hist-games: Devil among the Tailors

ADRIAN SEVILLE adrian.seville at btopenworld.com
Sun Feb 12 06:39:32 PST 2006

Hi James!
  It is always amusing to see where these threads lead.
  I think Strutt may have been right when he said the top and skittles game was called Devil among the Tailors.  Of course, that does not stop the same name being given to the skittles and swinging weight game that you describe. The phrase Devil among the Tailors has a wider metaphorical sense (a disturbance of tranquillity) that could well apply to both games. One-to-one correspondence between game and name is not guaranteed with old games!
  The big Oxford English Dictionary gives only the spinning top version:
    the d. among the tailors: a row going on (see Farmer Slang Dict. s.v.); also a game. 
  1834 LD. LONDONDERRY Let. 27 May in Court Will. IV & Victoria (1861) II. iv. 98 Reports are various as to the state of the enemy's camp, but all agree that there is the devil among the tailors. 1851 MAYHEW Lond. Labour (1861) II. 17 A game known as the ‘Devil among the tailors’..a top was set spinning on a long board, and the result depended upon the number of men, or ‘tailors’, knocked down by the ‘devil’ (top) of each player.
  Of course, it is possible that Mayhew was copying Strutt, but I don't think so: the 'long board' he describes seems to be different from Strutt's 'circular board'.  So we seem to have two sorts of spinning top and skittles games, both called Devil among the Tailors.
  Just to throw something else in, did you know that Devil among the Tailors is the name of a firework?  As I recall, it consists of a bunch of Roman Candles taped round a jack in the box.  The Roman Candles fire first, and give a picture of tranquil activity, like sewing.  Then the jack in the box fires with a loud bang, sending jumping crackers everywhere. There may be other versions.

  Best wishes - and thanks for your comments as ever

james at tradgames.org.uk wrote:

I have some info on this as I've recently become interested in this game.
(Actually, I have the very same modern version of the game in the link you
http://woodexpressions.com/499009.jpg. It's called Tirolean Roulette on my
version. Not sure if that means anything, however.)

The quote from Strutt that Adrian gave is actually rather misleading by
Strutt because Devil amongst the tailors has long referred to the English
pub game table skittles with a ball on a chain. Perhaps in his day this was
indeed the term used for the game but I do wonder if he got confused or was
misled. The game in question is in modern times known as Table a Toupie
(sorry French people - I can't do accents on my letters) in French and
Toptafel in Flemish. It's also very popular in the USA where they usually
just call it "Skittles" (which confuses things considerably more). I sell a
modern version in my shop mainly to Americans.

Adrian's implication of a link, is in my view, justified. There is what
appears to be a geneological missing link. There is a Victorian game called
Cannonade or Castle Bagatelle which is a large circular table with sides.
Around the sides are little rooms and in each a skittle (that looks like a
castle) like Toptafel. However, instead of the spinning top knocking over
the pins, the top hits balls in the middle of the table and the balls have
to go through little hoop entrances into the rooms in order to topple the

So you see, in order to convert Cannonade into HolzRoulette, you simply need
to remove the pins.

One more point of interest - in Cassells book of fireside fun that mentions
Cannonade, it also says "There is a version of this game known at the toy
shops as the "Game of Bombardment". It is a German introduction and
although not so good a game..."

So, is the game German or English? It seems to be generally thought of as
German but Cannonade was published in 1854 by Jaques. Does anyone have any
other dates?

James Masters

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