Cup and Ball

Object name: Cup and ball

Object number: CHWJA:JAH25

Category: Object

Description: A cup and ball toy, also known as ‘Bilbocatch’. Made of ivory, the toy consists of a cup with a turned handle, connected to a ball by a string. The aim of the game is to catch the ball in the cup. It sounds easy but depending on the size of the cup, length of string and weight of the ball, it can be very tricky! Bilbocatch was a popular game in England during the early 19th century.

Made: 1760-1820

Context: Jane Austen is reputed to have played with this cup and ball, either at Chawton House or at Godmersham Park, her brother Edward’s estates. She was exceptionally good at it; as her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh noted in his Memoir of Jane Austen:

‘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.’

There was also a cup and ball toy in use at Chawton Cottage. In 1809, Jane wrote to Cassandra describing the games used to occupy their nephews who were paying a visit to Chawton:

‘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.’

Jane Austen, 29 October 1809

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