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How to Identify Pool Balls

how to identify pool balls

Call it Billiards or simply call it Pool, whatever terminology you choose there is no escaping the addiction of the game. Many of us have a pool table in the house or the garage and quite a few of us even have antique ball sets.

So, how do you identify some of the genuine, older balls, as well as modern high-class billiard balls? Today we’ll give you some tips that can help you identify a few popular types of vintage pool balls, as well as Aramith pool balls so that the next time that you see an older set you can purchase with a little more confidence.

It’s all about what you know!

Identifying Vintage/Old Pool Balls

The original billiard balls were made out of materials such as wood, stone, and later even ivory! When ivory became scarce, there were even Celluloid balls, though these had a little problem that got some complaints from bar owners.

Apparently, the balls sometimes exploded!

Well, that is how the story goes, though in reality what could occur was that a perfect shot might send one celluloid ball into another, creating a cap-like bang. Bar proprietors supposedly even complained, stating that patrons would sometimes hear the noise and draw their guns out defensively.

As you can imagine, that’s not something you want in an establishment that serves alcohol, but a 1909 patent for a new synthetic plastic called ‘Bakelite’ would soon replace those dangerous celluloid balls. You can still find sets of them floating around if you know how to look.

Today we’ll discuss how to identify the following types of pool balls:

  • Ivory
  • Bakelight
  • Aramith

Be sure to read through the tips and file them away in your mind, as these 3 types of balls can be worth a pretty penny and there is never a shortage of people in the world who will try to sell you a fake set. The best defense is to know what you are looking for.

How to Identify Ivory Pool Balls

While Ivory is only produced by poaching now, there are still the occasional antique pieces floating around so we’re including a couple of methods that you may employ to test if the ivory is genuine.

First off, do NOT try the ‘hot needle test’. You may have heard of it but if not, what it entails is heating a needle and touching the ‘ivory’ to be tested. What happens is that real Ivory will turn black from the heat, which plastic is simply going to melt. This damages a piece so this old test is a definite no-no for testing a pool ball.

Try instead to test it with one or both of these methods:

  • The Blacklight Test
  • Identifying Schreger Lines

The Blacklight Test

The Blacklight test involves setting the ivory piece underneath a long-wave black light and taking note of the color. Plastic is going to fluoresce blue or a bluish-white underneath a blacklight so in some cases this can quickly sort out an ivory ball from an old or ‘antiqued’ plastic resin ball.

Actual ivory will typically show a bit of yellow, by contrast, but the presence of bone or ivory dust can show yellow as well, as can a celluloid pool ball. Further examination should commence.

Identifying Schreger Lines

Ivory is made of dentine because it’s really just a big elephant tooth. This means that there are going to be some marks which you can look for that are exceedingly hard, if not impossible to duplicate. Look for very tiny cross-hatched lines (use a magnifying glass if you need to) and make a note of the angle.

If the angle presented is more than 115 degrees then it is elephant ivory, but if you see a 90 degree angle then it is a wee bit older, because it’s mammoth ivory!

Other things you can check for with Ivory

There are a few other things which can you look for when trying to determine if a pool ball is really made of ivory. Check the color and look for the following:

  • Uneven Coloration
  • Dark Gray or Black Veining
  • Yellow or Brownish Color Overall Instead of Pure White

Finally, if you see numbers engraved on the ball then this is also a sign that it might be genuine ivory.

How to Identify Bakelite Pool Balls

There are a few methods which you can use to verify that a pool ball is made out of Bakelite. Some are more practical than others, so we’re going to include 4 of the most popular methods that you can try. One of the following tests should suffice:

  • The Hot Water Test
  • The Rub and Sniff Test
  • The 409 Test
  • The Simichrome Polish Test

The Hot Water Test

If you have direct access to the piece that you are testing as well as a water-tap and a good water heater in the house then you can try the ‘hot water test’. All that you need to do is to start the tap water flowing on ‘hot’ and once it is at its peak temperature,  then you can put the ball underneath in a heat-resistant plastic container.

Bakelite, when heated in this manner, is going to exude a chemical smell which is much like pungent formaldehyde. Giving the call a sniff after a quick tap-water heating can thus help you to confirm its authenticity.  While this is a great way to test a cue ball, it’s not going to be useful at a flea market antique store, but there are a few more tests that you can try.

The Rub and Sniff Test

If you can’t do the water test then you can try a ‘rub and sniff’ test. This goes on the same basic concept. You will want to use your thumb to rub vigorously on the ball so that you can generate heat and then give the ball a sniff.

This can take a little practice to perfect, however, so you might want to try this a few times with a Bakelite ball at home if you want to add this trick to your arsenal. Once you’ve gotten it down, it’s quite useful.

The 409 Test

409 Cleaner is another great way to test for Bakelite. What you need to do is put a small amount of the cleaner on a cotton swab and then give the material a light, gentle rubbing on an unpainted portion.  If the material is indeed Bakelite then the cotton will turn a tell-tale yellow.

Note, some lacquers and additional treatments can throw this test off but in many cases it will quickly identify Bakelite.

The Simichrome Polish Test

Another chemical test which you can try requires a metal cleaner known as Simichrome. This is done much the same as the 409 test. Simply apply a small amount of it to a cloth and rub a bare area of the ball with the cloth. If it turns yellow then it is Bakelite, but if it doesn’t turn yellow then you can always try the hot water or the sniff test as a follow-up to rule out any lacquering or other special treatments.

How to Identify Aramith Pool Balls

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Identifying Aramith balls is where things can get tricky. While they typically come in a white or a green box that displays their logo all over, like this set of Aramith Pool Balls from Amazon, that doesn’t mean that what is inside is truly a set of Aramith balls. Your best bet is going to be taking advantage of the information age by posting some pictures of the balls on the internet.

The reason for this is due to the large number of distinctions that may be found in the different Aramith styles. For instance, older ‘Crown Standard’ versions might have a flat, straight underline beneath numbers instead of a curved line. If the numbering matches what you believe to go with the set, are the colors the original, correct colors?

‘Knockoffs’ can be quite clever. For some sets you can check on Aramith’s website so that you can compare the set which you are considering to the ones on the site. Also, when you receive a box of Aramith balls, check the box for the country of origin. If it doesn’t say ‘Made in Belgium’ then it’s not an Aramith set, period.

One quick identification you can make is between Aramith ‘Standard’ and ‘Premier’ balls. For the Standard ones, the numbers will be on the stripes of the balls while the Premier will display numbers on the white of the ball.

Aside from the ‘internet picture’ method you can always take a set to a local vendor to help to get it identified but beyond this the Aramith website is still going to be your best bet. You may even be able to email them pictures if it is for a discontinued set but we can’t guarantee that they will always be receptive to this.

Thankfully, the internet is always receptive and generally quick to respond, so if you are in doubt and not very familiar with Aramith yet then be sure to give it a try. Just do a search for ‘pool forums’ or ‘pool forums aramith’ and you can likely register and post your pictures and question and get a confirmation in record time.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are quite a few small things that one can look for to help to identify if a set of pool balls is legitimate. Looking for identifying marks on Aramith sets to compare on the website, Identifying Schreger lines in ivory, and heating and sniffing Bakelite are some of the quickest methods.

Use them as you need and when in doubt, check with your Billiards/Pool equipment vendor. A seasoned vendor can often spot a fake in seconds if you bring in or email pics.

They can also help you purchase the ‘real-deal’ when in doubt, so if you aren’t sure about a set and the testing is inconclusive, try asking your vendor. They’ve got your back!

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