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Old Glass Marbles


Thelma Shull, November, 1941


The origin of the game of marbles is lost in antiquity.  We are certain that the children of Egypt and Rome played at marbles before the Christian Era dawned, but how much further back in history they were used is not known.  Pebbles from the beach and nuts from the trees have been used as marbles when the man-made ones were not available.


They have been manufactured from various materials including agate, marble, limestone, clay, porcelain, wood and glass.  The first hand made glass marbles of record were produced by the Venetian glass blowers.  Later the Bavarian artisans began blowing marbles with spirals of colored glass imbedded in the crystal.


In the nineteenth century, the very large glass marbles were made in Nuremberg, Germany.  This city in the Bavarian Alps, which is called Nurnberg today, was the toy making center of the world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


In 1914, when their activities were curtailed during the war, the United States assumed the leadership in the making of marbles, both glass and clay being made here.  Several glass concerns still make both colored and clear glass marbles as large as one inch in diameter.  The glass marbles made in America have never been over one or one and one-fourth inches in diameter.


The larger marbles with the candy stripes and those with the imprisoned figures were popular as playthings more than fifty years ago.  Some of the lovely old marbles were made of crackle glass.  The older common hard stone marbles were manufactured from stone found in the quarries at Coburg, Saxony.  One large millstone will grind out two thousand marbles in a week.


It is not often that these playthings of another generation can be found without nicks or chips, for these beautiful glass marbles were bought to be played with and often had rough usage.  On many of the larger marbles the gouges in the glass tell us plainly that youthful carpenters in days gone by used their marbles in place of a hammer.


A collection of old marbles need not be kept in the dark recesses of a cabinet.  If they are scattered among the potted plants on the window sill they catch each beam of light and send it sparkling into the room.  I have found that a tiny piece of “tacky wax,” which may be purchased at a photographer’s studio, is the simplest thing to use to fasten the marbles in place.


For the centerpiece on your dining table, try piling these colorful balls in an antique glass bowl, or arrange them on a mirror among rose petals and ferns.  If your indoor fireplace is made of stone with a rough textured finish you can cement the marbles in place at advantageous spots across the top and down the sides.  A pyramid arrangement of tiny shelves over the fireplace can each hold one large marble.

In a garden where the bird bath stands in an important place, the upper edge of it may be gaily decorated with the larger marbles imbedded only a short way in the cement in order to leave as much of the sphere showing as is possible.  In outdoor displays marbles are particularly effective, for their clear brilliance reflects light in a pleasing manner.


The marbles in my collection range in size from tiny striped balls one-third of an inch in across to perfect spheres two and one-fourth inches in diameter.  Imbedded deep within some of these bubbly balls are white objects, usually an animal or bird.  The eagle, patriotic symbol of America, is proudly displayed in one of my largest marbles which measures a full two inches in diameter and six inches in circumference.  One of the striped marbles measure, two and one-fourth inches in diameter.

My menagerie of imprisoned circus friends includes a bear, lion, pig, dog, rooster, squirrel, and sheep.  I have a fish, also.  One of the loveliest marbles has an angel deep within its globular heart; this was a gift from a friend collector.

The candy striped marbles seem to belong in the general display.  The color combinations are of infinite variety and I can never decide which marble is the loveliest or most interesting.


Many of our popular present day games have evolved naturally from the ancient game of marbles.  Among these may be mentioned bagatelle, ten pins, and golf.  Modern games played with marbles are by no means confined to children’s activities.  The popular Chinese Checkers is an example.  Others include Marble Golf, Marble Shuffleboard, and Sidewalk Marble Croquet.  The present production of marbles in this country amounts to millions every year.


These fairy bubbles, made ostensibly for children, seem to be bewitching balls when viewed by adults.  Each one you hold in yor hand foretells in its glass that greater quests are ahead.  The more types you find, the greater the variety you want, but there is no way of knowing their multitude of differences unless you seek them out.  Collecting old marbles is a pastime equally interesting to children or adults. 

Antique Hand Made Marbles

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