English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Billiard Monthly : January, 1911

The Billiard Monthly : January, 1911

Soft and Hard Ivories

To all lovers of our most popular indoor pastime—billiards
—the “ivories” are of paramount importance. One may
possess the most superbly-built table, covered with finest
cloth; correct height of cushions; everything of a standardized
pattern; a cue simply perfection, the envy of all
our billiard friends; yet without the ivories he is as an
airman without his biplane. All skilled players fully appreciate
the high value of a good set of ivory billiard balls.

While one welcomes the introduction of the recognised
makes of composition balls, it cannot be denied that ivories
are second to none in providing the player with all the
essential qualities required for the highly-scientific and interesting
game of billiards. Hence it has been suggested
that a few particulars, by an expert of many years’ standing,
regarding this beautiful material, may perchance
interest and instruct some of your readers.

In the first place it is needful to point out that ivory is
of a very delicate nature, and when newly-turned and
finished into sets of billiard balls requires very careful usage.

A really fine set of ivories may be utterly spoilt from want
of gentle usage when first placed upon the cloth. Many
professional players own ivories which are almost beyond
value, simply from the fact that being fully acquainted with
the characteristics of the material they do not subject them
to violent play when new, or expose them to risk of extreme
heat or of cold air. The nature of ivory requires an even
temperature of not less than 60 degrees.

This leads me to another point; namely, to a consideration
of what is termed “soft” and “hard” ivory. Formerly
all ivories were made from “soft,” or what is generally
known as East Indian ivory—that is, from tusks of
elephants found on the East Coast of Africa, and which is
mostly of a coarser grain or texture than “hard,” and is
also opaque and of a yellowish tint. Soft ivories are more
liable to dent if subjected to rough play, but with proper
care will last for many years.

For some time past, however, hard ivory has been extensively
used in the manufacture of billiard balls, and
these balls are cut from tusks of elephants found in the
swampy districts of the West and South-west Coast of
Africa and in Central Africa. These tusks, which contain
a larger percentage of moisture or gelatine, weigh 10 per
cent. heavier than soft or East African ivory, and are generally
transparent when first turned from the block or section
of the solid part of the tusk. Hence it becomes necessary
to etiolate or bleach hard ivory balls to extract the excess
of moisture, thus giving the ivories a beautifully white appearance,
but necessarily increasing the risk of small semicircular
fissures, or cracks, or empty cells, caused by concussion
between the ivories, making their appearance.

Generally in the finest sets of hard ivory the nerve or
heart is smaller and mostly of a finer grain than in soft.

Many players prefer hard, simply because of the extra
weight; but if the sets are “weighted”—that is, if each
of the three balls in a set is of equal size and weight, it
matters not whether soft or hard ivory is used. It is simply
a question of fancy on the part of the player, for both are
capable of giving the same satisfactory scores in the skilful
hands of lovers of our national game.



December 26, 1910.

A subscriber writes to us:—”I have read your first two
numbers with much pleasure, and trust you will be able to
maintain the same standard of interest in your useful
periodical. Might I suggest a subject on which you could
touch if you consider it suitable, and that is, the difference
between balls made of Indian and African ivory. I believe
there is a very considerable difference, and think I can
distinguish between them not only by their appearance, but
by the angles which they throw, but find some of my
friends sceptical on the point. If you could tell us on
authority something about them in a future number I should
be glad.”

[The so-called Indian ivory is really, as mentioned above by
Mr. Richardson, one quality of African ivory which is exported
from India after previous importation into that country. It is
softer than the other quality of African ivory, and when these
balls are used the spotting of the cue ball is what may be called
normal. There is slightly more elasticity, or “give,” in soft
ivory than in hard, just as there is in hard ivory as compared
with crystalate, and in crystalate as compared with bonzoline.

To ascertain the exact difference place a soft ivory ball on an
end spot of the D and another 23½ inches up the central line
of the table. A centrally-delivered half-ball stroke will find the
middle pocket and bring the object ball back down the exact
central line of the table. Afterwards successively use hard
ivory, crystalate, and bonzoline, and shift the cue ball each time
half-an-inch nearer the centre spot of the D, and with the same
class of stroke the centre of the pocket should be found each
time. An equally progressive change will, however, be noticed
in the course taken by the object ball, which naturally works
more and more from the central line, and the way to correct
this is to reduce the cue ball allowance for the throw-off—say,
by one-half in each case—and to aim proportionately fuller at
the object ball, perhaps with higher cueing. In this way it is
possible to find the middle pocket each time, and with balls of
varying density, whilst still controlling with exactness the run
of the object ball.]

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