The following text offers general information about this game. To find out more about each game in the collection, click on a picture at the bottom of this page.
The origins of the game of Bilboquet are somewhat obscure. It is known all over the world today as evidenced by the examples in the collection from many cultures. In a number of older commercial game advertisements the game is often called a Bilbo Catcher. (Web Surfers take note: Bilbo is the name of one of Tolkien's Hobbits, and that's what surfing will net you!) Some times the game is called Ring and Pin Game.
The graphic to the right is a detail from a French print pictured in J. Slocum & J. Botermans, Puzzles Old & New (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992, p.142) which states that the game was popular in France as early as the 16th century. An observant viewer has pointed out - that the clothes worn by those in the print are from the 18th century - not the 16th century.
The word Bilboquet (a French word) does not appear in most English dictionaries; however English words like bilbo - a kind of iron bar shackle used to restrain the feet of prisoners, or bilbo - a finely tempered sword from Bilboa (Spain) - are defined. Bilboa, Spain is Basque country - an area noted for the origins of Jai Alai - a game which uses a type of "catcher" and a "ball". It is also an area that since ancient times has seen an influx of people from many parts of the world, including Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, and more. The French word Bilboquet is related to the French word bille - translated as either a "little stick" or a child's "glass marble". In any event, those that study the origins of language report that the word Bilboquet appears in the French language as early as 1534ad.
There is evidence of the wide spread play of the game. European paintings indicate that Bilboquet was played in the royal courts of Europe and probably on the streets as well. Since the game is found in such diverse areas of the world as Japan, Mexico, the Arctic, and among North American Indian tribes, Bilboquet like many games, was obviously copied from equipment carried by travelers in the years prior to the 20th century.
The picture on the left is a copy of a 1970 Inuit print by Eyeetowak Toolaaktouk. There are many variations of Bilboquet. As this picture illustrates, the intent of the game is to throw a tethered object or objects into the air and catch it/them on a peg/pin. In general there are two major modes. One mode is with a ball (or ball-like object) that is attached to a handle (or peg/pin) tethered to the ball. A stylized cup-like object is also attached to the handle. Variations exist with respect to the shape of the cup - multiple cups, etc., and the shape of the handle. The second mode uses tethered rings that are to be caught on a peg/pin, and these variations are reflected in the shape of the pin or the number of tethered rings. A general variation is the length of the tether in either mode, or the weight of the object that is to be caught. Many of these variations can be seen in the examples shown in this exhibit. Each example features a handle or peg/pin, and a stylized cup or rings. The mode of play and the eventual outcome varies from game to game. Only one player may play at a time.
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Last update June 4, 2010