The Marble Dealer
Welcome to a page dedicated to bringing the marble
collectors in the nation with current and real marble stories. Anything
that I find I will add it here with the exact date of the piece along with the
author. If you wrote something at one time in your life and it was
published feel free to email or mail me the writing and I will include it on The
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(Update: Check below for
the article from January 21, 2017 Semi-truck spills 38,000lbs
of green balls onto Indiana Interstate and The Parable of the Marbles)
*For an extensive list of marble articles,
The Parable of the Marbles
Once upon a time, there was a
foolish boy who had a bag full of beautiful marbles. Now this boy was quite
proud of his marbles. In fact, he thought so much of them that he would neither
play with them himself nor would he let anyone else play with them.
only took them out of the bag in order to count and admire them; they were never
used for their intended purpose. Yet that boy carried that coveted bag of
marbles everywhere he went.
Well, there was also a wise boy who wished
he could have such a fine bag of marbles. So this boy worked hard and earned
money to purchase a nice bag to hold marbles. Even though he had not yet earned
enough with which to purchase any marbles, he had faith and purchased the marble
He took special care of the bag and dreamed of the day it would
contain marbles with which he could play and share with his friends.
Alas, the foolish boy with all of the marbles didn't take care of the marble bag
itself, and one day the bag developed a hole in the bottom seam. Still, he paid
no attention and, one by one, the marbles fell out of the bag.
It didn't take long, once the
foolish boy's marble bag developed a hole, for the wise boy to begin to find
those beautiful marbles, one at a time, lying unnoticed on the ground. And, one
by one, he added them to his marble bag. The wise boy thus gained a fine bag
full of marbles in no time at all. This boy played with the marbles and shared
them with all of his friends. And he always took special care of the bag so he
wouldn't lose any.
Because the foolish boy was selfish and careless, he
lost all of his marbles and was left holding the bag.
Marbles players shooting
for a tournament win by Michael Donahue Tuesday, November 20, 2001.
Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 may be the games of choice among most teenagers but
Tyrus Kearney, 15, prefers a simpler kind of fun. All the Memphis, Tenn.,
teen has to do is draw a circle on any surface concrete, sand, dirt or clay and
the game begins. Kearney's passion is marbles, a game that hasn't changed
much since Kearney's father, who also plays was a boy. "When I'm
doing this I have to use my mind, use strategy and get the clay to work,"
said Kearney as he demonstrated some thumps on a ring beneath a big blue and
yellow tent at the recent Marble Festival, during International Goat Days in
Millington, Tenn. Kearney, a high school sophomore, began throwing marbles
when he was 6 or 7.
a member of the Memphis Thumpers marble club and a three time champion of the
Memphis Marble Association. He likes to spend his prize money which
sometimes is as much as $50.00, on clothes. Thomas Mead, Kearney's father,
is president of the Memphis Marble Association, a group of 12 marble thumpers
who compete in tournaments. A game of marbles is played with at least four
people. There are 13 marbles in the middle of the ring in a "T"
or cross formation. Each player has a "thumper" or marble that's
used to knock out seven of the 13 marbles. How many marbles each player
knocks out determines who is the winner and the runner up. The game is
similar to pool, Mead said. "You're using your thumb and hand and
your concentration. You're just doing it with your hand and not with a
stick and a hand." Mead explained how to thump or "shoot,"
as it used to be called in the old days.
"You put it (the marble) between your thumb, your index and your point
(middle) finger. You get it set between that point finger and index finger
with your thumb behind the marble. And then you use thrust power from your
thumb. "The thrill of it is to make perfect hits. I have seen
some thumpers take a marble and make it just automatically hit the marble, (make
it) bounce back to another position and just sit there." The game of
marbles has been around some time. In "Extraordinary Origins of
Everyday Things," Charles Panati writes, "It is clearly displayed that
many games played today were enjoyed by children 500 years ago. And
several of those games, one being marbles, were part of the daily play of
Egyptian children 4,500 years earlier." And, he writes, "On the
Greek island of Crete, Minoan youths played with highly polished marbles of
jasper and agate as early as 1435 B.C. And it is the Greeks, from their
term for a polished white agate, marmaros, who gave us the word 'marble."
Marble playing is growing in popularity, said Jim Ridpath, president of the
National Marble Club, based in Myrtle Beach, S.C. There are about 1,100
members from the United States and nine foreign countries in the club.
Ridpath, 79, began a class on how to play marbles and "it grew beyond my
imagination," he said. "We started teaching kids how to play
marbles who didn't have the opportunity to learn. When I was growing up,
we always learned from older kids. But those kids are not really playing
that much today 'cause they don't have the space. There used to be an
empty lot on every corner. You don't find that now, at least in the larger
metropolitan areas." The secret to being a good marbles player is to
practice, Ridpath said, adding that the game of marbles is like the game of
life. "It teaches you how to win and/or lose. If you can't lose
right, you can never win right. It teaches you how to act on your own.
It's not like playing football. If you fumble the ball, you've got 10 guys
trying to cover for you. In marbles, if you make a mistake, you've got to
live with it."
SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 2005 SECTION B * THE
Young rollers go old school at
tournament Before PlayStation, or even TV, marbles were all the rage
Plain Dealer Reporter
gentle click and snap of childhoods long past floated into Akron's present
Saturday morning as two dozen boys and girls competed in a marbles tournament.
This was the diversion of summers without air conditioning, a contemporary of
jacks and hopscotch, tag and steel roller skates, of a country with only one
major sport — all pursuits that favored open air and daylight. "Keep that
hand Super Glued to the ground," advised Michael Cohill, borrowing modern
language to train a new generation. The game of marbles was once so pervasive
that it generated terms still with us, though cut off from their roots.
"Knuckle down" would have been the admonition that Angelo Ciavarella heard when
he "played for keeps" back in the 1930s. He provided hushed play-by-play
and color commentary Saturday as his granddaughter, Lea, tried her hand in the
tournament, which was at the city's Lock 3 Park. Lea, 9, goes out for
"every sport that conies up," her grandfather said with pride. But that doesn't
give her the time or the devotion he had as a boy. "When we went to school
we always had marbles in our pocket," he said, and they played along the way.
That gave them better aim and power than today's players, he said.
Ciavarella gave it up when he entered high school in 1940, the traditional
cut-off. Up to that time, it was a natural pursuit for any Akron child because
the city was the marble capital of the United States. Cohill, who has
become a latter day apostle for the game, said he has found evidence of 32
manufacturers in the Akron area. Now he is the only one, having undertaken the
making of the little spheres this year. The peak years might have been the
'30s, he said, with a near-fatal decline by the 1950s. In 1931, 60,000 Akron
children participated in the local competition. His theory is that the game
became displaced by today's more available organized sports and electronics,
including TV. Today Mexico City is a marble Mecca, he said. "Keep in
mind, marbles is demographically driven because it's so inexpensive." Thus,
Mexico generates more marbles in a day than the United States does in a year, he
said, and a single plant in Guadalajara produces a billion a day. Cohill's
fledgling operation, with two assistants, is good for a few hundred — when the
glass-heating furnace works. At 50, "I'm no good," Cohill says of his own
skills, but admits he is not a lifetime player. Still, he has acquired the
knowledge of many lifetimes, after an earlier toy-making venture got him
interested in marbles.
He had a
small Akron factory that made plastic outdoor toys in the 1980s, but he found
that it had been the site of a marble plant that traced its lineage to the 19th
century. Since then, he has interviewed old-timers and immigrants for a
truly global view of the game. Moses probably played the game, Cohill
said, and they were found in King Tut's tomb. Americans still favor a ring
game, in which contestants try to drive marbles out of the ring with a shooter.
It was conceived as a promotional device by Scripps Howard, which once published
newspapers in many U.S. cities — including several in Ohio. Other forms
favored around the world include target games, in which the objective is just
hitting something, and hole games, where the objective is to hit or avoid a
hole. Saturday's winners were Monica Feltman, 7, of Akron and Steven
Randby, 14, of Ravenna. Each won a trip to Disney World.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
A handful of marble terms:
• Aggie — Marble made out of agate or glass that looks like agate, a natural
• Alley — Shooter marble made of marble. Short for alabaster.
• Ante — Where players start by placing into the ring an equal number of marbles
or marbles judged to be of equal value.
• Bombsies — Dropping your shooter on the target marble.
• Bullseye — Popular design that refers to China marbles and natural-agate
• Cats-eye — Popular mass-produced marble.
• Commies — Cheap, common clay marbles.
• Flintie — Any stone, natural-agate marble.
• Misting — Lifting your knuckle while shooting. Lose your turn.
• Keepsies — The name of the game: Playing for keeps. Keep all the marbles you
• Knuckle down — To have one knuckle of your shooting hand touching the ground.
• Lagging — Similar to determining the break in pool, it's a way of choosing who
shoots first. Players roll marbles toward a line in the dirt (lag line). Whoever
gets closest without going over shoots first.
• Mibs — Target marbles. Another name: Kim-mies. A mibster is one who plays
• Milkies — Translucent white glass machine-made marble.
• Pee Wee — A marble no more than V2-inch in diameter. Thought to be the
namesake of New York Yankees' Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese.
• Playing for fair — Marbles returned to owner after the game.
• Playing for keeps — Winner keeps all marbles after the game ("winner keeps,
• Plunking — Hitting targets on the fly.
• Shooter — Marble shot from the hand in game play with the object usually being
to knock a target marble out of play. Shooters often are slightly larger than
The Plain Dealer Sunday, June
MARCH 27,2006 SECTION D * THE
MARBLE MAKER TRIES TO KEEP'EM ROLLING
Plain Dealer Reporter
(CLICK ON EACH THUMBNAIL TO READ THE ARTICLE)
TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2010: METRO SECTION, THE PLAIN DEALER
get fired up about last special run at factory
By Michael Sangiacomo, The Plain Dealer
May 25, 2010, 12:00AM
RENO, Ohio -- They start out as
red-hot globules of glass.
They are spit from a furnace
built in 1932, and tumble through a series of parallel rollers and come out the
other end as perfect spheres -- one-inch marbles.
"These are very, very rare,"
said David Tamulevich, eyeing the large tan marbles. But what really excited
Tamulevich and his friends were the tiny specks of color that made the marbles
resemble bird's eggs.
"We haven't seen anything like
that in decades," said Tamulevich, from Ann Arbor, Mich. He and two dozen other
marble collectors from around United States and Canada traveled to Jabo Inc.
near Marietta, the last marble factory in Ohio.
Jabo master craftsman David
McCullough came out of retirement to make one more run of the large marbles
using the old kiln he declared ready for the scrap heap a year ago.
After years of begging by Steve
Sturtz, a marble collector who splits his time between Alexandria Bay, N.Y., and
Kingston, Ont., McCullough agreed to fire up the old furnace again, but with no
guarantees how long it would hold up.
A small group of collectors put
up $50,000 to make the run and gathered at the factory to pitch in. By the end
of a long day that started at 4 a.m. Monday, the furnace was running fine. They
planned to return Tuesday to finish the job -- a total of 120,000 marbles.
Jabo is a no-frills operation
that is barely hanging on, manufacturing small industrial marbles, uniformly
blue or green. But McCullough gets excited when he gets to make the colorful
"All these people have invested
a lot of money to allow me to come in and play," he said. "I'm retired, but I
love coming back in for runs like these."
And what does he think of the
run so far?
He frowns a bit.
"The marbles are all right," he
said. "The colors are not quite what I imagined they'd be. But then, I'm always
dissatisfied. I want to make the perfect marble. I have no idea what it looks
like, but I'll know it when I make it."
The collectors call McCullough
an artist and say no one makes marbles like he does. He smiles and deflects the
The collectors will finish the
marble run Tuesday, let them cool, and divide them up on Wednesday.
"We really should wait longer,"
said Sturtz, noting that the marbles are more fragile when they are hot. "But
they should be cool enough by then."
The marbles roll off the
machine at 2,400 degrees, hotter than lava. It's impossible to tell a hot marble
by sight, but if touched, they will "burn to the bone."
They could easily make back
their original investment, but the group members have agreed to not sell them
for years. They've already spotted numerous marbles so unique that they would
fetch more than $100 each in auction.
Most said they are happy to
exhibit the marbles in their private collections and keep them as reminders of
their youth or simpler times.
"But when word gets out, you
can bet collectors will be hounding us for these," said Eric Hunt of New York
Brian Rogalin, of Belleville,
N.J., said it's hard to describe what makes one marble more valuable than
"But you know it when you see
it," he said. "It's like trying to describe what makes a woman beautiful."
David McCullough, owner of Jabo, Inc. and
glass artist, looks through a bucket of hot marbles to check their color and
decide what changes to make during a one inch marble run on Monday, May 24,
2010. It is the first time this machine has been fired up since 2007. Investors
and collectors put up money so that McCullough could create more of his unique
collectible marbles. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
These one-inch speckled marbles are the
first batch from the special run at Jabo marble factory in Reno, OH. Investors
and collectors made it possible to restart the furnace and run a machine that
had not been in use since 2007. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
Tony Banas of Connecticut, left, and Bobby
Newman of Texas talk marbles as they watch the first run of one-inch marbles
come down the shoot at Jabo marble factory in Reno, OH on Monday, May 24, 2010.
The men are collectors and investors in the run. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
Ron Ewers uses a steel rod to clean the
aperture of the tank. He is pulling the hot glass on top through the cold glass
on the bottom to get things flowing. Ewers has worked at Jabo marble factory for
11 years. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
David McCullough, owner of Jabo, Inc. and
glass artist, adjusts the rate a color rod melts into the base glass during a
one-inch marble run on Monday, May 24, 2010. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
Marble collector and investor Steve Sturtz
hangs outside near the furnace at Jabo marble factory, waiting for the marble
artist, David McCullough, to show up for an early morning marble run on Monday,
May 24, 2010. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
David McCullough, owner of Jabo, Inc. and
glass artist, adjusts how quickly a color rod melts into the base glass during a
one-inch marble run on Monday, May 24, 2010. It is the first time this machine
has been fired up since 2007. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
A Jabo marble furnace is fired up for the
first time since 2007 early Monday morning, May 24, 2010. A small propane fire
is burning to heat up glass rods to add color to the marbles, so that cold glass
is not introduced to hot glass. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
Hot marbles, the first to be produced from
this furnace at Jabo, Inc., in Reno, Ohio, since 2007, fall into a bucket lined
with heat pads to keep them from cooling too quickly and breaking. Collectors
are eagerly awaiting this run of marbles. Several of them are investors who made
this latest marble run possible. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
An interview with
Antique Marble Collector Alan Basinet! (June 8th 2009, Collectorsweekly.com)
By Maribeth Keane and Jessica Lewis, Collectors Weekly Staff
Alan Basinet talks about collecting antique marbles,
noting various design styles, manufacturers, production methods, and the regions
they came from. He can be contacted via his website,
Like most kids growing up in the late ’60s, early ’70s, I played with
marbles. Of course I grew out of it, but I carried those good memories with me.
Skip forward some years, and I was working in my previous profession as an
archaeologist. Most of the sites that we investigated were pre-Columbian, mostly
here in Florida. When we started to work on one site in downtown Jacksonville
where I live, I began finding a lot of marbles.
Trisgate Solid Core ca. 1850-1970
This was a part of town that’s sort of a slum now but was an early settlement
right up to the Civil War. We were looking for the oldest historic evidence of
human occupation there, but we kept finding all these clay marbles. Some were
glazed, some were painted. I had never seen anything like that before, so I
began doing research. I discovered that children had been playing with marbles
for centuries and that there was a lot of variability over the years in how
marbles were made. Some of them are quite spectacular-looking.
So that slowly evolved into a hobby, which slowly evolved into a business,
which eventually took over so much of my time that I gave up my profession in
archaeology to pursue selling marbles. I’ve been doing that for just over 10
years now. I am lucky to have managed to make a living out of it. A lot of that
owes to the fact that I got onto eBay almost as soon as it came around. I
discovered the marble niche early on, filled it, and I have been able to
maintain an edge ever since.
There are so many different types of people that collect marbles. Generally
the hobby attracts some wonderful people, which has been nice because I’ve been
in other collectible areas before where the collectors and the dealers were a
little more intense or a little more jealous. Marble collectors seem to be able
to get together and just enjoy showing off their treasures.
Collectors Weekly: Do you specialize in a specific type of marble?
Basinet: Not really. As far as selling goes, I’ll sell any type of
marble that’s consigned to me. Some of the earliest marbles are made out of
stone and clay. With a few exceptions, those don’t tend to be as collectible as
the glass marbles from the 1850s. Handmade glass marbles are some of the most
collectible, but the 20th century, machine-made marbles, mostly from America,
are perhaps some of the most popular marbles on the market right now. There are
still some companies that produce marbles here in the U.S., and there’s a very
large company in Mexico as well.
People are still making and collecting machine-made marbles. Over the past 20
years, particularly in the last 10 or so, artists working with glass have turned
their attention to making art glass marbles. Since the late ’90s, it’s become a
major part of the market. The only reason you would call them “marbles” is
because they happen to be round and made out of glass. Some of these handmade
modern marbles are 6 inches in diameter. Of course they’re not meant to be
played with, but they provide collectors with some beautiful objects to acquire.
I can’t even begin to express how talented some of these people are.
The earliest glass marbles were generally made by creating long canes that
would have a clear or transparent-colored base surrounding tiny rods of colored
glass. The molten blob would be pulled to create a slender cane that might be 20
to 50 feet long. The cane would be heated until it was maleable enough to be
twisted and cut at one end with marble scissors, which were created around 1846
and had a little cup on them that would help form the hot glass into a perfect
Handmade marbles can be intentified by their rough ends, which we call
pontils. That’s how most people identify handmade vs. machine-made marbles. Even
though they might be in mint condition and never played with, they’re going to
have little, rough ends from where they were cut off the cane.
Almost all of the early handmade marbles were made in Germany. The Germans
really had the marble market locked down. They made a lot of glass toys,
particularly in the Thuringen portion of the country. But when World War I
began, we embargoed anything coming out of Germany, so Americans were no longer
able to get glass marbles they were making, which spurred Americans into looking
at alternative methods of creating marbles. Through a series of patents, the
marble-making machine was perfected. Marbles were no longer required to be made
by hand. The process could be fully automated and they could pump out millions
of marbles a day.
Collectors Weekly: Were there also handmade American marbles?
Basinet: There were a few. There are some types of marbles that a
lot of collectors call transitionals. For example, there were a number of
glassworks in and around Akron, Ohio that came into being in the the 1890s. They
pretty much all made the same type of marble by gathering molten glass on the
end of a rod. We call these hand-gathered marbles. They rounded the gathered
glass with machinery, so it was partly handmade and partly machine-made, thus
the term transitional.
The first company that produced marbles almost entirely by machine was M.F.
Christensen & Son Company of Akron. They went out of business in 1917. Around
that same time, another company called Akro Agate began business in West
Virginia. Once they came into being, all these smaller companies came about,
mostly along the Ohio River in West Virginia. Throughout the 1920s, ’30s and
’40s, tons of marbles were being produced. This was when marble playing as a
hobby was at its apex .
In terms of collectibility, a lot of those marbles are still around,
especially from the ’30s and later. Some of them can be quite valuable because
they were rare to begin with, but most collectors look for marbles that have the
least amount of damage. That can be problematic since they were made as toys and
were played with by children. To find old marbles in mint condition can be very
challenging. Some marbles from the mid-1800s can go for thousands of dollars
apiece if they’re in mint condition because they’re so rare.
Collectors Weekly: Were Germany and America the only two big centers making
Basinet: Almost entirely. But marbles began being produced in Japan
as early as the 1930s. After World War II, when Japan was still occupied by the
U.S., they began creating their own marbles. It didn’t take long for the
Japanese marble industry to almost completely wipe out the American marble
industry because they were producing marbles so cheaply and in such great
numbers that Americans just couldn’t keep up. They’re the ones that popularized
the cat’s eye. American companies made some cat’s eye marbles, too, but almost
all Japanese marbles were cat’s eyes, and that was waht children really wanted.
Around the same time, the company from Mexico that I mentioned began creating
machine-made marbles. You can even find marbles that were made in
Collectors Weekly: Was there machine-manufacturing in Germany as well?
Basinet: Yes, but we don’t know much about it. Before the Berlin
Wall came down, the region of Germany originally making the most handmade
marbles was in Communist hands, so there was very little contact between people
living over there and the West. We know that they began making machine-made
marbles in Germany in the ’30s and throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, but
there are none being made in Germany now, except for a few artists who carry on
the tradition of handmade marbles.
There’s one guy over there making marbles today whose forbearer actually
invented the scissors that allowed marbles to be cut from canes, so he’s got a
direct connection. His ancestors settled that part of Germany in the late 1500s
when they began making glass toys over there. It’s all pretty fascinating and
has a lot of history behind it, but most collectors just enjoy the color and
beauty of the marbles.
Collectors Weekly: Were the first marbles in Germany glass or other types of
Paneled Onion Skin ca. 1850 - 1870
Basinet: The earliest marbles were actually made by the Dutch and
they were made from stone like limestone that was ground into spheres. If you go
further back, teh ancient Romans and Egyptians made glass spheres, but I
wouldn’t exactly call these marbles other than they share the trait of being
made out of glass and they’re round. I’m not really sure what games they were
used for. The actual marble game was invented by the Dutch in the 1500s and
In fact, the term “marble” came from those that were made from marble, even
though those are very difficult to find and they’re not really valuable because
basically it’s just a rock. They’re interesting historical pieces, but people
don’t pay big money for them. So the Dutch began making marbles from stone
first, and then the Germans followed, making marbles from a form of agate.
In the early or mid-1800s, people began making marbles from clay, using
different firing processes to make different types of marbles. Some would be low
fired and maybe not even dyed or painted when they were done. They’re just like
little plain brown balls of fired clay, not too attractive, and I’m sure they
were cheap for the children back then. Others were glazed, sometimes with
designs on the surface, and were intended for the more affluent children of the
day. We don’t see as many of those as we do like the common clays.
Then there are marbles that we call scenic chinas that have a high-fired
white earthenware base with a glaze on the surface (the earliest ones were
burnished without a glaze) depicting scenics and ships. There are literally only
a handful of those known to exist, and when they come up for sale, they usually
go for $10,000 and above
Collectors Weekly: Were marbles always made for children’s games?
Basinet: Almost always. Some of the early handmade marbles are more
than two inches in diameter, particularly those from about 1850 to 1870. They
were made for adult games like carpet bowling, a game that was very much like
today’s bowling, but played on the carpets of Victorian houses. Some of the
larger handmade glass marbles were also used for that purpose. Generally
speaking, any marble made that was under an inch was produced for children’s
Collectors Weekly: Who are some of the major manufacturers in Germany and
Basinet: As far as we know, there are at least a dozen glassworks
sites spread out in the Thuringen region in Germany. That’s really where
handmade glass marbles were born. We know the names of few of the manufacturers,
but as of yet we have no way of differentiating which glassworks made which
marble. We just know it came from one of them. So collectors don’t usually refer
to the names of the glassworks. They just lump them all together and call them
The first big name in America was M. F. Christensen. There was also Akro
Agate, which for a long time was the leading American manufacturer of marbles.
They were in business from the late 1910s up until about 1950. Other companies
include Peltier Glass Company, Christensen Agate Company, Vitro Agate Company,
and there are probably about a dozen more I could rattle off, mostly smaller
companies that produced a specific type of marble. As far as any still in
operation today, there’s Marble King, which has been in business since the
mid-1950s, and Jabo Inc., which is a company that actually grew out of Vitro
Currently, they are the only two American manufacturers—just about everything
else is coming out of Japan or Mexico. If you go to Wal-Mart or almost any store
that sells toys, their marbles are going to be from Mexico. American companies
make children’s marbles too, but they mostly make industrial marbles which are
just plain and used in spray cans and things like that.
Collectors Weekly: What are the other differences between the vintage and
Basinet: Since World War II, glass has been made more cheaply. The
colors are less vibrant and they’re usually applied to the surface of the marble
over a clear base. There are different designs, different colors, different
glass quality. A lot of the traits about them are different, but some are the
same too. Marble machinery hasn’t changed that much since it was first invented.
There were just a few tweaks here and there that made the marbles come out
Collectors Weekly: Are there different phases of marble design?
Handmade Carpet Bowl with Crown Pattern ca. mid-late 1800s
Basinet: Sure, but there’s a lot of overlap too. Some of the
earliest marbles made in America are called slags. They have a clear or
transparent-colored glass base with white swirled in. For the longest time,
those were what the major American marble manufacturers were producing, with a
few exceptions called onyxes that tried to replicate the appearance of stone,
like carnelian, agate, and even gemstones. They were intended to look like stone
marbles because in the late 1800s and early 1900s, stone marbles were among the
most expensive marbles for children to buy. If you owned a stone marble, you
were considered a rich kid. As new techniques were developed, new designs came
out. You can come up with a taxonomic chart of all the different styles, but
there’s no really smooth transition from one type to the other.
All the styles had different names. In some cases the companies gave them
names, in other cases the children gave them names. Some of those names are
still used by collectors, who come up with their own names to describe the old
styles. Different collectors might call the same marbles different things. It
gets complex, and everyone’s got a different opinion when it comes to naming a
marble. If you go to a marble show, you’ll hear people talking about the marbles
in what sounds like a foreign language.
Some of the later popular marbles were called corkscrews. They had two or
more colors with one color spiraling on top of another. Those were produced by
Akro Agate, and they were actually given different names by the company,
depending on the style. They were mainly called specials, but we collectively
put them all into one group called corkscrews and then there are different types
within the corkscrews—onyxes, snakes, Popeyes. It gets very specific.
There are also marbles from other companies that are given colorful names. A
lot were named after superheroes. All collectors recognize the Superman or the
Spider-Man. The Superman is a particular marble from a company called Peltier,
and it has a blue base with red and yellow stripes or ribbons on it, the colors
of Superman’s suit. Spider-Man is the same—it’s a red and blue marble.
Some names have more meaning than others among collectors because some are
just so difficult to find. There’s a marble from Christensen Agate called the
guinea that was never very popular with children and was quickly discontinued.
Today, some of those guineas can sell for upwards of $500 and more.
It’s not like collecting coins where you pretty much know everything that’s
out there and how much was made. With a coin, you can also tell exactly the year
it was made. I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years and collecting for an
additional five, and I probably don’t have a week go by that I don’t see a
marble that confounds me. I don’t think I will ever see every variation that’s
out there. You can stick with this hobby your entire life and never get bored
Collectors Weekly: Did manufacturers make the same marble over and over?
Basinet: Sort of. Every day they’d fill up their tanks with
different colored glass and run hundreds of thousands of marbles of the same
color combination. Everything looks the same, although there are going to be
slight variations in the design, depending on the machinery. A lot of the
machinery just pumps in random swirls. They might create nearly a million of
those in a single day and fill up a box car with them. The next day they change
the glass and run the same type of marble but in different colors.
We see a lot more of some types of marbles than others. Some were met with a
lot of enthusiasm from children so they made more of those. Others weren’t as
popular and they had to take into account the expense, because a lot of these
really early marbles were made with high-quality glass. The man who came up with
a lot of the colors for Christensen Agate and Akro Agate had also worked at
Cambridge Glass. So you have marbles that really are made with some of the
highest-quality glass from that era as opposed to today where marbles that you’d
buy in the store are cheap glass that shatter easily and have less- intense
Christensen Agate began in 1925 but was out of business by 1931. Their glass
was such a high quality that the Great Depression hit them hard. But during
those six years or so, they created some of the best machine-made marbles around
and are among the top collectibles.
Collectors Weekly: You mentioned that cat’s eyes were popular among
children. Are they also popular to collect?
Basinet: They aren’t especially popular, but collectors have given
them a little more attentionin the past five years or so. We’ve identified some
types that are actually quite rare. It’s challenging to find them because for
every 10,000 cat’s eyes you look at, you might find one or two that are worth
saving. Most cat’s eyes are just cheap, ugly-looking marbles, but there are
people who collect nothing but cat’s eyes and love them very much.
Collectors Weekly: What are some of the most sought-after marbles?
Christensen Agate Co. - Striped Translucent ca. 1925 - 1931
Basinet: It would be difficult to answer that in terms of the
design. There are Christensen Agate marbles out there that sell for thousands of
dollars, but they don’t have a specific name, just a name that describes them
all as a group, like striped opaques or guineas or swirls. These marbles had the
best colors, so they tend to be the most popular among collectors.
Among handmade marbles, some styles are much rarer than others. For instance,
the Joseph’s coat style is much rarer than the Laticinio, so they tend to be
The term “lutz” refers to a substance called goldstone that was put in
handmade marbles. Just about any handmade marble with goldstone, or lutz, is
desirable. Onionskins are very popular among handmade marble collectors, too. If
you could deconstruct an onionskin marble, you’d see multiple layers beneath
that outer layer.
Figural marbles are some of the earliest of the handmade marbles. Those are
known as sulfides. A small, usually unpainted white figurine is injected, if you
will, into molten glass. Those weren’t made from canes like most handmade
marbles from Germany; they were pretty much hand-gathered. You gather a glob of
clear glass on the end of a rod and stick the figurine in it while it’s still
molten. They were difficult to make because the figurine or the glass itself
might shatter because of the differentials in the material temperatures and
density. They’re the most attractive marbles and they tend to be highly
collectible because they’re quite rare. To find any of those unplayed with in
mint condition is quite extraordinary.
Collectors Weekly: Did marbles have any connection with paperweights or
other glass objects?
Basinet: There are some similarities, but less than you’d imagine.
It’s very unusual to see a millefiori handmade antique glass marble. There are a
few, and they’re called paperweight marbles, which is sort of an oxymoron
because they’re round marbles, not paperweights with flat ends. But they appear
very similar and may have been made in the same country. Other than that, most
paperweights are completely different from marbles.
Collectors Weekly: Did marble companies make other glass items?
Basinet: Akro Agate was the leading manufacturer of marbles in the
U.S. for a long time, and they also made other items, such as a whole children’s
line of toy dish sets. They also made ashtrays, urns, and planters. Those are
very collectible on their own. Akro Agate is a term that you’ll hear not only
among marble collectors but also glass collectors, especially Depression Glass
Collectors Weekly: Is the term “art glass” associated with marbles?
Basinet: We call any modern marble that’s made by hand "art glass.”
There have been a few exceptions coming out of China and Mexico, but almost all
modern marbles that are made by hand are created as art pieces and not for play.
The artists that produce them are some of the top artists in the country. You
have to add the modifier to make sure people realize that we’re not just talking
about a children’s plaything—we’re talking about a piece of art that can fetch
thousands of dollars, depending on the artist.
Collectors Weekly: What are the steps you take to identifying a marble?
Master Marble Co. Comet ca. 1930s
Basinet: That’s the million-dollar question. If I had an easy way of
answering that, I’d be rich. Learning to identify marbles on your own is
difficult. If you’re a new collector, the way to do it would be to determine
what they’re made of. It should be pretty easy to figure out if they’re glass or
clay. If they’re glass, then you have to try to figure out if they’re
machine-made or handmade.
I recommend people just take the marbles and try to group them together with
others that are as similar as possible and begin looking for common traits. Once
you’ve mastered being able to tell the difference between a machine-made marble
and a handmade marble, then you can start worrying about the subcategories of
what type it is and who made it. The learning curve is steep and requires lots
of hands-on experience.
I don’t have any identification books on hand—I haven’t used them for a
decade. I remember being completely confused by them when I began this hobby.
They did me very little good, and it wasn’t until I started talking to other
collectors who showed me the ropes that I began to pick things up. I would urge
anyone interested in the hobby of marbles to begin by finding a show in their
area because marble collectors are always happy to talk to newbies about some of
the finer points of identifying and collecting.
Collectors Weekly: How do you determine if a marble is a fake?
Basinet: I’ve gotten really good at it because there are certain
things that I’ve just learned to look for, but it’s hard to translate that into
a couple of sentences. You really have to know your marbles. Obviously, with
fakes and reproductions, there has to be a financial interest for the person
producing it, so the more expensive marbles are the ones that people are going
to try to replicate. I would just say if someone offers you a deal and it sounds
too good to be true, like they’re offering you a type of marble that you know in
the books goes for about $500 and now you can get it for $100, then beware.
Other than that, I would just say that you have to start off slow and work
your way into the hobby before you start laying out money. Never lay out more
money than you’re comfortable with and buy from someone who’s reputable. Find
someone you trust. Other than that, it just takes a lot of education because
trying to describe in words the difference between a fake and an authentic
marble is impossible.
Even showing pictures would be difficult. I inspect the marble with a
30-power loop before I can start seeing that there are tiny nuances in it that
let you know that it’s not what it’s purported to be. It’s not a huge problem
with our hobby, not like it might be with some others.
Collectors Weekly: Are there shows and clubs?
Handmade Sulfide with Kate Greenaway figure ca. 1850-1870
Basinet: Yes. I used to try to get to shows quite a bit. I couldn’t
tell you how many are held each year, but there are quite a few. Some are large,
some are small, but all are fun. You can go to some marble-related websites and
find the locations. Some of the oldest shows have been going on for 25 years.
There are also a lot of clubs, which sponsor many of the shows. You can join a
lot of the clubs for small membership fees and get quarterly or monthly
newsletters that’ll keep you updated on when shows are taking place. Some of the
clubs are national or international, others are regional.
A good one is the Marble Collectors Society of America, or MCSA. It’s been
around for probably 30 years. They don’t organize shows anymore, but they still
put out a newsletter. Then there are clubs like the Buckeye Marble Club in
Ohio. They host two shows every year which are among the most popular shows
There are a lot of marble discussion forums online, too. That’s where newer
collectors go. There’s a jerk in every crowd, of course, but for the most part,
when new beginners go to these forums and ask questions, people are very eager
to help. A lot of people might see something on eBay, for instance, but they’re
not sure about it, so they post a link on one of the forums and then others can
comment. It’s a good way to get additional information.
Collectors Weekly: What have you noticed about the age group of marble
Basinet: Some people start out very young, usually with the
encouragement of their parents, but I know collectors who are well into their
80s. If there’s one demographic group that really sticks out as being more
prominent than others, it would be middle-aged men. I think with men, nostalgia
plays a more important role in collecting.
There are a lot of female collectors. For the most part, I think women are a
little bit more likely to be collectors of contemporary art glass marbles
because of their beauty. Most male collectors like handmade and machine-made
marbles that remind them of their youth.
Male or female, a lot of collectors are clustered in the Midwest in little
towns. Some of these towns may have populations under 10,000, but they’ll have
five or six serious collectors. I’m assuming the reason is networking. Most
American marbles were crafted in Ohio and West Virginia. Those are the states
where there are also the largest numbers of collectors, which makes sense.
Collectors Weekly: Is there anything else that you want to add that we maybe
missed or that you can think of about marbles or collecting?
Basinet: They still sell marbles in stores, so I’m thinking some
kids still play with them even though video games seem to have overshadowed
that. It’s a long tradition, a part of our American and European cultures, so I
hope kids will continue playing for a long time.
Collectors Weekly: Thank you Alan for taking the time to talk with us about
(All images in this article courtesy Alan Basinet of
The World's Priciest Marbles by Mike
Smith (Yahoo.com games blog) October 13, 2011
For every day, just before sunset, time stands still while grown men and
kids alike get down on their knees in fools gold-colored sand. With childlike
glee, they flick homemade flint marbles with their thumbs until nightfall.
Think marbles are just child's play?
Although the speedy little spheres have been popular toys for
thousands of years, today's marble collectors are prepared to lay down
some decidedly grown-up quantities of coin for these colorful trinkets.
But what differentiates an everyday glass bauble from a
thousand-dollar one-off? Like many collectibles, it's a combination of
condition, rarity, demand, and vintage -- but there are five standout
classes that consistently draw the big bucks.
In fact, the biggest bucks drawn for a marble is one of this rare
There's nothing better for collector value than ceasing production --
and nobody's been turning out these desirable clear baubles for nearly a
century. Cunningly, they contain tiny porcelain figures -- usually
white, although sometimes colored ones pop up -- depicting animals,
mythological characters, famous buildings, and the like. Among the most
collectible of marbles, good-condition examples with desirable, detailed
figurines can easily fetch prices around $1,000.
At the top end? A 1900 marble containing a bust of Theodore
Roosevelt, which recently sold at auction for $4,500.
German Swirl marble
Though the name makes them sound like a punishment meted out in a high
school bathroom, the truth is a little more matter-of-fact. German
swirls are glass marbles with a swirled pattern suspended in the center,
handmade in Germany from around 1850 to 1930 or so.
And the bigger the marble, the more it's worth. Figure on anything
from $10-20 for a ⅝", everyday example to several thousand for a large,
finely detailed German swirl in mint condition.
Agate marble (Agate marble?)
While it's glass that tends to be the most sought after material for
marble collectors, agate -- a variety of quartz -- has its fans, too.
They originally shot to popularity among serious marbles players
thanks to their weight and hardness, the perfect combination for
knocking lesser marbles out of play.
Chiefly made in Germany and the USA, their manufacturing process was
labor-intensive and hazardous; the fine dust produced by the grinding
machines made workers particularly susceptible to tuberculosis, and many
died young as a result. This made them expensive to buy, and they remain
valuable today, with good quality larger examples fetching as much as
$200 a pop.
Characterized by their lustrous swirls of golden metallic crystals, Lutz
marbles take their name from French glassblower Nicholas Lutz, who
worked out of a glass company in Sandwich, Massachusetts, and pioneered
the use of "goldstone" (copper aventurine, a form of glass bearing tiny
copper crystals) in many of his works.
Lutz probably never made
marbles himself, but after he died in 1906 his ideas would be adopted by
European factories, and for a brief period in the early 20th century,
glitzy "Lutz marbles" were plentiful and cheap. Thanks to World War I,
that didn't last, and today Lutz marbles are rare collector's items.
Once again, the key to value is condition, size, and design: even a
basic Lutz is worth around $100, while larger and more intricate
examples can run well into four figures.
That's "china" the ceramic, not the country. European craftsmen began
fashioning marbles from porcelain around the turn of the 19th century;
handpainted and with a high-temperature glaze, they were both attractive
Designers came up with numerous patterns, including
painted geometric shapes, flowers, and bullseyes, but particularly
sought-after are the so-called "scenic" chinas, which depict pastoral
scenes around the equator of the marble and have pinwheel patterns at
either end. However, only a few pastorals survive, and consequently good
examples can fetch as much as $10,000. If you can find them. Which you
The Marbles of Monroe
Rolley-Hole reigns at
the Marble Super Dome
Lost your marbles?
Have no fear — you can find them again, along with a draw-string pouch full
of childhood memories, in Monroe County, Kentucky.
Simply head down a country road to the Monroe Marble Super Dome, where every
afternoon brings a chance to shoot homemade marbles and meet the “marbleous” men
who “whipped the world” in an international marbles tournament.
The Monroe Marble Super Dome isn’t like any superdome or sports complex
you’ve ever seen. To say it’s nothing fancy is an understatement; it’s more
shack than arena. But one thing is certain — it’s magical.
Deep in southern Kentucky, just a stone’s throw from the breathtaking
Cumberland River, is the unassuming town of Tompkinsville. And there, just down
Armory Road, sits a dilapidated white, wooden, barn-like structure — the “Marble
Dome” as locals call it.
Although it was built in 1988, it looks to be about 100 years old.
“It isn’t really weather-proof,” says one old timer, grinning and pointing to
foil-lined, cotton-candy-like insulation hanging from the rafters like fly
paper. Outside an old man whittles, whistling to himself. Inside, a younger man
sits making marbles. On the floor, a half-dozen old-timers play “Rolley-Hole” in
Custom Flint Marbles
Each player only uses one marble in this old traditional game, and some make
their own marbles from little cubes of flint or granite, found in the Cumberland
river, that they smooth into a round shape with a contraption made of a broom
dowel and a string that makes it spin, grinding it against a rock set into an
indentation in the well-worn wood of a table made from a big cable spool.
If you haven’t got a marble, they’ll make you one — but it will cost you.
Local marble maker and Rolley-Hole player Paul Davis sells his custom flint
marbles for $20 each.
Some are as big as a jawbreaker, others are of the standard size — whatever
fits your fingers best. They come in colors from black to white with tan
marbling in the granite ones. Davis carries his in a case that looks like it
might hold a clarinet.
Playing Rolley Hole
It’s interesting to watch the men of Monroe make marbles, but it’s far more
fascinating to watch them play. In a 40- by 25-foot yard of double-sifted,
water-packed, fine yellow dirt, and under the hum of long fluorescent lights,
they’ve have used their thumbs to make three evenly-spaced-apart indentations in
the dirt, and they aim for these holes with the roll of their marbles.
Each two-team member must shoot for these holes, and each must get his marble
into each hole three times, down the court, back and down again. All the while
players try to hit the opponents’ marbles to knock them away from the holes
they’re trying to hit. It’s a hard game to win.
But win they do.
In 1992, one of the players heard about an international marbles tournament
in Tinsley Green, England, south of London, where men have been playing marbles
for over 400 years. So members from the Marble Dome secured an invitation to
A Show of Sportsmanship
Most had never even been as far as Louisville, let alone London, but they
took their handmade marbles with them and off they went. When they got there,
they had fun teaching others the American game of Rolley-Hole, but they had to
learn on the spot the official circle-type game played in the tournaments.
In the British Marbles Championship, they played so well that the others were
hardly able to have a chance, so as a sign of sportsmanship they allowed the
Brits to score once before beating them.
That afternoon in the final international tournament they became world
champions, winning with a score of 10-0. Victorious, they returned to Kentucky
where the Louisville Courier-Journal headline was “THUMBS UP Y’ALL
Good ol’ boys, simply marbleous, whip world!”
Smoothing Down the Hard Edges
Women can play marbles in Tompkinsville, and some do, but mostly you’ll just
find men in the Marble Dome.
Annual dues are $20 per person, to keep the lights on and cover the cost of
firewood. It keeps the wood-stove burning in winter so nobody’s fingers freeze.
It’s money well spent, for the rewards are great.
After the usual daily grind, the marbles of Monroe County help old timers
smooth down the hard edges of life as they let roll little round balls of pure
There in the evening shade in Monroe County, the world becomes a big blue
marble where the men can be champions — at least until suppertime when their
wives call them home.
WANT TO GO?
The Marble Super Dome is located on Armory Road in
Hours of operation are 4 - 8 p.m., daily.
For more information about Monroe County and the Marble Super Dome, call the
Monroe County Economic Development office at (270) 487-1314, or
The Tompkinsville News at
Playing Rolley Hole at the Marble Super Dome in Monroe County, Kentucky -
photos by Janis Turk
The Monroe Marble Super Dome isn’t like any superdome or sports complex you’ve
shows off handfuls of marbles he's made from flint and granite from the banks of
find folks of all ages squatting in the yellow-gold sand.
Rich Maxwell Leading
young and old into a love of marbles
Rich Maxwell's desk holds display stands and
a sorting tray.
By Lynn Anderson "The Best Times"
Has Rich Maxwell lost his marbles?
Well, in the literal sense of that question, the answer is clearly no. You'll
see that through the colorful photos in this profile.
But in the figurative sense, an onlooker might wonder. A hobby that didn't
begin until he was 52 has turned into a near-obsession. His loving wife, Lynn
Maxwell, says with a broad smile, "When he talks about marbles, he salivates!"
Here is the story of a marble-hound, with some trivia about marbles shot in
for good measure.
Richard Dean Maxwell, 65, has been fascinated with marbles since his
childhood in the rural town of Whiting, Kan. There his boyhood playmate Larry
Patterson taught him the "ringer" marble game during school recesses.
His mother worked in a garment factory, his dad with the state highway
department. He was a middle child with two sisters.
Maxwell earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Kansas
State University, then a master's in urban education from St. Louis University
in St. Louis, Mo. For some time he taught elementary-level students in urban
schools and 3-year-olds in a Head Start program.
"I used to work with kids and loved it, so I love working with kids
now in the realm of marbles," he said.
Like many baby boomers, Maxwell has had several careers. After teaching, he
detoured into the sale of horizontal directional drilling equipment—particularly
for laying cable.
"I got in on the ground floor in 1989 in Newton, Kan., and we built a company
from a staff of 16 to 100," Maxwell said.
Next was a five-year stint at fundraising for faith-based non-profit
organizations, including Presbyterian Children's Services and a child abuse
coalition. Maxwell also spent seven years partnering with his father-in-law,
building a trash collection company from 300 customers to a thriving 20,000.
"We were entrepreneurs," Maxwell recalls. "And that's when I learned I was a
marketing guy at heart."
That vast variety of work occurred during Maxwell's first marriage, when he
lived in Wichita, Kan., for 21 years. He and his first wife had three sons and a
For many years, Maxwell has also been a writer, with more than 80 articles
and reports published in trade journals such as Transmission and
Distribution World magazine. For that writing gig he learned the finer
points of the equipment that linemen rely on: rubber gloves, harnesses, bolts,
excavators. And he grew to have an abiding respect for the profession.
"Those are incredible guys," Maxwell said of linemen. "They're on call for
emergencies and they can work a storm for a couple of weeks with almost no
Semi-retired, he now lives in Shawnee with Lynn, where he continues to write
and is a charismatic public speaker. His favorite topics include discovering
one's passion and … marbles!
How they rolled into his life
About a dozen years ago, Maxwell's passion for marble collecting was ignited
when Lynn gave him a book about rare marbles for his 52nd birthday. He's a
proficient workaholic, and she had hoped to lure him into this hobby (he had
Until then, although he had toyed with marbles as a kid, Maxwell hadn't focused
"My stepdad had some jars of marbles, and when he died I kept some of them,"
Maxwell said. "But they just sat around. I thought marbles were just marbles."
At that point, he didn't know that a certain sort of person collects
"Now I'll go just about anywhere to chase them," he said.
After he received the book from his wife, Maxwell started looking for marbles
at estate sales. Sometimes he'll call ahead to see whether marbles will be among
the treasures presented. He'll show up an hour before a sale to scope out the
"Old marbles are the first things to go at estate sales," Maxwell said.
"They're hard to find, and a real prize."
He has driven to Nebraska, the St. Louis area, and small towns in Kansas to
attend sales. Lynn, who has an eye for vintage glass bottles and unique ways to
display marbles, is often his sidekick.
Has his marble collecting become a passion? Judge for yourself:
"Their very names and characteristics set me on fire," Maxwell said. "I've
never seen a marble that isn't beautiful."
In his early years as a collector, Maxwell felt intimidated by the endless
variety of marbles available, the intensity and single-mindedness of other
collectors, and how much he needed to learn. But from a complete novice, he has
turned into the guy who wrote the book on marble collecting for
When appraising marbles, which he does for free, Maxwell has learned the
historic time in which each was made and how the glass workers designed the
ribbon patterns and colors. One of his favorite places to identify marbles is a
Web site, www.joemarbles.com.
And yet he's still learning.
"Just yesterday I saw two types of marbles I'd never seen before," Maxwell said.
Rites and rituals of a collector
Maxwell spends endless hours categorizing, storing, and displaying his
marbles. Marbles are everywhere in the couple's Shawnee home—in glass jars in
the kitchen, on tables in the screened porch, in cases of glass and wood in
Maxwell's hobby room.
Some are common, assembly-line marbles like the cat's eyes from Japan that
took over the world in the 1950s. Others are antiques, including clay and German
swirl marbles from the 19th century. Still others are one-of-a-kind works of art
that would make a jeweler at Tiffany's swoon.
Because he has a creative flair, Maxwell's displays are unique. Some are
beautiful hand-crafted wooden boxes lined in velvet or felt, replicas of the
traveling cases marble salesmen used in the early 20th century. He likes to
admire marbles in the displays, but even more he likes to handle them.
"I love to sit in our screened porch in the early daylight," he said,
"sorting and admiring marbles I've just bought at an estate sale. Some even
fluoresce, so they light up under a black light."
Maxwell admits that he looks at and touches marbles every day, keeps some by
the bed, scans sale ads for himself and friends, and attends at least one estate
sale every week.
Why do collectors of marbles do it?
"Most do it for the love of the marbles," says Maxwell. "For others it's
about money. You can tell the difference right away when you talk to someone."
He's in the love-of-it category.
"I've never sold a marble, and I never will," he said. "The minute you start
selling, it's a whole different world. There's a guy in town who has 22 marbles
for sale on eBay right now. I won't do that. I love marbles, and I want more,
but I couldn't sell them."
He believes that when collectors sell, the hunt for new marbles starts to be
about dollars rather than artistry, history, or simple fun.
Learning about marbles means weaving pieces of history and science, and that
fascinates Maxwell, too. For instance, a person could spend a lifetime studying
the colors of glass marbles. In the earlier heyday of marbles, colorations and
formulas were so important to manufacturers that they would conspire to lure the
best glass chemists away from each other.
Some took their secret color formulas to their graves.
A marble collector can spend a small fortune on the hobby or keep it simple.
"I know people who stop at every antique store they come across, and will let
themselves spend just $10 or $15 there," Maxwell said.
They're the people who can restrain their impulses. The temptation to spring
big for unusual marbles is strong, though.
"The most I've ever spent for a collection of marbles is $400," Maxwell said.
He urges collectors to join a club or build relationships with other
collectors, for both fellowship and education. He guesses there are about 20
marble clubs nationwide, with 12 to 14 marble shows each year.
He gives great credit to his own mentors, including Scott McBride, president
of the Kansas City Marble Collectors Club, who specializes in handmade marbles
(whereas Maxwell's focus is marbles made by machine before 1940). He is also
indebted to Bruce Breslow, of Moon Marble, who encouraged Maxwell to write about
Maxwell sums it up this way:
"In marble collecting, you get a tribe around you that loves marbles."
Marble trivia from Rich Maxwell
- Glass marbles are made from sand, and the purest marbles are made from
the purest sand, or silica, which, in the United States, is found in Ohio,
Illinois, and West Virginia (home of the Marble King company).
- To the glass are added soda ash and other chemicals to yield colors.
Iron oxide creates green, magnesium purple, cobalt blue. The first red
marbles contained filaments of real gold.
- Marbles don't rust and you can wash them, but they will break or
scratch. It's difficult to find truly old marbles in great shape. Says
Maxwell, "They are toys, after all."
- Collectors look for what's known as "wet mint" condition. Those look
like they just rolled off the line.
- Very old marbles, because of the way they were handmade, have a "belly
button" indentation. Marbles with a crease on the top and bottom are known
as "seamed" marbles.
- Modern marbles are smoother and "glassy" because of improvements in the
machines that make them.
- Certain styles of marble were made only by certain manufacturers, and
sometimes only for a few years. You can tell these by their seams and ribbon
patterns. Craftsmen today are making limited-edition collections, such as a
"Hillbilly run" or a "Christmas run."
- Agates were expensive shooter marbles made of stone, originally
hand-ground. Slags, popular until 1920, were the first machine-made marbles;
they came in only four colors. Steelies were ball bearings. Other classics
were rainbows, patches, corkscrews, and swirls named for their colors—cub
scouts, bumble bees, and tigers.
- Before 1950, lots of marble companies flourished in the United States—Peltier,
Master Made, Vitro, Jabo, Akro Agate. But when the cat's eye marbles flooded
the market, most U.S. manufacturers quickly went out of business.
- The big-name company now is Vacor de Mexico in Guadalajara, marketed
here as Mega Marbles. The firm has created more than 200 styles of marble.
Kids love them because each style has its own name; some styles have even
- Marbles may be the most universal of toys, "crossing all the
boundaries—gender, race, and size," Maxwell says. "It doesn't matter." In
doing marble demonstrations at fairs and other events, he has found great
proficiency among Hispanic and Asian children. At Old Shawnee Days, his
marble circles drew children who were speaking several languages—but all
knew the language called "Marble"!
Start collecting today!
Rich Maxwell is a member of the Kansas City Writer's Group, Write Brain
ePublishers, and the Johnson County Library Foundation Board. Between Maxwell's
four children and Lynn's two, they enjoy the blessing of five grandchildren—and
he's turning them all into marble fans, even though it's tough going."
I'm competing with electronic games, computers, and Wii," he said. "But the
kids do like to roll marbles down a PVC pipe or a Hot Wheels track!"
If grandparents like the idea of introducing their grandchildren to marbles,
Maxwell suggests a visit to the Marble Room at the Toy and Miniature Museum in
Kansas City, Mo., home to the largest collection of marbles anywhere; taking
them to a marble show; or scheduling a field trip to Moon Marble in Bonner
Help your grandchildren purchase a few, and help them learn to sort—by color,
by smooth or bumpy, by glass or clay, etc.
Maxwell lives with diabetes, but he is "keeping the wolves away" by running four
days a week and staying very active. For his 50th birthday, he ran a
half-marathon in Austin, Texas.
At the time of our interview, Maxwell was working on his next book—about the
five most common marble games, complete with illustrations. He hopes to publish
it in both Spanish and English.
Sources: Some quotes were taken from an
interview that Rich Maxwell gave on KCUR-FM radio on June 19.
Collecting Marbles: A Beginner's Guide by Rich
68 pages, paperback with 120 color illustrations
Marble Keepers Publishing
PO Box 890771
Shawnee, KS 66286
Available at the Shawnee Town Museum, 11501 W. 57th St. Shawnee, KS 66203
Blog: Marks of a great marble
Rich Maxwell's book was inspired by a question Maxwell hears often:
"What do you look for in a marble?"
When Maxwell began seriously looking at his own boyhood marbles, he concluded
that marble collecting can be overwhelming. As more-experienced marble
collectors pointed out clues to look for and guided him to some of the old-time
"keepers," Maxwell wrote down everything he learned. The book is based on those
Says Maxwell's mentor Scott McBride:
"Rich Maxwell has done an excellent job of introducing basic marble knowledge
to the beginning collector. Even after 50-plus years of marble collecting, I had
more than one 'aha!' moment as I read his book. Thanks to Maxwell for a
fantastic job of introducing the basics to the next generation of marble
The book provides step-by-step instructions to help readers identify the
basic marble features, recognize the classic marbles, find great marbles at
garage and estate sales, and play the old game of ringer. The 120-plus marble
photos, taken by Shawnee resident Clif Hall, of Photographic Creations, are
The book was one of the grand prizes awarded to a boy and a girl, ages 8 to
14, who were champions of the 89th Annual National Marbles Tournament in
Wildwood, N.J., in June.
LOCAL MARBLE RESOURCES
Kansas City Marble Collectors Club
A member list and meeting dates are available at
Moon Marble Company
600 E. Front St.
Bonner Springs, KS 66012
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
Demonstrations of the marble-making process are given Tuesdays, Fridays, and
Saturdays, if a glass artist is available. Demonstrations begin at about 10:30
a.m. and end at 3 p.m.
Bus tours and large groups must call ahead of time to schedule a
demonstration Tuesday through Saturday.
Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City
5235 Oak St.
Kansas City, MO 64112
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Wednesday through Saturday
1-4 p.m. Sunday
Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and major holidays
Adults $7, seniors $6, children 5-12 $5, children under 5 free
Shawnee — When it comes to natural ability,
Hunter Calkins won all the marbles — literally.
The 8-year-old phenom, who’ll enter third grade at Nieman Elementary next
month, has had a pretty incredible run.
In May, Hunter won first place at Bonner Springs’ annual Marble Day
tournament, knocking out a dozen opponents.
A few weeks later, in a regional tourney at the Toy & Miniature Museum of
Kansas City, he defeated more than 300 people – many of them adults – for the
And last month, in a marble competition on the heels of Old Shawnee Days,
Hunter made it a three-peat.
What’s his secret?
“Strong thumbs,” says Hunter, shrugging and only half believing it. “From
tackling and grabbing people.”
Hunter is a multi-sport athlete – he once registered 4 sacks in peewee
football, where he plays every position on the field. He wields a mean pool cue
and has an eye for angles, clearly.
But his meteoric rise to marbles greatness has shocked everyone around him.
His initial win in Bonner Springs was the first time he’d ever played the game.
“He’s a natural,” says Rich Maxwell, who helped organize that tournament. “He
must have a special knack for lining things up.”
Maxwell would know. The retired Shawnee resident, who has a master’s degree
in early childhood education, has written two books on the subject: “Collecting
Marbles: A Beginner’s Guide” and “Let’s Play Marbles!,” released in June.
It was Maxwell who taught Hunter the “knuckles down” shooting technique he’s
used with deadly aim during his winning streak.
“You hook your thumb behind your third finger, and you flick it like you’re
flipping a coin,” Maxwell explains. “Your knuckles have to be touching the
ground. That’s where it gets its name.”
Maxwell’s basement office in Shawnee is lined with shelves, display cases,
boxes and endless jars of marbles, some of them rare and worth hundreds of
dollars. He’s been collecting them since he was Hunter’s age, when the nation’s
marbles craze was at its peak.
“In the 1930s, they had 3 million kids from all over the country who’d play
in local tournaments for a shot at the national championship,” Maxwell says. “It
was a very, very popular American game.”
According to Maxwell, marbles’ origins can be traced as far back as ancient
Egyptian tombs and prehistoric cave paintings.
“The real history of modern marbles begins in England 400 or 500 years ago,”
he says. “The queen was determining some argument, and to settle it they played
a game we now call Ringer” – the same one Hunter recently mastered at the Kansas
City regional showdown, where Maxwell was Guinness’ expert witness in a failed
world record attempt for most people playing marbles simultaneously.
Maxwell and fellow organizers were shooting for a turnout of 1,000, but fell
far short of that goal. Obviously, marbles aren’t as popular as they once were.
But that’s not stopping kids like Hunter from carrying on a tradition tens of
thousands of years old.
Practicing on the hard floor of his kitchen in Shawnee, he lines up his lucky
blue shooter, knuckles down.
“It’s like I have an imaginary arrow from my thumb,” he explains.
And like the opposing quarterback, you better get out of the way.
LEARN TO PLAY
Rich Maxwell hosts Marbles on Monday for school-age kids at the Johnson
County Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St. in Overland Park. The next
session is 3-4:30 p.m. July 29. For more info, visit
marblekeeper.com or call 913-972-1007.
Don Filey playing marbles in Cleveland's Central Neighborhood
(1949) by Erick Trickey Cleveland Magazine Issue Date: May 2014.
Nine-year-old Don Filey lived next door to the Portland-Outhwaite
Recreation Center in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. After school, he’d walk
there to shoot marbles with friends. When the annual Cleveland Press marbles
tournament came to the rec center May 18, 1949, he joined in. A Press
photographer caught him knuckling down — touching the asphalt with one knuckle
to shoot. His younger brother, Robert, wearing suspenders, crouched on one knee
behind him, and his cousin, Gerald Jones, wearing a dark newsboy cap, watched
over his shoulder. “Cleaning out the pot was a cinch for Don Filey,” the
Press’ photo caption read the next day. He skillfully knocked the other
boys’ marbles out of the ring.
Walter Filey, another of Don’s five brothers, remembers him
as a quiet, studious boy. Don graduated from Kent State University, was married
briefly and had a daughter. He moved to Silver Spring, Md., and worked as a data
processor for IBM before he died of renal failure at age 40.
The rec center where the Filey boys played, renamed the
Lonnie Burten Recreation Center, stands today. Though the clash of colliding
marbles no longer resounds across playgrounds, “mibs” (as it was called in the
’40s) isn’t a lost sport. The 91st National Marbles Tournament takes place in
Wildwood, N.J., this June. (Article by Erick Trickey Cleveland Magazine)
Marbles that belonged to Anne Frank rediscovered by Toby Sterling of Associated
This Nov. 14, 2013 photo provided
by the Anne Frank House Amsterdam on Feb. 4, shows a set of marbles belonging to
Anne Frank. Shortly before Anne Frank and her family went into hiding from the
Nazis, she gave away some of her toys to non-Jewish neighborhood girlfriend
Toosje Kupers for safekeeping.
Frank was one of many Jewish children
who gave away toys before being deported and dying in the Holocaust.
AMSTERDAM — Shortly before
Anne Frank and her family went into hiding from the Nazis, she gave
some of her toys to a non-Jewish girlfriend who lived in the building next
The Anne Frank House Museum says the toys have now been recovered and
Anne's tin of marbles will go on display Wednesday at the Kunsthal art
Rotterdam. The neighbor, Toosje Kupers, kept the marbles along
with a tea set and a book. It was only when Kupers, 83, was moving last year
that she thought to mention the marbles to the museum. Kupers told
Dutch national broadcaster NOS that she didn't consider the marbles that
special. She said shortly before the Frank family left the square they both
lived on, the Merwedeplein, Anne approached her for a favor."'I'm worried
about my marbles, because I'm scared they might fall into the wrong hands,'"
Kupers said Anne told her. "'Could you keep them for me for a little
while?'" Anne and Toosje, frequent playmates in each other's homes and
on the square, couldn't have known that Anne wouldn't be coming back, museum
head of collections Teresien da Silva said. On July 6, 1942, about two years
after the beginning of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War
II, the Frank family went into hiding in a concealed apartment above a
warehouse. They told everyone but a small circle of helpers that they were
going to stay with family in
Switzerland. The Kupers also took Anne's cat Moortje at that time.
In August 1944, the Frank family was betrayed, arrested and deported.
Anne died of typhus in the
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945. Her diary was
recovered and published after the war by her father Otto, the only member of
the family to survive. It has become the most widely read document to emerge
Holocaust. "So many people know about Anne Frank because of the
diary, which was written under such unusual circumstances," da Silva said.
"(But) the marbles are a reminder that she was just a little girl."
In this 1940 photo provided by the Anne Frank House Amsterdam
on, Feb. 4, Toosje Kupers, centre, poses with two girls in Amsterdam.
It is with great sadness we report that Bert Cohen passed away
suddenly, at the age of 83, on December 21, 2014. His passing is a huge loss to
marble collectors all around the world. Bert was known throughout the
marble community as “MarbleBert”. He was one of the pioneers of marble
collecting. For over 40 years he has been a tireless booster of marble
collecting and marble playing. Numerous contemporary marble artists have been
encouraged and supported early in their careers by Bert. Many marble
collectors don’t know that Bert has a family connection to toys. He is from the
Leominster, Massachusetts area, and his father-in-law (Nina’s father) was the
owner of the Irwin Toy Company. Bert worked at the Irwin factory in its heyday,
back when they made the first Barbie car. He later served as its President.
Bert's marble collection has been showcased in Smithsonian Magazine, House &
Garden, Art & Antiques and The Flow magazines. He has made appearances on
Chronicle, CNN and MTV Europe, and has spoken for such prestigious institutes as
The Jones Museum and The Museum of our National Heritage, just to name a few.
Bert was quoted once as saying. "I like anything dealing with marbles...they are
beautiful! When I look at a marble I am attracted to the color, the shape and
the size and am amazed at the ability of the artist to transform glass in so
many ways, creating a world of wonder." In addition to marble collecting,
Bert was a supporter of marble playing. He sponsored marble tournaments on
Boston Common, as well as involvement with the US National Marbles Tournament
and the annual Good Friday tournament at Tinsley Green in England. Bert
was also the manager and promoter of the Northeast Marble Meet for the past
thirty years. Just this past October, he was honored at the Marble Meet in
Marlborough MA for his long years of service to the marble collecting community.
More information about Bert Cohen
The driver lost his marbles! Semi-truck
spills 38,000lbs of green balls onto Indiana Interstate
A truck spilled marbles onto Interstate 465
near Indianapolis on Saturday
One lane had to be shut down for most of the day for
No one was injured during the marble spillage accident
In an expression
come to life, a truck totally lost its marbles while driving near Indianapolis
on Saturday. In total, the truck lost 38,000lbs of green marbles that
spilled out onto Interstate 465, near Pendleton Pike.
The marbles were
on the shoulder and in the median and one lane was closed for most of the day
for cleanup. No one was injured during the ordeal.
Sgt John Perrine who tweeted out a photo of the
truck and jokingly commented on his post: 'It just so happens Garner's towing
might be having a liquidation sale on marbles this week.'
The semi-truck spilled 38,000lbs of green marbles onto the Interstate
One lane of Interstate 465 had to be shut down to remove the marbles
No one was injured in the accident involving the truck spilling 38,000lbs of
Articles and Pictures courtesty of Nutmeg State Marble
Collectors Club Facebook Page
1947 article, boys and girls playing tournament marbles at
Wildwood by the sea, NJ. Benjamin Sklar out bested the tournament with his great
12 year old experienced knuckles down. Notice Ben brushing away a grain of sand
for his shot and Walter of Montana played with his boots off not to scuff the
ring. Really great marble history.
*For an extensive list of
marble articles, please visit
Mike's Marble Site