Cue sticks are an unusual game collectible that can turn into a rewarding, and lucrative, hobby. Certain collectible pool cues are very valuable, with some cues from legendary makers being worth astounding amounts of money. While select pool cues can be a good investment, with a rapid appreciation, one should also collect them because of the life-of-the-party joy they inspire. Ultimately, the best advice in any type of collectible is to buy what you like. If you love a good game of billiards, cue sticks are a great collectible for you.
What to Look for in Collectible Cue Sticks
While it may be possible to find a cue stick at an antique auction, it's more likely that a collector will need to search on eBay, or with local cue collectors clubs for one. Of these specialty cues that people might want to add to their collections, there are a couple of criteria to be on the lookout for.
Check For Maker's Marks
One of the most important things to look for in vintage pool cues is the maker's identity. Any products from well-known cuemakers is generally a wise investment. These makers have reached legendary status for a reason, and they're known for their commitment to quality and detail, as well as the craftsmanship with which they detail the cue itself.
Look for Cuemaker's First Editions
A cuemaker's first cue is notable, as are any of their firsts. If, for example, they suddenly begin to produce an inlaid cue, or a carved one, the first of that design will be more collectible than the cues that come after it. In the same way, cues and cue designs that are produced last are eagerly sought after by collectors; you can compare these cues to first edition books and the hype that surrounds those pieces.
Investigate Any Notable Connections
If a famous player has used a cue in a game, that cue almost immediately becomes desirable and collectible. Be careful of this as many players have numerous cues in their repertoire and don't actually use them. Cues that have been owned by famous players but not used by them in significant games aren't very valuable at all.
Asses the Cue's Quality
Always look for quality and craftsmanship in your cues, whether they're brand new or vintage. The higher quality a cue is the more valuable it is, and the more beautiful it will be. If a cue stick has been changed in any way, refinished or restored, the value of the cue will be greatly diminished. Originality is of primary interest to any collector and for this reason, even changing a tip can reduce the value of the stick. Generally, it's wise to seek out a good appraiser before making any changes, including repairs, to a collectible cue stick.
Collectible Cue Stick Values
Generally speaking, cue sticks that are worth the most amount of money are identifiably branded by reputable makers and come from the 1950s/1960s or the 1980s. Due in large part to the success of billiards during the period thanks to popular Hollywood hustler movies from either era, even unmarked cue sticks from the mid-century can sell for $40 or $50 each. This makes more contemporary cues a perfect way for novice collectors to get familiar with the buying process and to begin building their own collections. For example, one mid-century Huebler cue stick sold for a little over $400, while a pair of Brunswick sticks sold for nearly $150, which are both on the significantly cheaper side for collectible pool cues. These popular brands not only catch a collector's eye but also indicate a superior craftsmanship that can lend to a cue that could be dusted off and used today.
Other factors to consider which can significantly impact cue stick values include:
- Quality of materials
- Specialty models
Makers of Collectible Cue Sticks
Cue sticks were developed in the 17th century, and before conventional cues were produced, billiards was played with sticks called maces. The maces had a large head, like a mallet, and the players would often turn the mace around and use the queue, or tail, to strike the ball. By the latter part of the seventeenth century, this practice had developed into the use of the cue. However, the most notable cue stick makers didn't emerge until the late 19th and 20th century. While they're many makers of collectible cue sticks, both past and present, only a handful are counted among the best and highest quality. Some of these are:
- Herman Rambow - Known for his brass type joints and self-made equipment, Rambow made pool cues throughout the early and mid-20th century.
- Harvey Martin - Starting out in the roaring twenties, Martin's cues were beloved by west coast players up until the 1980s.
- Gus Szamboti - A mid-century cue stick maker that worked until the late 1980s, Szamboti made renowned cues coveted for their superior materials and craftsmanship.
- George Balabushka - George Balabushka was a legendary cue stick maker who created a self-titled company that began producing cue sticks in the mid-century and continues to produce them today.
- Frank Paradise - A New England cue stick maker, Paradise's cues were particularly popular with east coast players during the late 1950s.
- Burton Spain - A Mensa kid, Spain was a highly intelligent businessman and cue maker who was known not only for his mid-century cue sticks but also his 'point blanks' which he sold to many other makers during the era.
- Ernie Gutierrez - Famous for his bespoke cue stick designs and lavish materials, Gutierrez is a well-known name in the industry, yet his recent accusations of being involved in the illegal ivory trade have tarnished his reputation some.
- David P. Kersenbrock - Known for his innovations in the cue industry such as the 3/8-11 thread wood to wood joint and table saw tapering machines, Kresenbrock got his start making cues in the early 1970s.
- Tad Kohara - With an international approach to his design, Kohara helped break American cues into the Japanese cue stick market and is well-known for his ornately designed cues.
- Joel Hercek - A luxury artisan of cue sticks, Hercek is a more contemporary maker who adopted Burton Spain's business in the early '90s just prior to Spains' death.
- Tim Scruggs - Founding member of the American Cuemakers Association, Scruggs' elaborate cues are highly sought after by collectors today.
- Bill Schick - Multi-talented cue stick maker, Bill Schick, started making cues in 1970. His work for bringing southern cuemakers together lent him the title 'the grandfather of southern cuemakers.'
- Richard Black - Going so far as to win multiple international awards for his cue stick designs in the 1990s, Black continues to make renowned cue sticks to this day.
- Jerry Franklin - Founder of South West Cues and dedicate cue stick maker, Franklin's career was cut short when he died at the age of 42 in 1996.
- Jim McDermott - Launching his own cue stick manufacturing company in 1975 after spending about a decade making his own cues, McDermott's legendary status as a cue stick maker is perhaps only surpassed by his involvement in advancing the sport itself.
Cue Stick Collectors and Online Community
Collecting cue sticks is considered a recent phenomenon. There are not a lot of guidelines for collecting, maintaining, restoring, and preserving these beautiful items, so care should be taken by novice collectors to keep up with the latest information. Some excellent resources for beginners to turn to include:
- Cue & Case - You can turn to Cue & Case for information about all things Billiards and Billiards equipment - such as upkeep and quality concerns - since its reportedly the largest billiards manufacturer and distributor in the world.
- American Cuemakers Association- The American Cuemakers Association brings together all of the individuals involved in creating and selling cue sticks in an attempt to highlight their efforts and promote education and recognition on the art of cue stick making.
- AZ Billiards Forums - Look to AZ Billiards Forums for AZ Billiards' members information concerning all things billiards. Launched in the late 1990s, the trade website is an industry leader in reporting on cue sports and news from around the world.
A beginning collector would also do well to pick up a copy of The Blue Book of Pool Cues by Brad Simpson or other similar texts. This specific title has listings of various cues, manufacturers and average prices and can help you learn how to spot valuable cues, as well as those of poor quality from just a glance. The book contains illustrations and images to help identify and differentiate the makers, past and present. This seems to be the only collectible price guide that specializes in pool cues currently available.
Storing Cue Sticks
Beginner collectors should make sure to properly store any of the cues they add to their growing collections to ensure that they don't depreciate in value. Cues should be kept in areas that have a constant temperature and humidity as variations in climate can warp the wood. You need to also keep them out of direct sunlight as the exposure can dry, fade, and crack the stick. Leaning the cue against a wall can also lead to warping. Most sticks are best kept in special carrying cases, though you don't have to have carrying cases to store your cues in. However, if you do splurge to invest in specialty cases, the finish will be protected as much as possible. In terms of cleaning, you should wipe down the cue with a soft cloth, and always make sure hands are clean when touching the cue to avoid oil residue. By following these guidelines the cue stick will be in good condition for many years to come.
That's Your 'Cue' to Start Collecting
Whether you've been hustling pool since your college days or you're trying to put together a cool billiards room in your basement, cue stick collecting can come easy to you if you invest a little time into it. You don't have to be a professional player to be able to appreciate the hard work and delicate craftsmanship that goes into making these pieces of equipment, and you can bring the beauty of them home with you with the simple click of a button.