Cup-and-ball (or ball in a cup) is a traditional child’s toy. It is a wooden cup with a handle, and a small ball attached to the cup by a string.
The game was loved by King Henry III of France; he was often seen playing in public. After his death, the game went out of fashion. For 100 years the game was only remembered by a small number of enthusiasts such as the Marquis de Biévre.The game had its golden age during the reign of Louis XV — among the upper classes people owned baleros made of ivory. Actors also sometimes appeared with them in scenes. The game was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions the game early in his Confessions when stating his reservations about idle talk and hands, saying (in trans.) “If ever I went back into society I should carry a cup-and-ball in my pocket, and play with it all day long to excuse myself from speaking when I had nothing to say.”
The main goal of the game is to get the ball into the cup. While the concept is very easy, mastering the game sometimes requires many hours of practice. To play, the player holds the cup by the handle and lets the ball hang freely. The player then tosses the ball upward by jerking the arm holding the toy, attempting to catch the ball in the cup. If they succeed at getting the ball in the cup, they get one point. They then do it again and again to see how many points they can get in a row. If the person messes up, they then have to start over with zero points.
In the more difficult bilbo catcher variation, the ball can also be caught on the tip of the opposite side of the spindle by a hole drilled in the ball.
Bibliography and Further Reading:
Axtell, James L. The School upon a Hill: Education and Society in Colonial New England New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1974.
Bushman, Richard L. From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1967.
Cable, Mary American Manners and Morals. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1969.
Carson, Jane Colonial Virginians at Play: A Colonial Williamsburg Research Series. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1965.
Daniels, Bruce Colin Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England New York: St. Martin’s Press 1995.
Demos, John A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1970.
Earle, Alice Morse Child Life in Colonial Days. Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Berkshire House Publishers 1899.
Fiske, John The Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America: Two Volumes. Boston:
Houghton-Mifflin Company 1899.
Graff, Harvey J. “Interdisciplinary Explorations in the History of Children, Adolescents, and Youth for the Past, Present and Future” The Journal of American History, Vol. 85, No.4 (March 1999), 1538-1547.
Greven, Philip J. Four generations: population, land, and family in colonial Andover, Massachusetts. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970.
Hawke, David Freeman Everyday Life in Early America. New York: Harper & Row 1988.
Hawke, David The Colonial Experience. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 1966.
Leonard, Eugenie Andruss and Sophie Hutchinson Drinker and Miriam Young Holden The American Woman in Colonial and Revolutionary Times, 1565-1800. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 1962.
Mintz, Steven Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University 2004.
Nash, Gary B. and Julie Roy Jeffrey The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society, Brief Fourth Edition. New York: Longman Press 2003.
Pomfret, John Edwin, edited by Ray Allen Billington The Reinterpretation of Early American History. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library 1966.
Reich, Jerome R. Colonial America, 5 ed Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall 2001.
Rothman, David J. “A Note on the Study of the Colonial Family” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 23, No.4 (Oct., 1966),627-634.
Smith, Daniel Blake “The Study of the Family in Early America: Trends, Problems, and Prospects” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 39, No.1, The Family in Early American History and Culture (Jan. 1982): 3-28
Stanard, Mary Newton Colonial Virginia: Its People and Customs. Detroit: Singing Tree Press 1970.
Taylor, Dale The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America: From 16071783. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1997.
Vinton, Iris The Folkways Omnibus of Children’s Games. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1970.