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History of Billiard Balls

From the initial wooden balls that were first used in the early days of the game, through to the high tech phenolic resin creations that used today, the history of billiard balls is a little darker and interesting than you might first imagine.

Following on from the first wooden balls, the next material of choice was of course ivory. With Britain being the foremost consumer in it’s heyday, the ivory billiard ball trade relied on the slaughter thousands of elephants for their tusks.

Despite the popularity of the ivory billiard ball, it was still prone to defects with it being a natural substance. This material had moisture absorbing properties which could of course change the shape of the ball. In addition to this, the nerve that ran through the centre of the tusk meant that there could be a rather substantial hole in the balls that had been cut from area around the base of the tusk.

Such holes were filled with ebony, and were known as the “spot” ball. The “spot” balls were considered to be a disadvantage for those using them, due to the occurrence of them kicking when the ivory and ebony came in to contact.

As you can imagine, the ivory billiard ball trade was big business and quality was paramount. To ensure the highest quality, it said that the best billiard balls were cut from female elephant tusks as they were smaller and therefore had a smaller nerve near the base (smaller and less holes to be plugged by ebony).

Come the late 19th century there was a growing surge to find a replacement to the inconsistent, expensive and short life ivory ball, the initial result was the production of the colloidan mixture billiard ball.

Whilst eradicating some of the inconsistencies of it’s predecessor, this evolutionary upgrade had a slight problem. Colloidan was highly volatile and exploded on impact when the balls collided!

With the addition of the plasticising ingredient; camphor, the problem of the great balls of fire was overcome and gave way to the birth of what we know today as Celluloid™.

As a result of advances in the plastics industry and variations of different compounds experimented with, it was the cast phenolic resin ball that was to become the champion of the cause.

So much so that, since the 1950’s, phenolic resin billiards and snooker balls have been the first choice for cue sport enthusiasts and professionals ever since.

There are still variations in the quality of different brands and some are more highly regarded than others. However it is common knowledge that the Belgian manufacturer; Aramith, has been the long standing market leader for premium quality pool and snooker balls for many years.

If you are a professional and regularly use Aramith balls or if you have taken the time to have a read about their quality checks and the attention to detail that goes in their manufacturing process it is easy to understand why.

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