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Balls and Spheres etc

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  • Balls and Spheres etc


    Yes, marbles are artefacts… they’re just not Native American artefacts, and they may not be very old. Marbles as we know them were first made in Germany in the 1800’s and were mass-produced from around the 1870’s onwards. They were sometimes used as saleable ballast in empty ships sailing to American ports to pick up cargoes – hence their popularity in America. As demand increased, they began to be manufactured in America and there were major manufacturing companies in Ohio and West Virginia.

    Most people think “glass” at the mention of marbles, but earthenware and clay marbles were made in the millions and are the most common dig find. Children – and probably adults too - lost them everywhere.

    You wouldn’t readily confuse the glass ones or those having colourful surface decoration with Native American artefacts but plain ones made of fired earthenware or clay can look and feel like stone. They’re usually tan or pale grey colour but are sometimes dyed brown, red, blue, green or yellow and when hand-made may not be perfectly round:

    [pic by the seller boomerville via Etsy]

    These date from the 1860’s and have lost whatever surface colour they once had. Note that the top one has the remnants of a “bullseye” design, which is not uncommon:

    [pic by the seller MuseumTreasures via Etsy]

    Typical sizes are usually around ½ inch to ¾ inch like most of those pictured above but larger ones exist – up to about 2 inches or so. These are around an inch in diameter and made from pipe clay:

    [pic by the seller faganarms on ebay]

    These items can sometimes be identified by the fact that they have a few sizeable pores in the surface. There are a couple of examples at the top of the web-page linked below, as well as some good information about marbles in general elsewhere on the site:
    Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 08:38 AM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  • #2

    Milling balls were and still are used in rotating drums known as ball mills, to reduce the size of particulate materials by tumbling and grinding. Older examples were made from hardstones including agate and flint or as ceramics from fired clay which might have had crushed rock added to it.

    These are modern agate balls used for specialist grinding purposes:

    [pic by seller Across International on ebay]

    These are modern ceramic balls:

    [pic by seller mconme on ebay]

    Sometimes, you can see a seam or “mould line” on the clay items, as in these ceramic examples:

    [pic from Harber Industries website]

    Modern balls may be made from high-tech ceramics (which may be coloured) and these may also have a steel core that can easily be detected with a magnet.

    [pic from Gerhardt Lab Supplies]

    Steel balls with no ceramic shell are also used, as well as tungsten carbide and exotic alloys, but there’s no chance you would mistake those for artefacts. These are steel ones:

    [pic from chinasourcingblog]

    These balls now come in every possible density and size but most commonly they’re in the region of an inch or so. The milling process only works efficiently if the balls are substantially larger and more dense than the pieces of material you want to grind down. Huge ones are used for heavy duty processes such as ore-crushing and cement production. Typical uses for smaller ones are for the production of fine powdered materials from coarse or granular ones, such as pigments for paints, clays for ceramics, the individual components for black powder (gunpowder), fertilizers and soil dressings among others. They’re also used to produce fine emulsions with fat or water and at one time were used to make chocolate candy.

    Bear in mind that the examples pictured here are unused pristine balls. They quickly get beaten up in use and can take on the appearance of greater antiquity, as well as becoming porous enough to absorb stains which discolour them.

    Manually-operated and water-powered contraptions for shaking materials along with hard balls have a fairly long history of use but the ball mill as we know it didn’t appear until the industrial revolution and the invention of steam power. The first documented use was in 1870 - for grinding fragments of flint to make powdered silica for pottery.
    Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 08:40 AM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


    • #3

      Carpet bowls originated in Scotland sometime in the early 18th Century, as a variant of lawn bowls and was played in churches, inns, public halls and large private homes. It became popular in England in Victorian times and also seems to have been popular in Canada. A set consisted of either 6 or 12 bowls plus a “jack” (the target ball) which players attempted to get the closest to by rolling the playing balls.

      They are most usually glazed ceramic, with chalky-white interior, a diameter of 3.5 inches and a weight between 19 and 20 ounces. Less commonly there are child-size or lady-sets with balls between around 2 ¼ to 2 ½ inches. The jack is smaller and normally measures 2.5 inches in a standard set. There are also non-round or weighted “biased” bowls, designed to roll in an arc which are larger – about 4 inches in diameter.

      Sometimes, they are made from a coloured clay known as “mochaware” and these balls tend to be slightly smaller than standard. Stone examples may perhaps exist but never in stones as hard as granite. Stone examples tend to be marble or alabaster or something much easier to carve. Later examples may be made from an early “plastic” produced in Australia, known as “Henselite”.

      Apart from the jack, which is normally plain white or off-white (sometimes with a manufacturer or store name on them), these bowls invariably have some means of identification so there is no dispute over player ownership – distinctively coloured, spotted, decoratively patterned or – most usually – banded/ringed. Here’s a typical example:

      [pic from “Collecting Antique Marbles: Identification and Price Guide” by Paul Baumann]

      Apart from geometric designs and patterns they may have a crown and thistle or flower motif. There are also carpet balls where the decoration is a transfer, rather than being painted which occasionally have a scenic design.

      Most carpet balls were made in England (principally in Sunderland). The earliest evidence of American manufacture is by the Indiana Pottery Company in Troy, established by the English immigrant potter Jabez Vodrey – his accounts record nine dozen “carpet balls” being shipped to customers on 14th December 1844.

      Recently, many modern reproductions have begun to appear. These generally have a thick clear glaze that easily cracks leaving circular hit-marks and an interior colour (sometimes seen in chipped areas) that’s dirty white or tan in colour rather than the usual chalky white.
      Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 08:41 AM.
      I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


      • #4

        Pictures (edited) by member [kentuckydigger]

        This ball item (above) was suspected to be a Native American game ball. It isn’t – it’s an antique clay billiard ball (a type not generally produced after 1871). The main clue here is that diamond/lozenge mark seen in the right-hand picture. The mark is usually an indication that it's one of a pair of cue balls (the other being plain) used in the game of “carom billiards” also known as “carambole”. At its simplest, each of the two players has his own cue ball (one distinguished by the spot mark) and scores points by making “canon” shots off his opponent's ball and a red “object” ball. Sometimes there was a fourth yellow ball, carrying a different score value. No “potting” of the balls was involved... in fact the tables had cushions, but no pockets. Sometimes cue balls are slightly smaller than the object ball(s).

        The earliest balls for cue sports were made of wood (persisting well into the 20th Century) and then clay. Member [Olden] advises that the latter were sometimes referred to as “mud balls”. Ivory (from elephant tusk) was used from at least 1627 in Europe, continuing until the early 20th Century, supplemented by ox-bone as ivory became scarce.

        Sorel cement (a magnesium oxide/chloride artificial composite including crushed stone or sand) was used as an ivory substitute from the late 1800’s, followed by the first industrial plastic: Celluloid (nitrocellulose), and then Bakelite, Crystalite and other plastics. Sometimes they have a speckled appearance. Here’s a pair of antique Bakelite balls:

        Picture by ebay seller [audiophile0101]

        Chipping, cracking and crazing is common on these balls and “grain” may be apparent in vintage ivory or bone items. Here’s one in faux ivory (ox-bone):

        Picture by ebay seller [Northsideantique]

        These balls come in various sizes and colours according to which of the many variants of billiards/snooker/pool they were used for, but typically range from around 1 3/4 inches to 2 3/4 inches with 2 1/4 being the most common. Typical weights are between 160 - 200 grams, with clay balls generally at the heavier end. Balls for junior sets may not be not much more than an inch in diameter.

        If they are marked, one of a pair of cue balls normally has a small painted or dyed lozenge/diamond, star, spot or other symbol. Sometimes it may be an inlay. Some cue balls may have two spots – on opposing faces of the ball.

        The cue ball for early coin-operated tables may be magnetic in order to trigger the mechanism of the table.
        Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 08:42 AM.
        I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


        • #5
          LECA PELLETS (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate)

          LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate) is a man-made impure aerated fired clay widely used for a variety of purposes including improvement of water retention and drainage in soils; reducing wind erosion of poor soils and improving root-hold in plants; as a filtering medium in sewage and water purification; and as ‘soakaways’ for drainage. The construction industry also widely uses the material as ballast when building over weak soils; as underfloor insulation; and for the manufacture of lightweight building blocks.

          [Pic from GTP Hydroponics website]

          [Pic from Bona Enterprise Company website]

          In many cases, the material comes in the form of precise or approximate spherical pellets produced in a rotating kiln that may be mistaken for game-balls, marbles and such. The size usually ranges from tiny up to 32mm, but occasionally up to 50mm and beyond. Sometimes they have been size-graded and sometimes not – it depends on the intended use.

          They have a thin solid shell with an irregular porous interior that has visible vesicles and the aeration of the clay produces a low density – around 0.35g/cc.

          The colour varies from greys through yellows and browns to reddish and examination with a lens may reveal glassy deposits in the fired clay:

          [pic from Geomuseu website]
          Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 08:43 AM.
          I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


          • #6

            It’s an often-asked question: were cannonballs ever made from stone? The answer is “yes”.

            [A group of hardstone roundshot ranging from 6 to 13 inches found on the site of an English Colonial battery in Malta - picture from Times of Malta website].

            More correctly known as “roundshot”, cannonballs were widely made from dressed stone until iron replaced it during the 17th Century. Both materials were used simultaneously for a while, occasionally even into the early 19th Century. Stone shot was sometimes preferred for cheaply made iron cannon (as opposed to more expensive bronze or brass) which would not withstand the larger charge needed for the use of iron shot. It’s a fallacy that stone shot was used for “practise” because it was less expensive.

            Stone shot was usually made from close-grained hard stones such as granite, but also from silicified sandstones and ragstones (hard limestones). It was often given a lead coating to preserve the smooth bore of the cannon barrel when it was fired. Alterntively, it was undersized, sat on a tight-fitting wooden barrel-plug called a “sabot” and secured by a rope ring wedged round the top, inside the barrel. It also frequently (desirably) fractured during detonation to create a devastating cloud of shrapnel which was good for use against infantry or for taking down the sails and rigging of ships.

            There are two ways to make a stone ball. You can look for a stone that’s nearly round and work on removing the irregularities. Or - the easiest way - is to start with a stone that’s cubic and bash off the 8 corners. You then have 32 corners, which you bash off… and so on. This was usually done with a hammer and cold chisel. When you get to a polyhedron that approximates to a sphere but has hundreds of shallow corners, you can then turn it on a lathe against a coarse hardstone. The presence of circular concentric parallel marks (which may criss-cross one another) from a lathe is normally the giveaway that a stone ball has not been produced by a Native American.

            Native Americans would also start off with the corner-knocking technique using a hammerstone but finish by pecking and then grinding on a coarse hardstone block, turning the stone in their hands. That was followed by polishing with river sand or grit mixed with animal fat – often firstly glooped on a baton of wood and then spread on a piece of leather. Typically, under magnification, you may see random groups of almost parallel scratches which run in many directions.

            Roundshot would not be very smoothly polished… just enough to get the shape… and apart from very early examples would normally be fairly uniformly spherical. They were put though a ring gauge known as a “ball-passer” to check this. Checking the uniformity of the diameter with a set of calipers at several points will normally establish if it is a roundshot from the Colonial era onwards. Smooth-bore cannons were versatile weapons and could accommodate stone or iron roundshot as well as canister shot and other rounds but it’s not usually possible to match either the diameter or weight of stone roundshot to the calibre of a weapon by comparison to the standards for other shot types.
            Last edited by painshill; 01-28-2016, 08:44 AM.
            I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.