Phil Windham chats about the art and beauty of the pool cue
It’s common knowledge these days that art isn’t so simply defined as it used to be. If you were to say you enjoy art, you’d surely be followed up with “what kind of art?” and the immediate responses would be drawing, dancing, painting, writing, and so on, but what about this? Ornately designed, collectible pool cues. Yes, pool cues as in billiards pool cues.
Beyond the fact that a pool cue is an obvious necessity in the game of billiards, collectible pool cues are outselling some of the most beautifully painted pieces, sculptures, and other highly regarded works of art from around the world. I spoke with Chattanooga Billiards Club owner and cue collector Phil Windham about ‘the art of cues’ to further understand just how valuable and sought after these cues are.
The beauty that Windham introduced me to in person was the “Celtic Knot” designed by Pete Tonkin. Winner of the Cuemaker’s Choice Award in Valley Forge and the People’s Choice Award at the International Cue Collectors’ Show in Atlanta, this cue was special to say the least. Silver edging borders the detailing along the handle of the cue, detailing that runs in a celtic knot around the cue in ebony, ivory, and burl. The value on this one, you ask? $100,000.
“Custom cues like this can range anywhere from $2,500 up to, and sometimes above, $500,000,” says Windham. “But for a cue to be a true collectable, it must be useable. It can be as ornate as you want, but it has to have utility.”
Phil tells me that the two most collectible names are cues created by George Balabushka and his protege Gus Szamboti. Balabushka, considered the best cue maker of his day, created cues for professional pool players and after his time had come to an end, Szamboti stepped in as the predominant cue maker of his day. Szamboti’s son Barry still makes cues today, and has a waiting list for those interested.
Clearly, cue collecting is a serious business, and storing them is the most important part. Phil keeps his cues in a humidity and temperature controlled room with a secured iron door. “The humidity is in the 50 to 60 percent range to keep the wooden cues from moving,” says Windham. Different materials expand and contract at different rates and could severely damage the cue and its inlays.
Other than the cue being required to have utility, the cue’s ‘curb appeal’ if you will, the difficulty of its construction, and the cue’s credentials all factor into its collectibility and price range. “Some collectors only collect on principle of history,” says Windham. “They want the cue to have a story.” Windham doesn’t limit his collection to cues of history, but one cue of his does have a story of its own.
“Jimmy Mataya [an American professional pool player] owned it, but George Balabushka made the cue,” says Windham. The cue he speaks of has an emerald colored base which he tells me is made of #9 Courtland, a linen fishing line wrapped finely around the handle. #9 Courtland line is no longer made, making the cue a bit rarer. “This cue was used in The Color of Money. You can see it for a moment in the film.”
If you’re interested in learning more about collectible cues, check out CBC’s Cue and Case Show Oct. 27th through 30th. Free to the public, this event will display cues of all kinds for those interested to admire as well as a billiards tournament.