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Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations

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[Austen, Jane]
CUP-AND-BALL GAME (BILBOCATCH)
height 175 mm, ball c.60mm diameter, ivory with modern string, possibly English, c.1800, chipped at base, hairline cracks
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Provenance

Edward Knight, brother of Jane Austen, who inherited the Chawton estate; his grand-daughter, Florence Knight (d.1935); her nephew and niece, Lt. Col. Edward Bradford and his wife Margaret; thence by descent.

Catalogue Note

"Jane Austen was successful in everything that she attempted with her fingers. None of us could throw spilikins in so perfect a circle, or take them off with so steady a hand.  Her performances with cup and ball were marvellous.  The one used at Chawton was an easy one, and she has been known to catch it on the point above an hundred times in succession, till her hand was weary." (James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871), pp.97-98)

Cup-and-Ball, or bilbocatch (from the French bilboquet) was a popular domestic game at which Jane Austen excelled. She gives a good indication of the game's part of daily routine in a letter to Cassandra of 29 October 1809: "We do not want amusement: bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable; spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, with watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed; and we mean to avail ourselves of our kind papa’s consideration, by not returning to Winchester till quite the evening of Wednesday."

This Cup-and-Ball game, which has always remained in the family of Jane Austen, has always been associated with the author including on the rare occasions when it has been publicly exhibited. The house in Chawton in which Jane lived with Cassandra and their mother was part of the Chawton estate that was inherited by Jane's brother Edward from Thomas and Catherine Knight, whose surname he took as a condition of the inheritance. Household items from Jane's house thus passed to the Knights after it reverted back to the estate. The Cup-and-Ball game remained at Chawton House and was played with by successive generations of Knight children until the death of Montagu Knight (1844-1914), the grandson of Jane's brother Edward. Montagu's widow Florence took various items associated with Jane and Cassandra (including this Cup-and-Ball) with her to the Dower House when Chawton itself was inherited by her nephew Lionel (1872-1932). The elderly Florence Knight was looked after by two nieces: Beryl, the daughter of Elizabeth, née Knight, and Margaret, née Hardy, both grand-daughters of the original Edward Knight's son and heir, Edward Knight II (father of Montagu Knight). Margaret married her cousin, Beryl's brother Lt. Col. Edward Bradford, so their children were descendants of the Knight branch of the Austens by both parents. Edward and Margaret Bradford inherited the contents of the Dower House on Florence's death in 1935: some items were donated to the Jane Austen House Museum in the 1940s and others, including this Cup-and-Ball game, remained in the family. 

English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations

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London