A marble is a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, steel, plastic or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about 1/2 inch to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.54 cm) in diameter, but they may range from less than 1/30 inch (0.111 cm) to over 3 inches (7.75 cm), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 12 inches (30 cm) wide. Marbles can be used for a variety of games called marbles. They are often collected, both for nostalgia and for their aesthetic colors. In the North of England the objects and the game are called "taws", with larger taws being called bottle washers after the use of a marble in Codd-neck bottles.
Various balls of stone were found on excavation near Mohenjo-daro. Marbles are also often mentioned in Roman literature, like Ovid's poem Nux about nuts playing and there are many examples of marbles from ancient Egypt. They were commonly made of clay, stone or glass.
Marbles were first manufactured in Germany in the 1800s. The game has become popular throughout the US and other countries.
A German glassblower invented marble scissors in 1846, a device for making marbles. The first mass-produced toy marbles (clay) made in the U.S. were made in Akron, Ohio, by S. C. Dyke, in the early 1890s. Some of the first U.S.-produced glass marbles were also made in Akron, by James Harvey Leighton. In 1903, Martin Frederick Christensen—also of Akron, Ohio—made the first machine-made glass marbles on his patented machine. His company, The M. F. Christensen & Son Co., manufactured millions of toy and industrial glass marbles until they ceased operations in 1917. The next U.S. company to enter the glass marble market was Akro Agate. This company was started by Akronites in 1911, but was located in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Today, there are only two American-based toy marble manufacturers: Jabo Vitro in Reno, Ohio, and Marble King, in Paden City, West Virginia.
In Australia, games were played with marbles of different sizes. The smallest and most common was about 15 mm in diameter. The two larger, more valuable sizes were referred to as semi-bowlers and tom-bowlers, being about 20 mm and 25 mm in diameter respectively. They were used in much the same way as ordinary marbles, although sometimes they would be declared invalid because of the advantage of their larger mass and inertia. Owners of large marbles were also afraid to use them lest they be lost to another player as "keepsies". They were usually of the clear "cat's eye" or milk glass type, just bigger.
In Uganda, a popular marbles game is called dool. It requires a small pit dug in the ground for two or more players, each with his own marble. To improvise, Ugandans also use the seeds of a candlenut tree, locally referred to as Kabakanjagala (The King loves me). To start a game, a throwing line is drawn on the ground using chalk or a stick some feet from the pit. Then the players roll their marbles close to the pit. The one whose marble falls in gets points equivalent to one game. If a second marble falls in and hits the first, a player gets more points than the previous player, but all have to return to the throwing line. When no marble falls in, the player whose marble rolls closest to the pit starts the firing session. When he misses, the next opponent fires. You can only fire 24 consecutive times per turn earning one point for each hit. But all that time, a player must make sure the gap between the marbles is bigger than two stretches of the hand. If an opponent realises that it isn't, then he can make a call, pick his marble and place it anywhere. When a player is targeting a marble placed near the hole, he must avoid knocking it into the hole or else give away an advantage. There are various rules for dool but the player with the most points wins. Favoured fingers include the middle finger for blasting strength and small finger for accurate long distance target.
The British and World Marbles Championship has been held at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England, every year since 1932. (Marbles has been played in Tinsley Green and the surrounding area for many centuries: TIME magazine traces its origins to 1588.) Traditionally, the marbles-playing season started on Ash Wednesday and lasted until midday on Good Friday: playing after that brought bad luck. More than 20 teams from around the world take part in the championship, each Good Friday; German teams have been successful several times since 2000, although local teams from Crawley, Copthorne and other Sussex and Surrey villages often take part as well; the first championship in 1932 was won by Ellen Geary, a young girl from London.
- "Knuckle down", the position adopted at the start line at the beginning of a match. The player begins with his knuckle against the ground.
- "Quitsies": Allows any opponent to stop the game without consequence. Players can either have "quitsies" (able to quit) or "no quitsies".
- "Keepsies" (or "for keeps"): The player keeps all the marbles he or she wins.
- "Elephant Stomps": When called, it allows a player to stomp his/her marble level with the ground surface, making it very difficult for other players to hit the marble.
- "Bombies": When called, it allows a player to take 1-2 steps while holding his/her marble and normally closing one eye will line up over one of the opponents marble and drop the marble trying to hit the marble on the ground.
- "Leaning Tops": When called, a shooter leans in on his/her off hand for leverage over an indentation on any type of surface or obstacle.
- A "taw" or "shooter" is generally a larger marble used to shoot with, and "ducks" are marbles to be shot at.
- Various names refer to the marbles' size. Any marble larger than the majority may be termed a boulder, bonker, masher, plumper, popper, shooter, thumper, smasher, taw, bumbo, crock, bumboozer, bowler, tonk, tronk, godfather, tom bowler, fourer, giant, dobber, dobbert, hogger, or Biggie. A marble smaller than the majority is a peawee/peewee or mini. A "grandfather" is the largest marble, the size of a billiards ball or tennis ball.
- Various names for different marble types (regional playground talk, Leicester, UK): Marleys (Marbles), Prit (white marble), Kong (large marble), King Kong (larger than a Bosser), Steely (Metal Ball-bearing). Names can be combined: e.g. Prit-Kong (large white marble). There are many more such names, as discussed in the next section.
Types of marbles
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- Aggie - made of agate (aggie is short for agate) or glass resembling agate, with various patterns like in the alley
- Alley or real - made of marble or alabaster (alley is short for alabaster), streaked with wavy or other patterns with exotic names like corkscrew, spiral, snake, ribbon, onyx, swirl, bumblebee, butterfly, and...
- Ade - strands of opaque white and color, making lemon-ade, lime-ade, orange-ade, etc.
- Cat's Eye or catseye - central eye-shaped colored inserts or cores (injected inside the marble)
- Beachball - three colors and six vanes
- Devil's Eye - red with yellow eye
- Clambroth - equally spaced opaque lines on a milk-white opaque base. Rare clams can have blue or black base glass. Medium-high value for antique marbles; rare base color valued much higher.
- Lutz - antique, handmade German swirl, containing bands of fine copper flakes that glitter like gold. Erroneously thought to have been invented by noted glassmaker Nicholas Lutz. Medium-high value for antique marbles, depending on specific sub-type of Lutz design.
- Oilie or Oily - Opaque with a rainbow, iridescent finish
- Onionskin - antique, handmade German swirl, with many closely packed surface streaks. Medium price range for antique marbles.
- Opaque - a rather uninteresting marble, but popular. Comes in many colors.
- Oxblood - a streaky patch resembling blood
- Pearls - Opaque with single color with "mother of pearl" finish
- Toothpaste - Also known as "Plainsies" in Canada. Wavy streaks usually with red, blue, black, white, orange.
- Turtle - wavy streaks containing green and yellow
- Bumblebee - modern, machine-made marble; mostly yellow with two black strips on each side.
- China - glazed porcelain, with various patterns similar to an alley marble. Geometric patterns have low value; flowers or other identifiable objects can command high prices.
- Plaster - a form of china that is unglazed
- Commie or common - made of clay; natural color or monochrome coloration. Made in huge quantities during 19th and early 20th centuries. Common, not very attractive; thus almost no value.
- Croton alley or Jasper - glazed and unglazed china marbled with blue
- Crystal or clearie or purie - any clear colored glass - including "opals," "glimmers," "bloods," "rubies," etc. These can have any number of descriptive names such as "deep blue sea", "blue moon", "green ghost", "brass bottle".
- Princess - a tinted crystal
- Galaxy - modern, machine-made marble; lots of dots inserted to look like like a sky of stars
- Indian - antique, handmade German marble; dark and opaque, usually black, with overlaid groups of color bands; usually white, and one or more other colors. Can also have many colors like blue, green and scarlet. Medium price range for antique marbles.
- Mica - antique, handmade German marble; glassy to translucent with streaks or patches of mica, ranging from clear to misty. Value depends on glass color.
- Steely - made of steel; a true steely (not just a ball-bearing) was made from a flat piece of steel folded into a sphere and shows a cross where the corners all come together.
- Sulphide - antique, handmade German marble; large (1.25 to 3+ inch) clear glass sphere with a small statuette or figure inside. Most common are domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, cows, etc.; then wild animals; human figures are scarce; inanimate objects such as a train or pocket watch are very rare and command high prices. The interior figures are made of white clay or kaolin, and appear a silvery color due to light refraction. A sulphide with a colored-glass sphere, or with a painted figure inside, is also very rare and brings a high price. Like other types of antique marbles, sulphides have been reproduced and faked in large quantities.
- Swirly - is a common marble made out of glass with one swirly color.
- Tiger- Clear with orange/ yellow stripes
Marble players often grow to collect marbles after having outgrown the game. Marbles are categorized by many factors including condition, size, type, manufacturer/artisan, age, style, materials, scarcity, and the existence of original packaging (which is further rated in terms of condition). A marble's worth is primarily determined by type, size, condition and eye-appeal, coupled with the law of supply and demand. Ugly, but rare marbles may be valued as much as those of very fine quality. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule - "Condition is King" when it comes to marbles. Any surface damage (characterized by missing glass, such as chips or pits) typically cut book value by 50% or more.
Due to the large market, there are many related side businesses that have sprung up such as numerous books and guides, web sites dedicated to live auctions of marbles only, and collector conventions. Additionally, many glass artisans produce art marbles for the collectors' market only, with some selling for hundreds of dollars..
Marbles are made using many techniques. They can be categorized into two general types: hand-made and machine-made.
Marbles were originally made by hand. Stone or ivory marbles can be fashioned by grinding. Clay, pottery, ceramic, or porcelain marbles can be made by rolling the material into a ball, and then letting dry, or firing, and then can be left natural, painted, or glazed. Clay marbles, also known as crock marbles or commies (common), are made of slightly porous clay, traditionally from local clay or leftover earthenware ("crockery"), rolled into balls, then glazed and fired at low heat, creating an opaque imperfect sphere that is frequently sold as the poor boy's "old timey" marble. Glass marbles can be fashioned through the production of glass rods which are stacked together to form the desired pattern, cutting the rod into marble-sized pieces using marble scissors, and rounding the still-malleable glass.
One mechanical technique is dropping globules of molten glass into a groove made by two interlocking parallel screws. As the screws rotate, the marble travels along them, gradually being shaped into a sphere as it cools. Color is added to the main batch glass and/or to additional glass streams that are combined with the main stream in a variety of ways. For example, in the "cat's-eye" style, colored glass veins are injected into a transparent main stream. Applying more expensive colored glass to the surface of cheaper transparent or white glass is also a common technique.
There were a lot of businesses that made marbles in Ohio. One major marble manufacturing company is Marble King, located in Paden City, West Virginia, which was featured in the television shows Made in America, Some Assembly Required and The Colbert Report. Currently, the world's largest manufacturer of playing marbles is Vacor de Mexico. The company makes 90 percent of the world’s marbles. Over 12 million are produced daily.
Marbles are also made in China and may contain lead, arsenic, and/or cadmium due to the manufacturing process of old glass.
Art marbles are high quality collectible marbles arising out of the art glass movement. They are sometimes referred to as contemporary glass marbles to differentiate them from collectible antique marbles, and are spherical works of art glass.
Collectible contemporary marbles are made mostly in the United States by individual artists such as Josh Simpson.
- Marble Blast Gold (2003), a "get to the finish" first person game for the PC and Xbox; a sequel, Marble Blast Ultra (2006), was released later for the Xbox 360
- Marble Drop (1997), a computer game wherein players place marbles in a complicated apparatus in an attempt to solve a puzzle.
- Marble Madness (1984), an Atari game wherein players race each other to the finish line.
- Oxyd (1991), a game for Amiga, Atari ST, and Macintosh
- Switchball (2007), a game for the PC and Xbox 360
- The World Ends with You, an action role-playing game that uses a marble-like system called "Tin Pin Slammer" as the basis for several plot events but requires the use of pins instead of marbles. The original Japanese name for this minigame is "Marble Slash".
- Abalone (board game), a board game in which white and black marbles try to knock each other into a gutter that lines the outside of the board
- B-Daman, a toy that fires marbles and can be played under several game rules
- Bakugan Battle Brawlers, a game which uses magnetic spring loading marbles which open up to reveal creatures used to play the game
- Chinese checkers, often called "Marble Checkers", a board game for two to six players using marbles as game pieces
- Hungry Hungry Hippos, a tabletop game for two to four players involving marbles
- Ker-Plunk, a game for two to four players involving marbles.
- Tock, also known as Tuck, is a cards/board game in which players race their four marbles (or tokens) around the board, with the objective being to be the first to take all of one's marbles "home".
- Marble History, Thinkquest website
- Johnny Acton, Tania Adams, Matt Packer, 2006, Origin of Everyday Things Barnes and Noble, p. 148
- Cultural Impressions
- "Losing your Marbles". BBC Inside Out programme. BBC. 9 June 2003. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- Collins 2007, p. 88.
- Aitch, Iain (4 April 2009). "Event preview: British And World Marbles Championship, Tinsley Green". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Ltd). Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- Sandy, Matt (7 April 2007). "Village rolls out a welcome for World Marbles Championships". The Times (London: Times Newspapers Ltd). Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- "Sport: At Tinsley Green". TIME magazine (TIME Inc.). 17 April 1939. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- Pearson, Harry (26 April 2003). "Going under in the marble halls of Tinsley Green". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Ltd). Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- Gwynne 1990, p. 172.
- "A Brief History of the Birth of the Modern American Toy Industry". Retrieved 2009-01-21.
- Baumann, Paul. Collecting Antique Marbles (4th ed.).
- World Marbles Federation
- Associated Press (January 4, 2014). "Marbles that belonged to Anne Frank rediscovered". MSN.com.