Two circular pieces of pelt, leather, or canvass covered with composition, stuffed with wool and nailed to the ball stocks, used to cover the surface of the article to be printed with ink, in order to obtain an impression from it. Moxon says they were occasionally stuffed with hair; and that if the ball stocks were six inches in diameter the ball leathers were cut about nine inches and a half diameter. They are made larger, according to the work they are required for; those used for Newspapers were the largest.
Pelt Balls are superseded in London by composition Balls and composition rollers, and nearly so in the country; but when I recollect that the most splendidly printed English books were executed with pelt Balls, and that a printer may be so situated in the country, or in some foreign place, as not to be able to procure composition Balls or rollers, I think it useful to give directions how to make and manage Balls of pelts, so that wherever a printer may be situated, he may sustain no great inconvenience, provided he has a skin at his command: and I shall in the first place give an old Pressman's directions for this purpose, who was well and practically, experienced in every variety of presswork, and who wrote them expressly for this work.
“The pelt being well soaked, the pressman scrapes with the ball knife a little of the wet and filth off — twists it — puts it on the currying-iron, holding an end in each hand, and curries it, by pulling it strongly backwards and forwards, till it becomes warm and pliable, and the grease adheres to his hands, so that the pelt is in danger of slipping out of them while currying: without treading he cuts the pelt into two equal parts, across, and scrapes both sides of them.
He then lays one of them on a press stone, or on any other stone that is large enough, and stretches it and spreads it well with the grain side downwards: the pelt of an old ball being well soaked, he cleans it, scraping it partially, so that some of the moisture may remain in it, and spreads it on the new pelt, as a lining, but does not stretch it nearly so much as the new one, and then nails an edge of them to the ball stock: the wool, being previously carded or combed, he lays in single locks one upon another, crossways, till he has enough for the size of the Ball which he is making.
If it be for a newspaper it must be very large; if for bookwork, to be used with common ink, it must be smaller in proportion; but in both cases he brings the ends of the locks of wool into one hand, forming it into the shape of a ball very slightly, and puts these ends into the bowl of the stock; then bringing the opposite edge of the pelt to that already nailed, he also nails that to the ball stock; then he nails two other parts of the pelt opposite to each other, between those parts before nailed; then he plaits the pelt, nailing it regularly on the ball stocks; and cuts off the superfluous edges of the skin. The linings ought to be large enough to be nailed to the ball stock equal with the skin. Then he makes another ball, exactly the same as the first; and if both have a full even face, with no hillocks or dales, he has got a pair of good Balls.
“After having knocked up his Balls, he washes both them and the stocks well, and lets them lie out of the water a quarter of an hour; then placing one edge of the face upon the edge of the bank, the coffin of the press, or upon any other convenient place, and the end of the ball stock against his breast, he takes the handle of a sharp table knife in one hand and the end of the blade in the other, and scrapes it regularly and rather strongly from the plaits to the face of the Ball, at every scrape turning round the Ball, which brings out such a quantity of grease and moisture, as obliges him at the first to wipe his knife at every scrape; he thus proceeds, till he can scarcely bring any more out of the skin. He then places a sheet or sheets of paper on the face of the Ball, and rubs it well with his hands, till the Ball is thoroughly dry, his companion doing the same to the other Ball: they then begin to work the form.
“If a pressman has to execute fine work with strong ink, he stuffs the Balls harder with wool than he does for weak ink; because strong ink lugs or stretches the skin very fast, and soon slackens the Balls, if not hard stuffed.
I was several years employed on fine work and strong ink, in an office where it was not allowed to tread a skin; this circumstance caused me to try the above-mentioned plan, and experience has taught me that it is by far the most preferable method.
“I also know by experience that a greasy skin is the best for strong ink, if treated in this manner; because it always keeps mellow until the balls are worn out, and there is less trouble in capping them.
Tanned sheep's skins, dressed with oil, have been used, to avoid smell, and for durability: they were more durable than pelts; but they were not calculated for producing fine impressions, not being soft; and, in consequence, not retaining dirt or other extraneous matter on their surface; this occasioned picks, and rendered them unsuitable for printing small letter or fine engravings with neatness. When the pressmen leave work at night, the pelt balls are capped; that is, they are wrapped up, each in a blanket steeped in urine; and this is always done when they are not in use: it keeps them soft, and in working condition; but they are to be scraped, and dried with paper, to get rid of the moisture, each time they are wanted. There have been many attempts to supersede the use of urine, on account of its disagreeableness and smell; but no substitute, to my knowledge, has answered the purpose so well with pelts.
Composition Balls and composition rollers have, as I previously observed, superseded the use of pelt balls in the metropolis, and nearly so in the country. This has arisen from their superior cleanliness and sweetness, and being equal to pelts in producing good work. They can also be procured, generally, at the moment they are wanted, in the best working state; since their introduction the manufacture of them has become a new business, and they are supplied at so moderate a rate, (either per week or quarter,) and may be renewed as often as required, that scarcely a printing office in London at the present day troubles itself to make Balls; and hence no pressman need ever complain of having bad Balls as an excuse for bad workmanship.
These Balls will be found peculiarly convenient in small offices, where even one press is not in constant employment; for they may be kept for any length of time without injury to them; and if they be preserved in a proper temperament, will be always ready for use at the moment required. If they should become a little too dry, they may be restored to a proper state for working in a very short time by sponging them over with water, and distributing them; or, if there be time, by placing them in a damp situation, in order that they may imbibe moisture.
They may be easily made in an office at a distance from town, where it may be both inconvenient and expensive to have them removed backwards and forwards, by having a shallow dish formed of tin, &c. pouring the melted composition in it, and before it is cold attaching a piece of canvass to it sufficiently large to form a Ball of the size wanted. The facing will be thus thicker in the middle and taper off to the edge, which will be quite thin; and the edge of the composition should be continued well over the rounding of the Ball, to prevent it ever touching the form in beating, and thus avoiding any ill effects from portions of ink or dirt that would lodge at the extremity of the composition, and come in contact with the types or engraving. See Composition.