constant dispute with the governing body (BA&CC) throughout his
career which meant that during this period he entered the Championship only
twice, 1920 and 1923, winning it on both occasions.
In 1924, Smith became
contracted to Burroughes & Watts who remained his sponsor for the rest of
his years as a top professional. As the Championship was always held at
Thurston's match rooms, the main competitor to Burroughes & Watts, it
becomes easier to understand his reasons for not competing after this date.
Smith was the first professional
to play with a brass ferrule fitted to his cue, although the innovation had
been known since at least the 1880's. Several of his fellow professionals were
initially inclined to scoff at the idea, but by 1930 all of the leading
professionals had adopted this feature and it soon became common at all levels
The type of ferrules which
would have been used in those days were about half the length of a modem
ferrule and had a very thin wall. They were generally referred to as "pigeon
rings" and were heat shrunk onto the cue. Modem ferrules are screwed on and
therefore have a much thicker wall to accommodate the thread. This is a good
way to tell if an original ferrule has been replaced, although such a
replacement would not significantly affect the value of a cue.
By 1923, Smith had changed the
brass ferrule on his personal cue to one made from gold. This may not have been
the best material for the job, as in 1929 the end of this cue broke off during
a match against Walter Lindrum.
In addition to popularising
ferrules, Smith's use of a relatively heavy cue of 18¾ oz; at a time
when the common or "recommended" weight was 16½-17 oz; may well have
contributed to the heavier weight of cue becoming fashionable.
During the 1928-29 season, the
professional game in England switched to the use of composition balls and it
was from this time that Smith`s really big breaks began to flow. Prior to this
date he had made only four breaks over 1,000 with a best of 1,176 which he
achieved in 1927.
Uusing Crystalate balls during
the 1928-29 season he made 15 breaks over 1,000. His highest being 2,743 made
against Tom Newman in Manchester in November 1928. This was claimed as a record
break for all round play (ie. without the predominance of specialist strokes).
His second best break was 2,030 and was made against Clark McConachy during a
tour of Australia in 1929. It was the highest break made in Australia to that
Smith made all his biggest
breaks by a combination of top-of-the table and the type of all round play
still practised by ordinary club players, albeit at a less consistent level.
Willie Smith cues are generally
much sought after by players and collectors alike. The collector should look
for one in good condition, with the original lacquer, an untouched
approximately 11mm tip, and 57"-58" long. If a cue is shorter you must be
confident that it has not been changed or tampered with at a later date than
when it was made.
Willie Smith Champion Cues
The earliest Willie Smith
Champion cues were made by Burroughes & Watts and started to appear shortly
after he became contracted to this firm, around 1924.
These early cues were billiard
shaped with an ash or maple shaft; a wide back and a flat base at the bottom.
The hand spliced butt was either ebony, stripy ebony, or rosewood, and had a
The shafts and butts of later
editions were made from the same woods, but were rounded at the back rather
than squared off. Bery much like the sgapes of the early and later Burwat
The early cues command a price
of up to £280, with the second edition ones slightly less at up to
£250. These cues are very sought-after.
Some casual collectors believe
that only a limited number of this cue were made. We personally find this hard
to believe as we have seen quite a few, so this would be too large a percentage
if they were limited from the outset.. However, not many of these have been in
excellent condition. If you get the chance of a Willie Smith Champion cue in
good condition it is worth acquiring for this reason alone.
We have heard of, but not seen,
another hand-spliced Willie Smith Champion cue with the writing on the badge
read with the cue vertically viewed, and with a thumb print at the bottom. If
this is correct, it could be expected to be worth around £200.
I have also seen a round badge
Willie Smith cue which carried his name and dated from the early 1920's. The
badge did not appear to be of the type produced by Burroughes & Watts, but
unfortunately the makers name was illegible. This had a plain machine-spliced
ebony butt and as it is a little rarer than the other cues, we would value it
between £80-£100 in very good condition.
Wille Smith Record Break Cues
The Willie Smith Record Break
cue was also produced by Burroughes & Watts. The badge is printed with the
words "Willie Smith Record Break, Limited Edition" together with the value of
the break, which would have been 2.,743.
These cues were supposed to
have been made in a limited edition of 500 although, we have seen one with the
number 571 stamped on the shaft, which seems to disprove this ascertion?
However, not all cues were numbered and as they can be quite difficult to find,
you would expect to pay between £150-£200 depending on condition.
There may be an additional premium if you can find one with a very low number
stamped on it. The "Record Break" cues are usually very good players.
There is also a Willie Srnith
"Biitish Record" cue. The writing of this badge is read holding the cue
vertically rather than side-on. It commemorates both of Smith's 2,743 and 2,030
breaks and mentions that he had made 83 breaks over 1,000.
The hand spliced version of
this cue has an ebony butt with a tulip front splice. We are not sure of the
precise date that this cue began to be produced, but the design would suggest
the 1930's. As it is known that Smith had made "only" 19 breaks over 1,000 at
the end of the 1928-29 season, it would be reasonable to assume that the figure
of 83 would have been achieved some time around 1932 and the cue could have
started production around this date.
By this time Smith was producing
thousand breaks at a prolific rate, typified by a match against Sidney Smith at
Manchester when he made no less than seven in a six day match.
This is quite a rare cue, we
have not seen many, and only one of those in good condition. They can therefore
be expected to bring a good price, usually in the region of
All three of the cues mentioned
were produced exclusively as hand spliced models, with the exception of the
"British Record" cue, which was also produced with a machine-splice. This
version would also be distinguished by either a satinwood or maple veneer with
a red front splice and could be expected to bring between £60-£80.
Andy Hunter & David Smith