How to Identify Vintage Pool Balls (And Spot Fakes)

Pool has been around for a very long time, and throughout the years of its existence, there have been many different styles of pool balls that have come and gone.

With all of the different types of pool balls around, being able to identify them is something that many pool enthusiasts want to be able to do. Thankfully, identifying pool balls to determine whether they are vintage or more modern ones is fairly easy.

In this article, we will be going over a few tips that you can use for identifying vintage pool balls and distinguishing them from newer pool balls.

Background on Pool Balls

Poster of Vintage Pool Balls

Knowing a bit about the background and origins of pool balls is very helpful in being able to identify whether or not a ball is vintage. 

This is because back in the day, pool balls were crafted out of many different types of materials, and knowing these certain materials gives a great indicator for whether a pool ball is vintage or not.

Originally, pool balls were made out of very different materials than the resin that is commonly used today. Wood and stone were quite common when pool balls were first starting out, and later in the pool ball’s life, it was even crafted out of ivory.

Ivory pool balls were highly sought after even back when they were common, and nowadays, they can only be found as vintage sets due to the fact that ivory is only attainable by poaching. 

When ivory pool balls started to become scarcer, pool balls needed to be crafted out of a new type of material. 

For a spell, pool balls were fashioned out of celluloid, though these fell out of favor with many due to the very loud and obnoxious sound they created when colliding with other balls.

During the early 1900s, a new type of pool ball was created, made out of the synthetic material known as Bakelite. To this day, Bakelite pool ball sets are floating around, and you can pick one up for yourself if you know where to look for them.

Spotting Vintage Pool Balls

Now that you know some of the basic materials that most early pool balls were crafted out of, we can get into what you should be looking for when identifying vintage pool balls. 

Of course, the simplest thing to check for is the material that your balls are crafted out of.

A majority of modern pool balls are made out of special resins known as phenolic resin. Phenolic resin is very durable and gives the balls a great feel when playing with them. 

Pool balls crafted out of this special resin tend to have a classic and timeless look to them, but they are very modern and definitely not vintage.

Identifying wood and stone pool balls is quite easy, seeing as you can immediately tell what they are made out of, and celluloid balls give off a very unique sound when colliding with other balls, so we will be covering these two of the harder-to-identify vintage pool balls now.

Identifying Ivory Pool Balls

One of the most famous vintage pool balls, ivory pool balls are very collectible, highly sought after, and quite rare. You should keep your eyes peeled for the unique appearance of ivory pool balls. Needless to say, they are ivory colored and sport a unique, “marbleized” pattern on their surface. 

These vintage pool balls are also often contained within their original wooden storage boxes. There are a few tests that you can put your pool balls through if you suspect they are ivory and want to be totally sure that they are authentic. 

Following are the two tests that you can put your pool balls through to see if they are actually vintage ivory balls:

  • Perform a Blacklight Test: To conduct this test, simply place your pool balls under a blacklight and check to see what the color is like. If they are truly vintage ivory balls, then they will show a touch of yellow, whereas plastic balls will fluoresce a blue or bluish-white color.
  • Check for Schreger Lines: Because ivory is essentially a large tooth of an elephant, it will contain lines that are extremely hard to duplicate, known as Schreger lines. These will appear as small lines that are cross-hatched. Angles larger than 115 degrees mean that the balls are made of elephant ivory, while 90-degree lines mean they are mammoth ivory (a stellar find, should you ever come across vintage balls made of this stuff). The lack of these lines means that your pool balls, sadly, are not made of ivory.

There are other things you can check for as well to see if your pool balls are made of vintage ivory. These include checking for uneven coloration, dark gray or even black colored veining, and noticing a yellow or brownish color rather than a very pure white.

Engraved numbers also tend to be a sign that pool balls may be made out of ivory, and therefore a great vintage piece.

Identifying Bakelite Pool Balls

Another very popular vintage pool ball material is Bakelite. Vintage pool balls made out of Bakelite are much more common than ivory balls and thankfully easier to identify, as well.

Following are some of the easiest ways to determine if your pool balls are made out of Bakelite and truly a vintage piece:

  • Run a Hot Water Test: One of the simplest tests you can perform is placing your pool balls in a container of hot water. True Bakelite balls will give off a strong chemical smell that is akin to formaldehyde. 
  • Rub and Sniff: Much like the previous test; you can rub the ball to generate a good amount of heat and then sniff it. If you notice the formaldehyde-like smell, then you’ve got yourself a vintage Bakelite ball.

There are other tests you can do to see if your pool balls are vintage Bakelite balls, though these include purchasing special cleaning substances or polishes. Just remember the telltale smell that Bakelite balls give off when exposed to heat, and you’re good to go.

To Conclude

Hopefully, these few simple tips will assist you when trying to identify vintage pool balls yourself. With vintage pool balls becoming more of a rarity nowadays and increasing in price with each passing year, it is a great help to be able to distinguish vintage balls from modern pool balls.

Performing simple tests such as heating and sniffing or checking for Schreger lines only takes a small amount of time and can give you some crucial information about whether or not your pool balls are vintage.

In addition to vintage balls, there are also some unique billiard balls that look beyond incredible and very much fun to play with. If you are looking to make your pool table the focal point of a room, there is no better way than opting for a pool ball set that’s one of a kind.

Daniel Bouie - SportsDean
Daniel Bouie
Daniel Bouie has been playing and helping others learn the ins and outs of pool for eight years. His profound love for the game inspired him to become a qualified billiard instructor in 2015. He frequently practices in his spare time and teaches private lessons to novice and intermediate players.

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