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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous collection of British Napoleonic cannon balls found as a secret treasure trove from a long time collector who has just died in a remote part of England.

Look at that rust and patina, and what looks like the odd sprue, we can make out, here and there, and maybe even a mold seam...

Below another view of a fabulous hoard it apparantly took him a lifetime to assemble, travelling all over the UK to ferret out any cannon balls he heard of...

 


Grinding Balls, Ball Mill -2009
Orig. steel balls - Size - various weights from 1.5 to 25 lbs
Found - Eugene, OR

This view shows the seams even better.

Most appear to be 24 pounders, which were a mainstay of British Napoleonic war ships.

Fabulous...

You wish...

Do they resemble a British War of 1812 cannon ball you paid big bucks for in your collection?

Because then you, like many others, have been had...

In fact, more than one of these are in cannon ball collections all over the world, thanks to ignorant, or crooked, antique sellers of militaria.

We've seen these sold by auctioneers as "old cannon balls."

In fact, these are all grinding balls from a ball mill, used by the mining industry to crush raw ore in a giant tumbler.

And they're all made in China in the 1990s and not Britain in the 1800s.

Other crooked auctioneers hawk shot puts, cement tank cleaning balls, iron ball yard ornaments...

So how can you tell the difference between genuine cannon balls and balls from a ball mill?

Fake Cannon Balls - War of 1812

Check Your Balls

Here are all the elements you should check to see if you have a ball from a ball mill or a genuine Napoleonic British cannon ball.

The patina, and a scaling of the surface helps.

This cannon ball has been under water for eons and was broken free from a bracket of sea shells and then cleaned.

It should be iron, not steel as balls from a ball mill often are.

Then note the seam at the widest circumference from the casting process, where the two parts of the mould clamped together.

Equidistant from the central seam, on one side, should be a large roundish, silver dollar size indentation or plug mark, called a vent sprue.

The vent sprue is where the hot metal bubbled out when the mould was filled with the hot iron to form the cannon ball. The sprue is flatter than the circumference of the ball surface and can be a somewhat rough concavity.

Beside the sprue, note the British ordnance stamp, the crowfoot or broad arrow that shows that this was the property of the British military.


This is not found on all cannon balls but helps to confirm it as British ordnance from 1717 to 1800.






















Right is the cannon ball originally, still with its base of sea shell bracketry attached. Note the cracks that developed when it was brought into open air and shrinking took place.

For dyed-in-the-wool collectors, keeping the cannon ball and its sea shell attachment would have been preferable.

It shows where it has lain for 200 years and wonderfully captures its authenticity without taking away anything from the cannon ball.

Though when the collector removed it with a hammer, he uncovered the British ordnance crowfoot.

It's clearly a judgment call.

 

 





A museum would probably keep it intact as found.

After all, everybody has cannon balls that are cleaned up.

How many have part of its original "as found" environment with it that shows exactly how it was found?

The hammered off shells now forever separated from the cannon ball, have lost their relevance and importance.

 

 




Right another view of the cannon ball, now free of its sea shells looking lonely, and, well, like every other cannon ball you've ever seen.

Go back and look at the before picture above.

Now which would you rather have in your display?


























Right and below another British, 18th century cannon ball.

It's mold seam, around its greatest circumference is visible here.

Dark and coarse surface pitting also differentiates cast iron from steel balls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 








Another view of the mold seam and a missing chunk, possibly from hitting something solid after being fired.

The patina in the hole is ancient but dates from a later period than the original surface of the cannon ball.

The mold seam was not cleaned up very smoothly, as part of the iron slag is bulging out from the surface. Cannon bores must have been very forgiving about the diameter of balls they accepted for firing.

 

 

This cannon ball has the British ordnance department's broad arrow dating this to between 1717 and 1800.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





The mold vent sprue, the hole out of which the molten iron poured when the mold was filled, is clearly shown here.

It has a highly irregular centre, though its circumference is quite regular.

The nipple that resulted from the pour was often hacked off roughly, resulting in this typical looking sprue.

Note again the missing chunk top right and the British broad arrow.

This cannon ball has a diameter of 5 inches and weighs 14 pounds 12 ounces.

The diameter to weight ratio can give you information on whether you have a solid shot, like this one is, or a hollow one, of 1860s US Civil War vintage, which may still contain dangerous explosives.

If your 5 inch cannon ball seems to weigh several pounds less than this one, suspect that yours is hollow and...

And maybe you shouldn't be using it as a door stop...



Until a professional has looked at it and confirmed it is disarmed of a potentially dangerous explosive...

 

 

All the characteristics of a good 18th century British cannon ball.

- patina and surface pitting

- mold seam

- British broad arrow

- sprue, at the top

Note how the sprue is flattened and recessed below the outer circumference of the cannon ball.

 

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous, huge 24 pounder solid shot.

It is not hollow and was designed to be used as a heavy basher to knock things down by sheer mass times speed.

On battlefields these would even bounce around on the ground and cut down men, horses, and cannon carriages.

It was the precursor to shells that were cast hollow so one could stuff them with powder and balls, fitted with a fuse for a delayed explosion, after being shot from a cannon.

The mold seam - the line where the mold halves were clamped shut, preparatory to pouring - is also visible on the greatest circumference.

Along it is the small filler hole sprue through which the molten iron was poured into the mold.

When full, the excess flowed out through the vent sprue, the large circular patch which is always equidistant from the seam line. This would be cut off somewhat below the circumference of the ball, resulting in a flat, roughish patch that was circular.

Smaller shot does not show these telltale signs.


British War of 1812 24 Pounder Solid Shot Cast Iron Cannon Ball - c 1812
Orig. cast iron - Size - 5.5" dia - wt 24 lbs
Found - Odessa, ON

Here in an American Civil War photo of the Rogers Battery at Alexandria, Virginia are a set of cannon balls that look remarkably like the British 24 pdr we show here, though these are probably 45 pdrs.

The surface patina and the mold seam are similar.

These cannon balls clearly show the filler sprue holes.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Another fabulous cannon ball from the War of 1812 retrieved from the St. Lawrence River area between Brockville and Kingston, Ontario.

It shows the mold seam around the greatest circumference.

It has a rather large slag remnant, a fair bit larger than that shown on the 15 pdr above.

It also shows an irregular indentation, which, unlike the cannon balls above, is not centered equidistant from the mold seam.

Were sprues sometimes off centre?

There is no other sign of a sprue visible elsewhere.

Or is this a contact break from hitting something hard during a battle?

There is no broad arrow on this cannon ball.

Could it be American, or French?

Lee Metford .303 shell from South Africa Boer War Battlefield of Hart's River, Mar. 31, 1902.


British War of 1812 8 Pounder Solid Shot Cast Iron Cannon Ball - c 1812
Orig. cast iron - Size - 4" dia - wt 8 lbs
Found - Odessa, ON
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