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Cairo Novelty Company


Cairo, West Virginia

1946 – 1952



In 1944, Oris G. Hanlon filed for a patent for a new marble making machine.  He and his brother-in-law Bill Heaton planned to go into business together.  In 1946 they built a factory on the east side of Cairo, WV.  Then for reasons which are shrouded in mystery, they had a falling out.  Bill stayed on to run what would be known as the Heaton Agate Company.  Oris found a property across town and built his own factory, the Cairo Novelty Company.  His new partners were local businessmen John H. Sandy and Dennis Farley. 


Building and maintaining the machine Oris designed was problematic, but when it operated smoothly it produced marbles faster than any other machine of the time. 


It was essentially designed to make two-color swirls.  The ribbon color would come from a small striping tank.  Cairo Novelty made three- and even four-color swirls by adding extra colors to the tank.  They also made clearies and solid color marbles.  Their marble sizes range from 3/8” to 13/16” with the vast majority of marbles around 5/8”.  


Though many Cairo Novelty swirls are indistinguishable from those of other companies, many also have distinctive features attributable to the unique design of the machine.  To see a description of these features, consult American Machine-Made Marbles.  Naturally, experience will help the description make more sense. 


There are very few examples known of packaging with company’s name.   Their biggest customer was Woolworth’s who sold the marbles with the Woolworth’s label. 


In 1950 tragedy would strike in the form of a flood.  It devastated the town.  The factory was in a low-lying area near the river and was underwater.  The machinery was damaged.  Boxes already packaged for shipment broke open and could not be salvaged. The marbles washed away and were buried in mud.


Hanlon tried to rebuild, but it was too much.  His partners were unable to help.  Cairo Novelty could not pay its creditors.  Then to make matters worse, this was about the time when cat’s eyes imported from Japan began to impact the American marble market. 


Oris took a second job to bring in funds, and made marbles only sporadically.  He finally closed the doors in 1952.  Most of his business went to Heaton Agate.  Interestingly, before he closed he made efforts to help Bill Heaton try to win the Woolworth account.


The factory grounds were later used for other purposes.  One of the activities resulted in it being covered in woodchips, nearly three feet deep in places.  But the marbles from the flood were still there under all the dirt and mulch and many have now been excavated giving Cairo Novelty examples with clear provenance.







More information:


American Machine-Made Marbles, 2006, Dean Six, Susie Metzler and Michael Johnson




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