A question from Ray—
Most (all?) leisure sets come as a set of three boules. On eBay and antique sites I see balls in a two-ball set, with leather carrier. Why two? Is it perhaps that most people once played triples?
The answer is YES, Ray, you hit the nail on the head.
In The Beginning, petanque was a triples game. That is, it was played by two teams of three players, with each player playing with two boules. That’s why on places like eBay and Etsy, you often see an offer of an old set of two boules in a traditional leather-strap carrying case.
In 1959, the newly-created FIPJP issued its first set of rules, and this was the first time that an official set of rules mentioned a doubles version of the game. In the 1962 version of the rules, we see the now-familiar listing of three officially-accepted forms of the game— triples, doubles, and singles (tête-à-tête).
Doubles quickly became popular, and in response boules manufacturers began selling boules in sets of three. For a long time they continued also to sell boules in sets of two, but the market for 2-boule sets steadily declined until Obut finally stopped selling sets of 2 competition boules in 2012.
Many of the sets of two boules that you see on eBay and Etsy are old, some of them dating as far back as the 1930s. But Obut continued selling two-boule sets right up to 2012, so some of the sets may actually be quite new. The DOG leisure boules that Obut sold after World War II, for instance, were sold in pairs.
There seems to have been two basic designs for the leather carrier. One very popular design used long leather straps that could slide in and out through metal rings.
The other design was more compact, with a belt and a belt buckle between the boules.
Sometimes the carrier had a little built-in pocket for carrying a jack.
In July 2010 the international media went into a frenzy after Karl Lagerfeld threw a party in St. Tropez for The Beautiful People. He gave them free customized Chanel boules. Pretty spiffy!