Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Toy (<i>Bilboquet</i>)

Toy (Bilboquet)

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    1779 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Of turned ivory, with engraved decoration set with black mastic; now mounted on a square base in mahogany

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Sir Bernard Eckstein, Bart.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This small toy is made in turned and engraved ivory and was supplied by the organisation responsible for all entertainments, celebrations and festivities at the French royal court at Versailles. The luxury materials suggest that it was made for adult use and certainly the game, which had originated in Mexico in the sixteenth century, was highly popular at the French court during the second half of the eighteenth century.

It was a game of skill, played by a single player, who tossed the pierced ball up, by a swift jerk of the arm, and then tried to catch it on a turned spike at the top of the handle. A small cup was worked into the other end of the handle to offer an alternative to less skilled players.

Physical description

The toy consists of a turned handle of elongated baluster form, with a thin, turned spike of ivory protruding at the top, and a turned ball of ivory, on the underside of which is a drilled, central socket. The ball is attached to the handle with a thin cord and the essence of the game is that the player tosses the ball up in the air and attempts to catch it on the spike as it falls back. Such toys usually had a shallow, turned cup on the other end of the handle, which provided an easier way of catching the ball. This version probably has that feature, embedded in the square base of mahogany to which it is now firmly attached, lined on the underside with green baize.

The handle is decorated with spiral fluting and bands of engraved neo-classical ornament including upright leaf and scrolling acanthus, as well as with rows of fleurs-de-lys. Collars at the top and bottom of the handle are defined by carved beading in the ivory. The ball is decorated with engraved upright leaf ornament at the base, with a broad band of scrolling acanthus round the middle, and with the arms of France in the upper part.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


1779 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Of turned ivory, with engraved decoration set with black mastic; now mounted on a square base in mahogany

Marks and inscriptions

Engraved into the upper collar of the handle.

Printed on a circular label stuck to the underside of the base, the title running in a band around the edge, with the address printed within it.


Height: 19 cm, Diameter: 5 cm

Historical context note

The Menus Plaisirs du Roi was the office that organised the 'lesser pleasures of the king', the ceremonies, events and festivities that followed each other in a constant round at the Court of Versailles. They were responsible for every last detail of such entertainments and even, as here, for items which would contribute to the general amusement of the court. This toy would have been for adult use. The game of Bilboquet had originated in Mexico in the sixteenth century. Henri III of France (1551-1589) was a great enthusiast for the game and was often seen playing in public. It never entirely went out of fashion in the French court but it became particularly popoular again in the eighteenth century. Many nobles had an ivory version and a second ivory version, also inscribed by the Menus Plaisirs is in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, New York (inventory no. 1967-48-42-a,b).

Descriptive line

Bilboquet of turned ivory, decorated with fine engraving filled with black mastic, the decoration including the inscription 'MENUS PLAISIRS DU ROI 1779 VERSAILLES'

Labels and date

FRENCH; dated 1779
Turned and engraved ivory.

The sphere bears the Royal Arms of France, while the baluster handle is inscribed '1779 Versailles' and 'Menus Plaisirs du Roy'. This is presumably for bilboquet; the ball had to be caught in a cup fitted to the handle. [pre October 2000]

Production Note

The piece is dated and as it was made for the office of the Menus Plaisirs it was almost certainly made in Paris


Ivory; Mahogany


Turning; Engraving


Entertainment & Leisure


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.