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How Do You Tell If Pool Balls Are Ivory?

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Have you ever gone to purchase a pool ball set, and you were wondering if they are Ivory? Maybe You have a set and you want to know if they are Ivory or not. Well in this article we will go over everything you need to know about pool balls and how to tell if they are Ivory. 

So how do you tell if pool balls are Ivory?

There are many ways to test pool balls to see if they are ivory. They include using a hot needle, using a black light, or by simply thoroughly examining the ball. 

If you want to know more about your pool balls and how to tell if they are Ivory, you will want to keep reading as we will go into detail of how to conduct each test. 

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Brief History of Ivory Pool Balls

In 1627 until the early 20th century, elephant ivory was well known and fully appreciated. It was not in 1627 that it was first introduced though. It actually dates all the way back to 1588. This is when the Duke of Norfolk invented Ivory billiard balls. They actually started to dye the Ivory balls in 1770s to make them specific colors. Ivory pool balls to this date are known to be the best billiard balls. 

They are made from pure tucks of Asian Elephants. There are no other natural materials other than elephants’ ivory that have the physical size, strength, and beauty to perform in a billiard room. However, it threatened the existence of Asian elephants in the 19th century and early 20th century.

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Why did they not use different elephant tusks?

Many people wonder why they choose the Asian elephant’s tusk instead of the African elephant’s tusk. This is because only four or five good quality billiard balls can be made in other breeds of elephants than in Asian elephants. As pool continued to become very popular during the first half of the 1800s, tusk harvesting became threatening to the elephant population. So, many ivory pool ball makers stopped making ivory and it became very expensive to get pool balls made of Ivory.

What is Ivory and what’s it made from?

Ivory is mistakenly known as something that can only be retrieved from elephant tusks. There are several sources where you can harvest them, including many walrus’. Ivory means teeth, tusks are only large teeth that are extended outside the mouth. Therefore, any tooth or tusk can be a source of ivory. Both tusks and teeth are formed by the same substances. These substances are enamel, cementum, dentine and pulp cavity. These are all that any teeth are made of. This means if you wanted to, you can even get ivory from your teeth.

There are several sources of ivory, elephants of course which include species from prehistoric times such as mammoths and elephants that are also alive until this day. Surprisingly, ivory can also be retrieved from the sperm whale, killer whale and Narwhal. Other sources may be from a hippopotamus or a warthog which is a common wild pig.

How do you recognize real ivory?

For many years, testing ivory has been done by using a hot needle. If real ivory is touched by a hot needle, it turns black. When it is artificial, the hot needle tends to melt or burn the artificial ivory. This is not the best way to test ivory. This is because it basically destroys the piece being tested and it doesn’t even tell you what type of ivory it is. Today it is very important to know what type of ivory because in some states, they are banning specific types of Ivory. 

How do you examine physical structures and shapes of Ivory?

Teeth and tusks have the same origin because they are both teeth. So they have both the same physical structures. They mainly consist of cavity, dentine, cementum and enamel. The innermost part of teeth and tusks is what we call the pulp cavity. It is just space inside a tooth that takes the shape of a pulp. Odontoblastic cell lines the pulp cavity which is responsible for the making of dentine.

Dentine is the main component of carved ivory objects such as pool balls. Their distinguishing characteristic is their grain structure which is very difficult or impossible to duplicate. A grain of real ivory is random without a specific pattern. If you have artificial Ivory thought it will have simple perfect parallel lines. It is very easy to look at and distinguish between artificial and real Ivory. Artificial ivory always has a uniform parallel repeating lines throughout the entire piece, and real Ivory does not. 

How do you examine Ivory using a black light?

Another important way of testing ivory is by using black light. Using a black light can greatly help you in determining and excluding artificial materials in the scene. Regardless of the color of the surface under ordinary light, plastics and resins (which are used today) give a color blue or blue-white color under a black light.

Real ivory usually shines white though this varies somehow depending whether the ivory has a patina or not. A patina usually shines dull yellow or brown. When you conduct this test, you need to be careful, because some shine yellow due to aging in dung, urine or animal fats. Using a long-wave blacklight can eliminate this but this is not the only test that you need to perform to identify real ivory. Bones, vegetable Ivory which is known as celluloid, or Ivory specks of dust that are glued together have the same reaction under a long wave of black light. Many companies used these cheaper methods to make some pool ball sets and claim that they are real ivory. 

How do you examine Ivory using schreger lines?

Ivory dentine displays unique characteristics called Schreger lines. These are lines that are commonly referred to as cross-hatchings, engine turnings, or stacked chevrons. These are divided into two categories. The first is the outer schreger lines. These are lines that are easily seen because it is the closest to the cementum. The second is inner schreger lines. They are those faintly discernible lines found around tusk nerve or pulp cavities. 

These lines are rows of microscopic tubes that cross and forms an angle. These lines must be present to qualify a piece as an elephant’s ivory. No artificial ivory or resins can duplicate these lines. This means that if one pool ball does not have schreger lines then there is no Ivory in the pool ball at all. This is also an important distinguishing characteristic in identifying extinct elephants such as mammoths. If these angles make less than 90 degrees means it is mammoth Ivory while greater than 115 degrees indicates an elephant’s ivory. 


The presence of other distinguishing characteristics such as grain makes us eliminate those that are not Ivory materials such as bones and Ivory dust. However, just like a black light test, a piece of ivory must take several other tests to determine its realness. Pieces of large old ivory commonly form cracks over the years.

A very important thing is to use multiple tests to provide accurate judgment. You can use whatever test you want to use to test the Ivory of your pool balls, but we do not recommend using the hot needle test in any situation.