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3 Ivory Cue Balls

  • 1.875 in. diameter
  • On display in Making Modernity
  • Purchased for Collections
  • 2007.078


These cue balls are made of ivory and are the predecessors of newer versions made from Celluloid and Bakelite. In the mid-1880s the billiard industry, worried about the decline of the ivory supply, offered $10,000 to the individual(s) who could make a better billiard ball. In 1869 John Wesley Hyatt submitted a patent for a billiard ball made from nitrocellulose, a compound he would later call celluloid. Celluloid balls would later be replaced by Bakelite and other phenolic-resin balls. Ivory comes from the tusks of animals like walruses, hippopotami, and elephants, which are now endangered owing to over-hunting for ivory harvesting, and therefore is extremely difficult and often illegal to acquire.

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