40 Broadway Albany NY 12202 (518) 434-2800
A Cautionary Tale of Price and Value in Antique Pool Tables
Sometimes you don’t get what you don’t pay for
A year or two ago I got an inquiry from a prospective client looking for a specific style and model table. I did have that table available for restoration, but after a little discussion, he told me he had located that same table from another restorer at a significantly lower price – actually five thousand dollars lower. I told him that I was willing to be competitive and make what concessions I could to secure a sale, but that this was one third the price of the table – too much of a difference for me to compete with. All I could do was assure him that our restorations were worth the price we charged, and that we did not strive to be the cheapest – only the best.
That was the end of our conversation. Several months later, he called back. He had bought the table, but changed his mind about what room he wanted it in and asked if we would be willing to dismantle and reassemble it. We took the job because we had time, but also because I was curious to see the table firsthand. My first impression of the table was a positive one. The woodwork and the finish were excellent and the table was impressive from a distance – up close was a progressively different story.
First I noticed that it was not actually the table it was supposed to be. It was a similarly styled model by a different manufacturer. This might not be that big a deal, in that there were great tables made in similar styles by several manufacturers - but I think you should know what you are buying. Next I noticed that the rails were #3 irons – not normally what I would expect on a table of that era. Turns out the rails and slate were from a table about 40 years earlier than the cabinet and legs.
As we took the table apart, we discovered typical amateurish things like loose wrinkled cloth on the rails -and some run-of-the mill mediocre restoration things like cheap pot-metal repro pocket irons - Then some not so run of the mill, like rail bolts so loose they rattled when the ball hit the cushion and pocket bolts so loose they were ready to fall out on the floor. As we got deeper into the table, there were bigger deficiencies like no "slate frames"! All antique tables have 1" thick wooden frames around the perimeter of the underside of the slate. This is where the cloth is attached and under which the slate is shimmed for leveling. It is a common error for people to remove these when moving a table (which is how slates usually get broken) but the wooden frames should never leave their slates. These were simply not there!
There were lots of other things, not all of which I now remember. There was Plaster-of-Paris taking the place of wood where the pockets are nailed in and so on. My conclusion was that the table must have been in reasonably good condition to start with and that the woodwork and refinishing had been "farmed out" to a competent person, accounting for the tables initial good impression on me. But even if we put aside the issue of the table being misrepresented as to what it was, the "billiard mechanic" aspects of the table was as slip-shod as anything I had seen from a local amateur in my nearly 30 years of working on tables.
We could not come close to fixing all that was wrong with the table, but we probably improved it by 20% just taking it apart and reassembling it. Of course, different clients will have different tolerances and priorities for appearance and function, and some may be satisfied with an acceptable superficial appearance, but I was amazed that the table had sold for 2/3 what ours would have been. The experience strengthened my conviction that if you are buying a luxury item – which is what a restored vintage billiard table is – it does not make sense to look for the cheapest one. The difference spent between a poor or mediocre restoration and a careful, expert one is likely the best portion of the money spent.
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