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Cairo Novelty Company

Cairo, WV (1946-1952)


By David Chamberlain

I suppose there are other Cairo marble collectors who have more marbles than I do, but I’ve got the right ones! Well, some of them anyway.

Now that we’ve got that established, just what is it that distinguishes Cairo’s marble from all those other marble companies in West Virginia strung out along the river? For one thing, due to Oris Hanlon's thoroughly unique, although diabolically difficult marble machine, many of those marbles have a hook-like swirl characteristic (photo 1). Mike Johnson refines this description by stating it as a snake-like stripe on a limited side of the marble. Also described as a tiny clear-glass slash form a quarter to a half an inch. Many in this made-up box exhibit this special striping.

Photo 1:Cairo Novelty Company

Not all, but many of Cairos marbles appear as so stated and while this individual difference doesnt necessarily put all those specific marbles having it in beauty contest contention, it is a friendly personalized hallmark of Oris Hanlons marble machine.

Along the way, numerous Cairo marbles have become sufficiently elevated so as to have acquired pet names, especially among some of the more serious diggers. Mainly names for identification purposes. Im yet to fully identify all my Cairo marbles according to these nascent names, but I sure have set aside certain Cairo marbles that definitely rise to the top of the heap. One of my favorite groupings exhibiting not only the unique hook, but the often used Wissmach Glass (Paden City, WV) color palette, are shown in photo 2.

Photo 2:Cairo Novelty Company

Its rather depressing, but a poignant statement on the plight and decline of the American marble industry, as depicted in photo 3 (1992) and photo 4 (1996). Of course it was really many years earlier (1950) when matters went downhill for Cairo. Already experiencing bad luck, foreign and local (Heaton Agate) competition, and insistent creditorsthen the floods came. The resulting mess compounded by subsequent additional years of earth layering, put Cairos unfortunately flooded and purposely discarded marbles about three feet down.

Photo 3:Cairo Novelty Company

Photo 4:Cairo Novelty Company

Yet, except for some clearly recognizable recent Jabo marbles that some duffus sprinkled about the property thinking he was being smart, if you had the gumption and perseverance to dig your way down to them, what you unearthed were bonifide Cairo marbles. Like these rarer and larger (3/4 13/16) gems in photo 5. Or, if your efforts accumulated a respectable number of like-minded examples, you might begin to recognize specific run examples as opposed to haphazard random marbles. See photo 6 for marbles having a surface embryonic effect. And these beauties in photo 7 that have earned the name Cloudy Days.

Photo 5:Cairo Novelty Company

Photo 6:Cairo Novelty Company

Photo 7:Cairo Novelty Company

I couldnt begin to contend with the pet marble naming by diggers extraordinaire David Tamulevich and his daughter Molly, as theyve given names to 25 Cairo varieties, some only consisting of a population of two or three. But dig these names: Yellow Pussywillows, Ivory Reds (and Oranges, Blues, and Greens), Copperheads, Ice Swirls, Shamrocks, etc. Names to die for! And to think that til only recently Cairos marbles were authoritatively considered of little or no value. Obviously by someone who never set foot in Cairo, WV, or attended their long-standing Marble Festival. Id like to conclude by featuring one more outstanding Cairo marble, a favorite of Mike Johnsons and named Hurricane by the Tamulevich team (photo 8 ). Something tells me that Cairos marbles are about to create some turbulence in the world of marbles!

Photo 8:Cairo Novelty Company

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