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By Chuck Brandstetter


Photo 1

Photo #1


Tri-lites and Elites


Older Vitro Agate marbles have been receiving al lot of attention lately.  Generally, most people are fairly accurate in identifying them.  The definition/explanation that makes the most sense to me is that Tri-lite is the name Vitro used for marbles made prior to 1945 in Vienna, WV that have three or more distinct colors (white is a color, clear is not a color).  As opposed to the Vitro marbles made later in Parkersburg which are almost all veneered, the colors in Tri-lites often go into the marble, the base of which is usually clear, white or translucent.  Vitro at Vienna also made Clear-lites which we now call clearies and Du-lites for marbles with only two colors.


Some of my marble collecting friends and I have spent a lot of time trying to pin down a perfect definition for Tri-lites.  So I asked Chris Cooper, who along with Mike Johnson, wrote the book, “The Vitro-Agate Company” what Henry Fisher meant by the name Tri-lite.  Chris pointed out the Fisher would have laughed his head off at us for trying to name these marbles.  All he was trying to do was make an attractive and inexpensive toy for children.  For him, a Tri-lite was a marbles with three colors.


In the first WVMCC Newsletter (July, 2003) Chris Carrington in her article Those Really Pretty Older Vitros That Used to be Called “Mystery Patches”, came up with the name Elite for these attractive marbles.  Since this was before the Vitro book identified them as Tri-lites, the name Elite caught on with many of those using the marble boards, eBay and at the marble shows.  Tri-lites vary considerably from rather mundane (with a scant three colors and white being one of those colors) to spectacular with three, four or more colors.  Therefore, Elite is just a modern name for what Vitro called Tri-lites.  It does make sense though that when we call a marble an Elite, we should be focusing on the more attractive Tri-lites.  (See Photo #1 for some very attractive Tri-lites.)


Buttermilks, Aquamarines & Superiors


Three Tri-lite Sub-groups have names that have caught on in the marble community – Buttermilks, Aquamarines and Superiors.


Photo #2

Photo #2


Buttermilks have a red band on one side, a parallel red/blue band on the other side and a translucent buttermilk yellow base, sometimes with white.  (See Photo #2) Buttermilks vary considerably in color and design.  The blue sometimes darkens towards indigo, especially on the shooters.  The smaller buttermilks tend to have ribbons and many of the shooters swirl significantly.  Ten years ago, Chuck Dennison told us that these very attractive Vitro marbles were called Buttermilks.  It seems that Chuck and Roy Kays met an old man from Vienna, WV who had worked at the Vitro plant in Vienna and he told them that these marbles were called Buttermilks.  It is unclear whether the name came from the men who worked in the Vitro plant or the kids in town who played with them.


Photo #3

Photo #3


Photo #4

Photo #4


The colors of Aquamarines are aqua (or teal) blue, a creamy tan and a dark transparent red.  (See Photo #3)  Aquamarines range from swirls with appealing rip lines to patches.  About 12 years ago my wife Diane was pulling these out of $1 boxes because they were one of her favorite marbles.  One day while searching for marbles in an antique mall in Strasburg, OH we met an attractive young lady, Nancy Smith (Steve’s wife), who asked us if we would like to see her marble collection.  We were amazed to be shown a pistol case full of the very same marbles Diane had been accumulating.  Nancy said that these were her favorite marbles and she called them Aquamarines.  Later, Diane bought Nancy’s collections.  We have remained close friends to Nancy & Steve ever since.  (Note:  Steve said that these marbles were initially called Aquamaroons; but, that the name seemed too awkward.)


Superiors are another attractive and fairly common Tri-lite with a characteristic deep yellow patch surrounded by a very rich red band.  (See Photo #4)  The base is usually translucent white and there is almost always a secondary patch on the bottom.  The secondary patch on the shooters is either green, blue or red-brown and on the smaller marbles can also be other colors such as purple, black, yellow and sometimes oxblood.  About 15 years ago some collectors called these marbles hybrid Peltiers.  Then in the 2nd edition (1995) of their book Marbles, Larry Castle & Marlow Peterson identified them as Vitro Agates and called them “Mystery Patches”.  So, for years we called them mystery patches.  About two years ago Diane & I were looking at our Vitro collection and we agreed that these were among our best Vitros.  At the time, we were getting ready for one of our three annual vacations to the Paradise, MI in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Lake Superior.  It was then that we started calling these marbles Superiors.  Although Superior was only meant to be the name we personally used for these marbles, that name seems to have been picked up by others.


There are many other attractive Tri-lite sub-groups that are not named.  That is OK.  Many of us love these marbles and we may even have our personal names for them; but, we are also perfectly happy just calling them Tri-lites or Elites.


Maybe the old marble makers would laugh at the names marble collectors use for the inexpensive child’s toy they were making.  But, they would probably appreciate that their work has had a lasting appeal through the years.


Thanks to Ron Shepherd, Guy Gregg, Randy Gossett, Mike Adams and the others who have wondered and pondered about Tri-lites.  And thanks to Bob Byard for the beautiful photos.


This article first appeared in the West Virginia Marble Collector’s Club Newsletter.


Issue 15      June 2006


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