Being in the pool business and having invented a game that involves the ubiquitous Kelly Pills and shake bottle, I wondered what the pills were originally for and why there are sixteen of them.
Players who have seen the bottle and pills a million times don’t know much about them. Up until quite recently every new pool table came with a bottle and pills as part of the accessories.
Attempting to track the origin of the pills and bottle brings one back to America in the first half of the 19th century when billiard parlors first began to appear in the cities. We know that the invention of the pills precedes the game of Kelly, and although the exact date and original purpose of the pills is lost in the fog of history, a look at how pool was played yields some possible answers.
These early rooms had tables, but no balls.
Players from this era owned not only a cue, but a set of three or four Carom billiards balls. Three balls was the most common, but you can find both kinds of sets for sale today. If you went to the billiard parlor, you would bring the balls with you. These sets most commonly consist of one red ball and two white balls, although some have a red, a white, and a yellow.
When reading periodicals and literary references to billiards from the nineteenth century, mention was often made of a person working in the billiard parlor whose job title was Billiard Marker. References to the Billiard Marker can be found as early as 1800.
The games they played in that era were scored on points, and someone was certainly needed to record the scoring. While the Markersí duties are variously listed as collecting money, keeping the peace, and keeping score for the players on a chalkboard, there may have been another job that helps explain the job title.