Victorian Toys - Cup and Ball

Cup and Ball Victorian Toys

One of the earliest and favorite games played by children is the cup and ball toy. This toy was popular in Europe with adults and children alike. Cups and balls came to England from France where it was called bilbocquet. In 1767 America, Charles Shipman advertised cups and balls in the New York Journal or General Advertiser. Cups and balls range in size from about three inches in length with a tiny bead ball, to 12 to 14 inches long with a ball the size of a golf ball.


Cup and ball was an excellent game for the training of the eye and hand and was well known in India at a very early date. This antique toy also had much skill lavished upon its decoration. Ivory carving of the most elaborate kind frequently rendered great artistic value to the devices of the game. Such antique toys were played with, not only by children, but also by adults at the French, Italian, and Spanish courts of the seventeenth century. Heads, hearts, flowers, and fruit sometimes replaced the ball in elaborate specimens. Two Indian Victotian toys of this description were amongst the playthings of Queen Victoria.



Boys playing cup and ball

Victorian toysThe object of the Victorian toys cup and ball game is to swing the wooden ball into the cup that is attached to a stick. Directions from an 1859 book describes the rule of the game as:

"A ball of ivory or hard wood is attached to a stem of the same substance, having a shallow cup at one end and a point at the other.  The player holds the stem in his right hand and having caused the ball to revolve, by twirling it in between finger and thumb of his left hand, he jerks it up, and catches it, either in the cup or upon the spike to receive by which a hole is mad in the ball."   [Children's Toys Thoughout the Ages by L. Daiken]


Victorian toysThe Cup and Ball has long been a favorite toy, especially a favorite of Victorian toys. It consists of a stem of ivory or some hard wood, one end of which is pointed, while to the other is fixed a small shallow cup, To the stem an ivory or hard wood ball is attached by means of a piece of string, and in one side of the ball a hole is drilled into which the pointed end of the stem fits. The game is, when the ball is loosely attached to the stem, to throw it up so as to catch it either within the cup at the one end of the stem, or on the point at the other end, the latter feat being by far the most difficult. To accomplish this, the stem is to be held lightly in the right hand; then make the ball revolve by twirling it between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, and when its motion becomes steady, throw it up with a slight jerk of the right wrist, and as it descends endeavor to catch it in one of the ways just mentioned. Calculate well the length of the string in throwing up the ball, so that it is not thrown to the full length of the string, or it will be almost impossible to succeed in catching it.