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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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a ball-game played by two or four players in a court enclosed on three or four sides, the ball being struck with the b y nd, usually protected by a glove, whence the game is known in America as "handball." The origin of the game is probably the French jeu de paume, tennis played with the hand, the hand in that case being eventually superseded by the racquet. Fives and racquets are probably both descended from the jeu de paume, of which they are simplified forms. The name fives may be derived from la longue paume, in which five on a side played, or from the five fingers, or from the fact that five points had to be made by the winners (in modern times the game consists of fifteen points). Fives is played in Great Britain principally at the schools and universities, although its encouragement is included in the functions of the Tennis Racquets and Fives Association, founded in 1908. In America it is much affected for training purposes by professional athletes and boxers. There are two forms of fives - the Eton game and the Rugby game - which require separate notice, though the main features of the two games are the serving of the ball to the taker of the service, the necessity of hitting the ball before the second bounce, and of hitting it above a line and within the limits of the court.

Eton Fives

The peculiar features of the Eton court arose from the fact that in early times the game was played against the chapel-wall, so that buttresses formed side walls and the balustrade of the chapel-steps projected into the court, while a step divided the court latitudinally. These were reproduced in the regular courts, the buttress being known as the "pepperbox" and the space between it and the step as the "hole." The riser of the step is about 5 in. The floor of the court is paved; there is no back wall. On the front wall is a ledge, known as the "line," 4 ft. 6 in. from the floor, and a vertical line, painted, 3 ft. 8 in. from the right-hand wall. Four people usually play, two against two; one of each pair plays in the forward court, the other in the back court. The server stands on the left of the forward court, his partner in the right-hand corner of the back court; the taker of the service by the right wall of the forward court, his partner at the left-hand corner of the back court. The forward court is known as "on-wall," the other as "off-wall." The server must toss the ball gently against the front wall, above the line, so that it afterwards hits the right wall and falls on the "off-wall," but the server's object is not, as at tennis and racquets, to send a service that cannot be returned. At fives he must send a service that hand-out can take easily; indeed. hand-out can refuse to take any service that he does not like, and if he fails to return the ball above the line no stroke is counted. After the service has been returned either of the opponents returns the ball if he can, and so on, each side and either member of it returning the ball above the line alternately till one side or the other hits it below the line or out of court. Only hand-in can score. If hand-in wins a stroke, his side scores a point; if he misses a stroke he loses his innings and his partner becomes server, unless he has already served in this round, in which case the opponents become hand-in. The game is fifteen points. If the score is "13 all," the out side may "set" the game to 5 or 3; i.e. the game becomes one of 5 or 3 points; at "14 all" it may be set to three. The game and its terminology being somewhat intricate, can best be learnt in the court. No apparatus is required except padded gloves and fives-balls, which are covered with white leather tightly stretched over a hard foundation of cork, strips of leather and twine. The Eton balls are 14 in. in diameter and weigh about 14 oz. apiece.

Rugby Fives is much less complicated owing to the simpler form of the court. The rules as to service, taking the balls, &c., are the same as in Eton Fives. The balls are rather smaller. The courts are larger, measuring about 34 ft. by 19 ft. 6 in. and may be roofed or open. The side walls slope from 20 ft. to 12 ft. Some courts have a dwarf back wall, some have none. The back wall, when there is one, is 5 ft. 8 in. in height. In some courts the side walls are plain; in others, where there is no back wall, a projection about 3 in. deep is built at right angles to the two side walls; in others a buttress, similar to the tambour of the tennis-court, is built out from the left-hand wall about 10 ft. from the front wall, and continued to the end of the court. The line is generally a board fixed across the front wall, its upper edge 34 in. from the ground, but the height varies slightly.

Handball, of ancient popularity in Ireland and much played in the United States, is practically identical with fives, though there are minor differences. The usual American court is about 60 ft. long, 241 ft. wide and 35 ft. high at the front, tapering to 33 ft. at the back wall. The front wall is of brick faced with marble, the sides of cement and the floor of white pine laid on beams 10 in. apart. These are the dimensions of the Brooklyn court of the former American champion, Phil Casey (d. 1904), which has been extensively copied. Twenty-one aces constitute a game and gloves are not usually worn. The American ball is a trifle larger and softer than the Irish, which is called a "red ace" when made of solid red rubber, and "black ace" when made of black rubber. Baggs of Tipperary, who was in his prime about 1855, was the most celebrated Irish handball player. In his day nearly every village tavern in Ireland had a court. Browning and Lawlor, who won the Irish championship in 1885, were his most prominent successors. In America Phil Casey and Michael Egan are the best-known names.

See A. Tait's Fives in the All England Series: "Fives" in the Encyclopaedia of Sport; and Official Handball Guide in Spalding's Athletic Library.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Fives'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​f/fives.html. 1910.