Ball clays are relatively scarce deposits due to the combination of geological factors needed for their formation and preservation. They are mined in parts of the Eastern United States and from three sites in Devon and Dorset in South West England. They are commonly used in the construction of many ceramic articles, where their primary role is to either to impart plasticity or to aid rheological stability during the shaping processes.
The ceramic use of ball clays in Britain dates back to at least the Roman era. More recent trade began when a clay was needed to construct tobacco pipes in the 16th and 17th century. In 1771 Josiah Wedgwood signed a contract for 1400 tons a year of ball clay with Thomas Hyde of Purbeck enabling him to fire thinner walled ceramics.