I have a beautiful rubber ball collection. It’s a collection made with love as my husband would use up the change in his pocket to buy a rubber ball for me from the slot machine outside our corner shop. They used to be kept in our fruit bowl but then we moved and there are no slot machines in the town we now live in– antique shops instead. So the rubber balls have been preserved in a French Kilner jar until the niblings come round and roll them around the house.
My ongoing interest in lost or forgotten industries and materials, I wondered when the first rubber ball was made. Its claimed that a Californian scientist, Norman Stingley, in 1965, by spending his spare time playing with rubber and looking at in compression – 3500 pounds of pressure per square inch, invented a bouncy, resilient rubber ball to play with.
But that ignores 1000s of years of a rubber industry and the MesoAmerican rock art that clearly shows a ballgame being played out alongside found artefacts of rubber balls varying in sizes from that period. It is even claimed that the games were so popular that rubber factories existed to make up to 16000 balls each year. But the game came with a price – the loosing team were sacrificed to the gods – never has winning meant so much.
As an aside, Kilner jars like the one I keep my rubber balls in, are preserving jars that use rubber as part of the seal, clamped between a glass jar and top with a metal clip or sealed with a metal screw-topped and were invented and manufactured by a Yorkshire family – John Kilner & Co in the1800s. But every country seems to have a variation on this – Masons Jars, Fowler’s Vacola jar and a Weck jar. The specialism in design of pickling and preserving jars is delightful.