Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Brief History of Skittles or Nine Pins 5,000 BC - 19C

The game of skittles is also known as Nine Pins, Dutch Pins, Four Corners, & Rolly Polly. Most forms of Skittles feature projectiles being propelled from one end of an alley in an effort to knock down nine pins stood in a square at the other end. That is about all that many of the games do have in common. Over the years, Skittles developed regional variations in skittle size and shape, skittle alley length, use of a kingpin, size and shape of the balls/cheeses and the rules began to vary quite radically through time & place.

Jacob Duck (1600–1667) and Adam Willaerts (1577–1664) The Game of Skittles

Artifacts found in tombs dating circa 5,000 B.C. show that one of their pastimes was to play a type of skittles with round stones. Sculptured vases & ancient plaques show the game being played some 4,000 years ago, & archaeologists have uncovered biased stone bowls from 5,000 B.C. which indicate our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than 7,000 years ago.


Dirck van Delen (Dutch painter, 1604-1671) Skittles in a Garden

Skittles or Nine Pins has long been played in British and European Taverns & Inns. In general, players take turns to throw wooden balls down a formal or imaginary lane at the end of which are several wooden skittles in an attempt to knock them all over.


Jan Steen (Dutch artist, 1626-1679) Peasants Playing Skittles on a Town's Open Public Space

The game may have come to Britain from Germany where, in the 3rd or 4th century, monks played a game with a kegel which was a club carried for self defense.  In the game, the kegel represented a sin or temptation and the monks would throw stones at it until they knocked it over.  The modern German term for skittles is Kegelen.


Pieter Angellis British , 1685-1734 A Game of Skittles 1727 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Skittles has been one of the most popular sports in England since at least medieval times. Skittles refers to a variety of games in England.  In the 1700s, the game of Closh or Cloish frequently appears in records and later the term Loggats turns up.


Skittles Pieter de Hooch 1629-a 1684 A Game of Skittles

There are two 14th century manuscripts which show a game called club Kayles (from the French "quilles" or skittles) and which depict a skittles game in which one skittle is bigger, differently shaped, and in most cases positioned so as to be the most difficult to knock over.  The throwers, in the illustrations, are about to launch a long club-like object at the skittles underarm.  The large skittle is presumably a king pin.


Jan Steen (Dutch artist, 1626-1679)  A Game of Skittles, c. 1650

Some Skittles cousins do not use a ball at all.  "Aunt Sally" and various games played on a court in Northern Europe, still use a baton shaped stick to chuck at the doll and many modern skittles games throw a object called a "cheese" instead of a ball.  A cheese is any "lump" which is used to throw at the skittles and shapes can vary from barrel shaped to, well, cheese shaped, really.


 Jan Steen (Dutch artist, 1626-1679) Skittles Outside the Local Tavern

Aunt Sally is played by throwing timber batons at a wooden skittle (known as a doll or dolly) on top of a post. Some have suggested that Aunt Sally goes back at least as far as the 17C. However, the earliest references to the term "Aunt Sally" only go back to the mid 1800s.


The Play of Skittles by Francis Hayman c. 1735 - 1745

There are two 14th century manuscripts which show a game called club kayles (from the French "quilles" or skittles) which depict a skittles game in which one skittle is bigger, differently shaped, and in most cases positioned so as to be the most difficult to knock over.  The throwers, in the pictures, are about to launch a long club-like object at the skittles underarm.  Many skittles varieties of today still feature this extra large kingpin". Aunt Sally may be a development of skittles whereby this "Kingpin" became the sole interest of the game and the other skittles were dispensed with.


Edmund Bristow (1787–1876) A Game of Skittles

Irish Skittles is a unique traditional 5 pin game. The pins are stood on a circle with one in the middle and are aimed at with 4 batons. To score, you must not only knock the pin over but must knock it out of the circle. Similar to Aunt Sally and court skittles games from Northern Europe such as Kubb, short sticks - batons are used as throwing implements.

Ten Pin bowling is the North American version of Skittles and is believed to be based upon the Skittles game from Holland.  It was probably the Dutch who took their version of skittles to the British North American colonies in the 17C, although another theory believes it is of English origin. Either way, the game fell into disrepute, as it tended to attract crowds of undesirables and to be played by gamblers, not welcomed by the Puritans. Consequently, a law was introduced to ban the game but since the law only mentioned "nine pin bowling," colonial British Americans simply added another skittle and called the game ten-pin bowling to avoid penalty.