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Bilbocatch: Old Fashioned Ball and Cup Fun

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.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 29, 1809

This Bilbocatch, which belonged to Jane Austen, is on display at Chawton Cottage.
This Bilbocatch, which belonged to Jane Austen, is on display at Chawton Cottage.

Jane Austen loved spending time with her many nieces and nephews. At the time this letter was written, two of Edward’s sons were staying with her in Southampton after the death of their mother. Riddles, paper ships and cards are easy enough to decipher, but what was the “Bilbocatch” game that Jane Austen referred to?

Bilbocatch, from "The Girl's Own Book" by Lydia Marie Child (1838)
Bilbocatch, from “The Girl’s Own Book” by Lydia Marie Child (1838)

Commonly known as Cup-And-Ball, Bilbocatch refers to “a traditional childs toy. It is a wooden cup with a handle, and a small ball attached to the cup by a string. It is popular in Spanish-speaking countries, where it is called “boliche”. The name varies across many countries — in El Salvador and Guatemala it is called “capirucho”; in Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico it is called “balero”; in Spain it is “boliche”; in Brazil it is called “bilboquê”; in Chile it is “emboque”; in Colombia it is called “coca” or “ticayo”; and in Venezuela the game is called “perinola”.A variant game, Kendama, known in England as Ring and Pin, is very popular in Japan.

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