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The Earliest Book about Tennis


The Origins of Tennis

This illuminated medieval manus
origin of tenniscript, ca. 1450, shows how the traditional ball game played in monastic cloisters provided the model for the roofed gallery of the traditional tennis court.  The players wear a leather glove on the right hand, later replaced with a scoop, bat, or racket.   Reproduced in Gillmeister, Tennis, A Cultural History (1997), from British Library MS. Harley 4375. 

The First Book about Tennis, by Antonio Scaino

Scaino, Atratto del givoco della pallantonio, 1524‑1612.
Tratto del Givoco della Palla.
Vinegia: Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, et fratelli, 1555.  Modern red morocco, gilt.

This is the first book written about tennis, published in Italian in 1555.  Antonio Scaino, an Italian priest, dedicated the book to his patron Alphone d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.  The book discusses five variant ball‑games, including a form of soccer, but the treatment of the rules and method of playing tennis is much the most detailed, and all Scaino’s illustrations are of tennis. 

Scaino’s Illustration of a Sixteenth‑Century Tennis Court

Scaino, Antonio, 1524‑1612.scaino on tennis
Tratto del Givoco della Palla.
Vinegia: Gabriel Giolito de' Ferrari, et fratelli, 1555.
Facsimile reprint: Salerno: W. Casari, n.d.  Half morocco, marbled boards, in slip‑case.

This facsmile is opened to show one of Scaino’s five engraved plates illustrating tennis court lay‑outs.  Shown here is the plate of the royal tennis‑court at the Louvre, in Paris, showing a court with a line or cord near the mid‑point, and a dedans penthouse, as in a modern court.  Inset is a small racket, in something near modern shape.   The court at the Louvre had been constructed for Henri II, to dimensions that the king himself paced out.  

Scaino on Not Throwing Your Racket at Your Opponent

Scaino, Atratto del givoco della pallantonio, 1524‑1612.
Scaino on Tennis: Tratto del Givoco della Palla.
Translated by W. W. Kershaw, with notes by P.A.Negretti.
London: Strangeways Press for C. B. Gabriel, 1951.  No. 213 of 250 copies,  signed by Negretti.  Original cloth.

This was the firs
t English translation of Scaino’s work, opened at Scaino’s discussion of good manners on the tennis court, showing the close relation between the evolution of the sport and the Renaissance ideals of deportment.

Tennis and the London Merchants: A Fifteenth‑Century Tennis Court

Morgan, Rogtudor tenniser, M.D.
Tudor Tennis, A Miscellany.
Oxford: Ironbark/Ronaldson Publications, 2001.  Full red morocco in jacket. Inscribed by the publisher to "My good friend Billy."

One of the most interesting recent discoveries about early British tennis concerns its relation to the London trade guilds or livery companies.  The plat shown here, dating from ca. 1612, shows a tennis court on property then owned by the Clothworkers’ Company, but previously the site of the Ironmongers’ Hall.   During their tenure, between 1461 and 1535, the Ironmongers are known to have regularly sold tennis balls in large quantity; the accounts indicate that many of the purchase
rs were livery members–London merchants and their apprentices.  This court, open to the sky, with wooden fence‑type walls, and a stone floor, was subsequently leased to individuals and stayed active till the mid‑seventeenth century.

A Renaissance Court Still in Use

The Royal Tennis Court,

royal tennis courtFalkland Palace, Fife, Scotland.
N.p.: n.p., n.d.

The open‑air court at Falkland Palace, was completed for James V of Scotland in 1539; the court is still in use, managed since the 1960's by a specially‑formed club.

The First Picture of a Tennis Net

In the sixteenth century, a version of tennis developedfirst tennis net in which the court was divided by a drooping rope or line.  This water‑colour sketch, ca. 1600, by a German student who had studied in Italy shows students playing with rackets across a net in a covered tennis court.  Reproduced in Gillmeister, Tennis, A Cultural History (1997), from the student’s notebook in a private collection. 

A College Tennis Court from Renaissance Germany

In the eartennis court renaissance germanyly seventeenth‑century the best‑known German ballhaus or covered tennis court was at the Collegium Illustre in Tubingen.  This painting, again from a student’s personal sketchbook, ca. 1598, shows spectators strolling on the court in debate, while the game is in p
rogress behind them.  Reproduced in Gillmeister, Tennis, A Cultural History (1997), from the student’s notebook in the State Library at Tubingen.

A Guide to Playing Traditional or Court Tennis

Danzig, Allison, 1898‑1987.
royal & ancient game of tennisThe Royal & Ancient Game of Tennis.
Philadelphia: United States Court Tennis Association and the United States Court Tennis, 1997.

This illustrated history and guide is based on an article first published in the Cornell Alumni News in 1974.


This page updated May 15, 2006
by the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections,
Copyright 2005, the University of South Carolina.

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