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Insights: Indulgences

Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Don Johnson, Mar/Apr 02

(continued from page 1)

"It's a long-haul investment," notes Blatt. "You're not going to get rich quick. But there's no question that they do appreciate in value. The ones that are going to appreciate the most are the more elaborate tables. Also, there's no question that the supply is dwindling. I don't see too many antique tables coming up in the market."

Hash says the same thing. "The market for these tables has doubled in the last six or seven years. The supply is simply drying up. Today, I may not buy even five or six tables in an entire year. There's a lot of junk out there, but far fewer really fine tables."

Not surprisingly, the price of investment-quality pool tables is comparable to classic furniture. "Prices for a restored antique table start at $18,000," says Blatt. "You can figure that a new table is about two-thirds the cost of any good antique."

Blatt Billiards is unusual in that not only does it specialize in restoring antique tables, but it also is perhaps the leading builder of high-end new tables. "We take the craftsmanship of those old tables -- all that carving, the inlays, marquetry -- and we use that as our quality standard," says Blatt. "Our work really is all handwork, with real craftsmen who've been doing this for decades."

Blatt's new pool tables fall into two categories: variations on classic designs of the past or modern designs employing polished stainless steel or chrome. "Right now, the new tables are very much in the traditional or vintage styles," says Blatt. "The stainless steel and chrome tables -- well, that was the '80s."

Refurbishing antique pool tables -- or building new ones -- is like nothing so much as restoring, say, a Duesenberg. Everything is redone to a standard long since discarded in our postindustrial age.

"All the vintage tables -- 95 percent of which were made by Brunswick, which bought up dozens of smaller pool table manufacturers -- were each crafted by pretty much one guy," says Blatt. "It wasn't an assembly-line thing back then. That's why when you take apart a pool table, like we do for every one we restore, you'll see that every component has a serial number. That number is really the signature of the craftsman who created the table."

When you walk into Blatt Billiards or Classic Billiards, you first find the style of table you seek. At Blatt's, the tables are stacked on top of one another like books in an overflowing private library. Once you've chosen the style you want, then comes the customizing.

"Nearly all vintage tables need to be restored," says Blatt. "Why? Because for the first 30 or 40 years of their lives, these tables were in mansions or men's clubs. But then the estate or the mansion gets sold, whatever, and the tables get stored in basements, where it's damp. The veneers start to delaminate. Also, the old glues start to deteriorate. There's a lot of weight to these tables, anywhere from 1,400 to 2,400 pounds.

"Remember, these tables aren't just incredible pieces of furniture," he adds. "They're instruments. When you play on a table refinished by us, it's not just beautiful, it's also a pool table that meets the most exacting playing standards. That's no small thing."


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