La Circulaire – a lesser-known pétanque tradition

Almost from the day that petanque was invented in 1910, petanque players have experimented with tools and methods for drawing a throwing circle on the ground. Using a foot to swipe a curve (courbe) in the dirt was crude. Drawing a cicle with a finger left you with dirty hands. Using a stick worked well, but suitable sticks weren’t always readily available. Players began to experiment with specialized tools for drawing circles, and in the process they created one of the lesser-known pétanque traditions— that of l’outil pour faire le cercle or simply la circulaire.

The most popular type of circulaire was made from the tip of the horn of the Alpine Ibex. Some were simply polished, but there was also a tradition of elaborately carving the horns. Possibly because many of the carved circulaires were created by sailors (who played petanque while in port and carved scrimshaw while at sea), one of the most popular designs was of a mermaid holding up two boules. In 1971, the founders of Starbucks Coffee adapted that design to create the first version of their company logo. The design was altered so that the mermaid’s tails cover the boules in her hands, but you can still see the boules in the band surrounding the image.

Carved circulaires were never widely used, partly because only a few of them were ever created, partly because they were expensive, and partly because the Alpine Ibex had been hunted almost to extinction. Some players improvised circulaires from old screwdrivers and, more recently, old ballpoint pens. Some players opted for a manufactured “petanque marker”, a version of which is still available from PetanqueShop.com.

Although these designs were functional and effective, I’ve always felt that they were a bit clunky. Recently I found a new, streamlined design that I actually prefer. It is long enough to provide a good grip and good freedom of motion for the wrist. There is a nice rubber cushion on the handle. A graphite core keeps the weight down, and its slim design allows it eaily to be tucked away in a pocket. It is available for €16 at PetanquePoisson.com.

[Originally published 2020-04-01.  Reposted with permission.]

1 thought on “La Circulaire – a lesser-known pétanque tradition

  1. I think the circle is completely superfluous in every instance except actual tournament play. When my compatriots and I play, we simply stand astride the last-played jack and play from there (yes, this means you need two jacks).

    No drawing in the dirt, no carrying some 50cm circle around with you. Put your feet on either side of the last played jack, throw your other jack and go from there. And then, when you’re done, remember to pick up the jack from between the last player’s feet.

    Simple, no screwing around.

    Like

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