25 May 2018

Tennis rules OK!

Ever wanted to tear up the rules? Well now you have the chance as two historic tennis publications go on sale

A stone's throw from where many of you are hitting balls in the Battersea Park Tennis League, the world's book collectors are gathering for the annual Antiquarian Booksellers' Association Rare Book Fair. And this year, it is tennis that has got them talking as two of the rarest tennis publcations go up for sale.

Both books, which are on sale through London's Peter Harrington's Rare Books, are remarkable. 

Lawn Tennis Rules (1886) is a well-preserved copy of the first appearance of the rules and bye-laws of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association. It's a crucial book in the history of US tennis as it marked the moment that New World broke away from the All England-Marylebone Rules. Lawn tennis was introduced to the US by James Dwight, the “Father of American Tennis”, and one of the founders of the USNLTA (now the USTA). Many of the rules contained in this book are still in use today, over 130 years later.

The rule book is on sale for £1,500 and if you would like to see it in the "flesh" visit the Fulham Road branch of Peter Harrington's.

The second book is perhaps even more important to the history of tennis. This is a first edition of A Treatise on Tennis from 1822, published at a moment when the tennis of the days was in crisis and losing out to its arch-rival, cricket. Written it is thought by Robert Lukin (a top player at the time) it made a passionate defence of tennis. Unlike cricket, tennis “exhibits an animated picture of the strength, skill, and activity of man, and is, at the same time, far removed from anything puerile or degrading to his nature”.

In fact the treatise, despite being the earliest-known book on tennis, is something of an elegy to fading version of the sport. Today it is know as "Real Tennis" - and is still played at places like the Queen's Club and Hampton Court. But it has lost out to the new fangled lawn tennis - the game that we play.

The Treatise, on show at Harrington's Dover Street, London branch, is priced at a cool £8,750. So why the continued facination for what are just books of rules? Perhaps it has something to do with the nature of the game of tennis itself. Pablo Pico, manager at Peter Harrington Rare Books, and a keen tennis player himself has no doubts:

It is often said that tennis can be cruel, but thanks to its rather unusual and often maddening scoring system it is also a very fair sport. On the one hand, one could win the most points and/or games in a match and still end up the loser.

But by not being limited by time, the game always allows a losing player the opportunity to turn the tables and win the match, no matter how desperate their situation or how close to defeat they might be. The same scoring system also demands psychological strength from the player in the winning situation.

They will not be saved by a clock running down time. They must cross the finish line themselves, and those final few points required to win the match can be the hardest even- especially- when one has been cruising until the last game.

Nothing is really decided until the last point is won; that is why it is such a compelling sport for me.

The ABA Rare Book Fair is open to the public until Saturday (10am-5pm) and it is free of charge. The Treatise is in the Peter Harrington shop in Dover Street and the Rules in their shop in Fulham Road.