This game featuring a cup and ball is a traditional children’s toy. Like the one featured, it usually has a wooden handle to which a small ball is attached by a string and a cup into which the player tries to catch the ball. A more difficult variant features a hole in the ball and a spike on the handle onto which the ball must drop. The game is good for developing hand and eye co-ordination.

The game has a long history, with origins in the 14th century and with variants around the world. It has not always been a game made for children. The Cup and Ball, known as a ‘Bilboquet’,  was very popular in France during the 16th century when it was played by King Henry III and the 18th century, when it was played by Louis XV. In England it developed into a craze during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, who reportedly enjoyed playing the game herself, as did her courtiers. In the 19th century Jane Austen is said to have excelled at the game. The cup and ball was also played in India, where exotic models were made of ivory. Queen Victoria played with two Indian made games.

Vintage games were often made of plain wood, but modern versions are colourful to appeal to children. There are also plastic models and some with balls made of wound elastic.  There are also novelty metal pens or pencils with a small cup on the end and a small metal ball on a chain.

Instructions can be found to make a simple toy at home from an empty yoghurt pot, a piece of string (about 70cms long) and a piece of silver foil. You tie a knot at the end of the string; make a small hole in the bottom of the yoghurt pot and thread the string through the hole from the inside of the yoghurt pot. Then place the other end of the string onto the silver foil and scrunch the foil into a ball. You can then swing the silver ball and try to catch it in the cup.


More information:

Material(s) WoodCotton
Item number MBPO122

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • When have you played with a cup and ball game?
  • How easy is it to catch the ball in the cup?
  • What other simple historic games have you played? Which is your favourite?

User Stories

Here are images of traditional plain wooden Cup and Ball games

and here are images of the variation of the game which features a spike

This portrait of the French game Bilboquet was painted by Jeanne Bôle’ in c. 1880


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