This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of WGM.
A London antiques seller recently posted a unique roulette table for sale – and it comes with quite a story!
History is littered with gamblers and scammers, tricksters and tragics convinced they had found a way to “break the bank.” And while most have come up empty handed, at the very least they have contributed to some fascinating and often truly unbelievable stories throughout the years.
However, one of the more intriguing tales of gambler’s ambition is that of the King’s Table – a one-of-a-kind roulette table commissioned by England’s King Edward VII in 1907 and currently on sale in a London antique store.
As the story goes, famous London gambler Lord Rosslyn – a friend of the King’s – believed he had devised a system that could beat any fair roulette game in the world. Unfortunately, he said, his system was impossible to test because the roulette wheels at every casino in Europe were “fixed.”
Intrigued, King Edward VII decided to put Lord Rosslyn’s proclamation to the test and commissioned the great American inventor Sir Hiram Maxim to build a fair and tamper-proof roulette table. Aged in his 60s at the time, having moved to the United Kingdom 25 years earlier, Sir Maxim was the inventor of the world’s first portable, fully-automated machine gun – the Maxim Gun. He also claimed to have invented the lightbulb, insisting Thomas Edison had only earned official credit due to a better understanding of the patent system.
Either way, he seemed an obvious choice for the job. While Sir Maxim didn’t play roulette himself, he was no stranger to the gambling world having published a book only a few years earlier called Monte Carlo: Facts and Fallacies, which broke down various gambling probabilities.
As a result, he was eager to be involved – albeit with every expectation that Lord Rosslyn’s supposed system would prove a fallacy. So, in 1907 Sir Maxim began work on the King’s Table and by September 1908 it was ready for the challenge.
Amid widespread media interest both in England and back in Sir Maxim’s homeland, the game began on 19 September in a Piccadilly apartment as Sir Rosslyn sat down with a hefty bankroll of £10,000 and put his system to the test. Ten days later he was bust.
While it proved a rather fruitless venture for Sir Rosslyn, the King’s Table at least proved successful for Sir Maxim, who kept it in his London home and would occasionally welcome the King himself for a quiet spin or two.
It was later passed down to his grandson, Colonel Maxim Joubert, who ultimately gave it to his doctor!
Now available to anyone keen to add a unique piece of memorabilia to the lounge room and perhaps even test out their own systems, the King’s Table is apparently still in excellent condition and comes complete with the original playing chips – one of them signed by Sir Maxim himself – plus the ball, croupier’s rake and various newspaper articles from the time.
Not a bad gift!