Identifying a Balabushka pool cue can be challenging for those new to collecting vintage cues. George Balabushka was an American cue maker who handcrafted exceptional cues from the 1930s through the 1970s in New York. His cues are highly sought after by collectors and players today for their quality craftsmanship, beauty, and playability. There are some key things to look for when determining if a cue is an authentic Balabushka.
Examine the Joints and Pin
One of the signature attributes of a Balabushka cue is the quality of the joint work. Balabushka used extremely well fitted joints that were precision milled for seamless connectivity between the butt and shaft. Examine the joint areas closely for very tight and flush connections. Look for a wooden dowel pin rather than a metal pin. Authentic Balabushka cues had hand-turned ebony or ivory pins. Avoid cues with loose joints or metal pins as those are indications it is not a real Balabushka.
Review Materials Used
Balabushka was highly selective about his wood, often using exotic imported woods. His cues featured woods like Brazilian rosewood, East Indian rosewood, cocobolo, ebony, and maple. Examine the cue for a very high quality wood grain. Also look for abalone inlays as Balabushka frequently used abalone for decorative inlays. Plastic inlays, poor wood quality, and lack of decorative inlays can be red flags that a cue is not a real Balabushka.
Assess Weight and Balance
Due to their design and craftsmanship, Balabushka cues have excellent balance and feel. Pick up the cue and assess the weight distribution. Authentic Balabushkas feel very balanced when held. Also check that the cue has some heft to it. Balabushka cues tend to weigh 18-21 ounces. A cue that feels oddly light or off-balance is unlikely to be a Balabushka.
Review Workmanship Details
Attention to detail is evident in a Balabushka cue. Examine the wrapping, binding, varnish, engraving, and other decorative details. Balabushkas should have a high quality Irish linen wrap and well-executed custom engraving or inlays. The varnish finish should be flawless. Any sloppiness, uneven varnish, or poorly done details means the cue is probably not genuine.
Assess Stampings and Markings
Authentic Balabushka cues feature his signature stampings. Check for his name stamped on the butt in block lettering, “BALABUSHKA” stamped on the bumper, and serial numbers either stamped into the wood or on a metal plate. The stamps should be crisp and consistent. The numbers should be easy to read and not duplicated elsewhere. Avoid cues missing those stampings as they indicate the cue is not a real Balabushka.
Have an Expert Examine It
If still uncertain on the cue’s authenticity, have it examined and authenticated by a reputable cue expert. They will check for all the attributes of a real Balabushka and also be able to spot any signs of alterations or fakes. A cue appraisal and certificate of authenticity from an expert provides documentation should you ever want to resell the cue.
Research the Provenance
The history of ownership of the cue can also lend credibility. Try to determine where the cue has been previously and who has owned it. Documentation showing the cue was acquired directly from Balabushka or his family, or has been in the collections of museums or reputable collectors, can help support that it is genuine. There should be a continuous record accounting for the cue’s provenance or past ownership history.
Be Wary of Red Flags
There are some clear warning signs to signal a cue is not a real Balabushka. Watch for cues advertised as Balabushkas at prices that are unrealistic for their value. Also be leery of sellers unable to provide documentation, details on materials used, or other evidence to substantiate their authenticity claims. Poor conditions like substantial wear, modifications, damage, or major repairs are also red flags.
Avoid Making Assumptions
Just because a cue bears Balabushka markings or the seller insists it is a Balabushka does not necessarily make it so. Fakes and replicas do exist, so it is important to thoroughly vet any cue rather than making assumptions. Unless all the attributes clearly indicate the cue is genuine, it is wise to be skeptical.
Identifying a real Balabushka cue requires carefully inspecting many details related to materials, workmanship, branding, and documentation. While cues bearing his name do appear for sale regularly, only a fraction are determined to be authentic Balabushkas after rigorous examination. Taking time to methodically assess all elements using the guidelines covered can help determine if a cue is a real Balabushka worth the premium price these collectible cues command. Proper due diligence is required to avoid paying thousands of dollars for a counterfeit. With patience and research, collectors can find and acquire these exceptional handcrafted cues that reflect George Balabushka’s dedication to his craft.