The History of Clay Pool Balls
The history of clay billiards or pool balls dates back to ancient times when people first began playing cue sports. Early game forms, similar to modern billiards, emerged in various cultures, including ancient Egypt, China, and Persia. The balls were made from wood, stone, animal bone, and, the most costly, elephant ivory.
A transition to clay as the material of choice for billiard balls began in the 14th century in Europe. Clay was readily available, easily shaped, and offered better playing characteristics than previous materials. Initially, these clay balls were handcrafted, resulting in variations in size and weight.
During the 17th century, artisans started using molds to shape the clay, ensuring greater consistency in size and weight. The process involved pressing moistened clay into a spherical shape and then firing it in a kiln. This firing process hardened the clay and gave the balls their durability.
As the popularity of billiards grew, so did the demand for standardized balls. Manufacturers began experimenting with various materials and techniques to enhance the performance of clay balls. They added substances like powdered chalk or bone ash to the clay mixture, improving the balls’ friction and reducing the chances of skidding.
In the 19th century, the introduction of industrialization revolutionized the production of clay billiard balls. Mechanized processes enabled mass production and increased size, weight, and quality. However, the emergence of celluloid and later synthetic materials in the 20th century led to the decline of clay balls in favor of more durable and resilient options.
Although clay billiard balls are no longer commonly used today, they played a crucial role in the game’s evolution. They provided a foundation for ball design, manufacturing techniques, and the pursuit of better playing characteristics that enabled accuracy, raising pool and billiards to the level of other competitive sports.
The Hyatt Pool and Billiard Ball Company
The Hyatt Pool and Billiard Ball Company, located in Albany, New York, holds an important place in the history of billiard ball manufacturing. Founded in the early 20th century, the company quickly became a leading producer of high-quality clay balls for playing pool and billiards. Throughout its existence, the company continued to refine its manufacturing techniques and was one of the first manufacturers to use celluloid. The newly formulated plastic-like material offered superior durability and resilience compared to clay or ivory, which would start to crack after hard use.
Solid Ivory Cue Ball
The ivory cue ball has been made from the ivory of an elephant’s tusk. Historically, ivory has been prized for use by poolsters because of its texture, durability, and natural beauty. The sale of elephant ivory is illegal in many countries due to concerns about conserving elephant populations.
Ivory cue balls are of a higher density than pool balls made from most other materials. The weight enhances the balls’s spin, roll and force. Depending on the material composition of the balls in play, the energy transferred from one ball to another is determined by weight, as well as velocity.
The collection of pool balls were originally owned by the author’s grandfather Frank Joseph Reiser (1886 – 1960)