How much would you pay for a 5-foot-long wooden dowel? If your answer is, “Um, about $50,000,” then Greenville collector Jack Stutting would like to hear from you.
But odds are he won’t be willing to part with any of the “top shelf” pool cues that make up his elite stockpile. According to Stutting, who has been collecting cues since 1965, he generally has between 60 to 80 cues on hand at any given time, many valued at somewhere between $6,000 and $35,000.
The lion’s share of Stutting’s collection was purchased for far less than that, however. In fact, many of the cues were acquired through “horse trading,” according to Stutting.
“It’s basically a hobby,” Stutting explained. “About 80 percent of what I have I got through horse trading; that keeps most of the overhead off.”
Still, $35,000 for a pool cue? Excessive? Oh, yes, but one must remember, the cues in Stutting’s collection have as much in common with a typical barroom cue as a Ferrari Testarossa has in common with a Yugo. Each cue is painstakingly hand-built by a master craftsman; most boast inlays of ivory, ebony, rare woods and semi-precious stones.
Each is a unique, one-of-a-kind creation that — to billiards cognoscenti — are as recognizable as would be a Picasso or Renoir to a museum curator.
Among Stutting’s most treasured cues are a lot made by Southwest Cues’ Jerry Franklin, in Las Vegas. Several years ago, Stutting purchased several cues from Franklin for $4,000. When Franklin unexpectedly died shortly thereafter, the value of the cues skyrocketed.
“When he was alive and still making them, collectors would wait 10 years just to get a cue he made,” Stutting explained. “I got to meet him a few months before he passed away and I was able to buy a few cues he’d made for a show. I just had a feeling. I’ve since sold two of those cues for $25,000 each.
“I loved those cues and they were the hallmark of my collection for a number of years. But when the economy goes sour, you do what you have to do to keep on your feet.”
The Franklins aren’t the only works of art in Stutting’s collection, not by a long shot. Then again, he says, when you’ve been collecting them as long as he has, you’re bound to wind up with more than a few treasures.
“It started back in 1965, when I was in the Navy,” Stutting said. “I was stationed in Guantanamo, Cuba, and there was a little rec hall on the base. There was a little gambling going on at the pool table.”
Stutting was by no means a great pool player, he admits, but he was good enough to win a box of cues from another player there.
“He wasn’t very good,” Stutting said. “So here I was with this box of cues. They were worth only $20 to $30 each, but back then you’ve got to remember we were only making $40 per month, so that was a decent amount of money.”
Stutting began selling the cues, mostly to fellow seaman.
“When I ran out of cues, guys kept coming to me asking for them,” Stutting said. “So I called the owner of the company (that manufactured the cues) and asked if I could become a dealer.
The company, Viking, was fairly new at the time and the owner was willing to work with an inexperienced seller.
“He said if I could come up with $600, I could become a Viking cues dealer,” Stutting said. “The cues arrived and that’s how I got started.”
Following his discharge from the Navy, Stutting kept on with what he continued to think of as a hobby, selling his cues in pool halls and at shows. It wasn’t until 1985 that he became a serious collector himself.
“The whole idea was to advance my own private collection,” Stutting said. “I would buy something, sell it, and buy something else for myself with the money. The idea was to have a hobby I could have fun with, get something I wanted, and still have money left in my pocket.”
Though many of Stutting’s friends and acquaintances have over the years encouraged him to open his own retail outlet, he has actively resisted the idea. Once it becomes a 9-to-5 job, he fears, the fun would go out of it.
Instead, he continues to do contracting work for the business started by his father and grandfathers back in the early ‘50s, though at 66, he tends to be a little choosy about which jobs he takes on.
“The younger guys can still make a living doing roofing and pole barns and stuff,” Stutting said. “I’m a little old for that. But I still like doing kitchens and bathroom remodels. I still get a lot of calls from people who know my work.”
Stutting also is well-known in the area for his fireworks shows, which, like many things in his life, he “just sort of fell into.”
“I did a lot of explosive work in the military,” Stutting said. “Then I met up with an old buddy, Jeff Richardson, who became a civil engineer specializing in explosives.”
In 1970, the two friends formed a company that specialized in dynamiting bridges, dams and similar structures. In 1976, Stutting was living in Lansing when he received a call from city organizers asking if he could produce a fireworks show for the Fourth of July.
“I asked him what it paid and he said $500,” Stutting said. “I told him we could do it. Well, it turns out dynamite is 20th century technology and fireworks are 16th century. We nearly killed ourselves. By the end of the show, we were just happy to have lived through it.
“The organizers loved it. They didn’t realize how Laurel and Hardy it all was on the ground.”
After that particular debacle, Stutting and Richardson attended classes to learn proper fireworks technique.
Though even today some companies will ship a fireworks show to an untrained novice, most — such as Premier Pyrotechnics in Richland, Mo. — at least offer instructional services as well. According to Premiere Pyrotechnics President and CEO Matt Sutcliffe, training is key to a successful show.
“We strongly recommend attending one of our fireworks training seminars,” Sutcliffe said.
Many companies that sell fireworks also provide personnel for those who would prefer to leave the job to professionals. Once you handle the work yourself, however, Stutting said, you want to keep at it.
“We kind of got the bug,” Stutting said. “You get into it, like a groupie, and you’re always looking forward to doing it again.”
In conversation, Stutting sometimes laments the current economic downturn that has forced him to sell off some of the billiard-related treasures he would have preferred to keep. But overall, the man seems content with the hand life has dealt him and anxious for whatever yet may come.