Marble Pictures


Manufacturers Information Pages

Marble Articles
Marble Shows
Buy/Sell Marbles

Marble Photography
Marble Games




By Mike Adams


Can it only be since June of 2008 that all this has come to pass?  The marble collecting community saw for the first time a successful, concerted and legitimate effort by motivated individuals to create a modern machine made marble that would have immediate collectability.  Yes.  There are toy marbles still being made today in the U.S.A. and other countries.  Yes.  There have been other special or dedicated runs made in the past.  But there can be no denying that this was different.  If for no other reason than the attention it has garnered at marble shows, on the Internet chat rooms and conversations between collectors.


First and foremost: these are truly beautiful marbles. The quality of the glass, with liberal use of red, aventurine and oxblood, has resulted in outstanding combinations of color and pattern.  Even if you do not collect machine made marbles there would be a consensus:  These are not your run of the mill Jabos.


Instead the questions seem to center around:

  What are the motivations of those who commissioned them?

  What place do they have in the in the marble collecting community?

  What happens next?

  What is a fair price?

  Has marble collecting been changed….for the better?


What are the motivations of those who commissioned them? 

I may be over simplifying this but I believe most of them wanted to make the marbles just to see what would happen.  And if the marbles turned out half way decent, sell a few to recoup the investment and make a profit.  I’m sure there were those who just wanted to actually watch the machines run with molten glass and see, feel, hear, smell the experience.  Who among us wouldn’t?  After all, success was not guaranteed by any means and the initial investment was not relatively cheap.


What place do they have in the in the marble collecting community?

This is a question that will take a few years to accurately determine. After all, the closest event to compare it to was the proliferation of contemporary artists making handmade marbles one at a time.  Some of these artists languish while others, Mark Matthews chief among them, have risen to distinction.  If memory serves, this did not happen over night either.  Time as much as the quality of the marbles themselves has determined which artists are collectible.


What happens next?

With the initial financial success of the first run, it should come as no surprise that there have been subsequent runs and will continue to be so until the initial newness of commissioning and naming your own special run concludes its course or there is a glut on the market.  Whether at Jabo or somewhere else, someone will attempt to capitalize while marbles made for pennies continue to fetch dollars.  Maybe it will be with a different combination of colors or materials but it will happen.  The potential for profit is just too great.


What is a fair price?

This seems to be one of the cruxes of the discussion.  The obvious answer is; what someone is willing to pay.  These colorful orbs do not have any greater or lesser intrinsic value than the older German made or early American made marbles do.  Their value lies in what we crazy collectors are willing to pay.


Which brings up an interesting point.  How many times have you seen a marble skyrocket in price literally overnight because of hype or belief that it is somehow unique?  In twenty five years, I’ve been able to witness it with just about every machine made type price spike increase.  I’ve also seen those values come crashing down when a marble is not what we thought it was.  Circus Christensen’s and Leightons come to mind.  Or when someone digs at the plant site.  Look at Marble King.  There can be any number of reasons why a marble falls out of favor.


If you forget about all the hype of today and objectively look at the historical track record of enterprises such as this, it is foolish not to have some concern.  These marbles were not made as toys.  Putting a few of the lesser ones in bags and selling or giving them away will not change that fact.  When the people who set up row upon row of bubble packs at shows dump all those marbles into bags and sell them at Wal Mart, I’ll change my mind.  Not before. 


The history of items made for the collector market is mixed.  Ertle Precision farm implements have escalated in price while Norman Rockwell plates go nowhere.  Why?  Somewhat due to the quality of the item but it also has to do with the connectivity that the collector feels when they handle the piece.  Jokers have a great connectivity factor in their eye appeal and being made in the cradle of marbledom.  Some of their descendants may not.


But if or when a marble type “cools off” in price, someone will get stuck paying more than they can sell the marble for.  It’s called the end of a feeding frenzy.  Yes.  We hear the purist give the, “You should collect what you like and not as an investment” argument.  There’s also the, “It’s my money and I’ll spend it how I please.”  While I agree with both concepts, they only go so far.  Most collectors are on a limited budget.  Our spouses wouldn’t have it any other way.  If you feel you are continually over paying for marbles, you will quickly become frustrated with the hobby and move on to something else.  That’s not to say we all don’t have overpriced marbles in our collections.  We all over pay from time to time, (ever been to an auction?) but it is when we feel the market is being manipulated that we feel cheated.  Limited runs have a great potential for manipulation.  Vintage marbles can also experience the same manipulation and have from time to time.  But the manipulation of vintage marbles is not as easily controlled as it is to control the limited runs.  The volume of the vintage marble production run isn’t a known quantity by those who might seek to manipulate the amount of marbles on the market.  With limited runs, it is.


Couple that with the fact that one of the principals in the Joker run is a self proclaimed non collector.  Personally, I have no problem with that.  More mature collecting categories than ours have had pickers for decades.  We need people who are out there beating the bushes to bring more marbles into the hobby.  If they are not adding to their personal collections, so much the more opportunity to buy.  But being a non collector exposes your only true motive as profit.  Although irrational when you think about it, on the surface it says that the person does not care for the health of the hobby.  My response to this statement is, why would someone kill off their source of income by being greedy?  I guess if the person is only out to make a quick buck and doesn’t care if they kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, then an argument could be made that they care not for the hobby and will just move on to selling something else. 


One thing for sure.  Money taken in by a non collector is by definition taken out of the hobby.  There is no true re-investment beyond their inventory.  More on that later.


Then, you come back to the hype.  These marbles were over hyped.  They didn’t need it.  They stand on their own merit.  They have the hat trick of red, oxblood and aventurine.  Again, walk into one of those rooms at a show where they cover the bed and see what jumps out at you.  They would have been better off without the hype.  A lot of the early buyers were speculators or someone wanting to get an example before they were all gone  (no one was certain there would be more special runs).  How many times has a new/ old stock find surfaced only to be sucked up by the collecting community?  If you hesitate, you miss out.  Since no one actually knew initially at first how many there were, it created a bit of a frenzy.  The frenzy is what sent the prices soaring, not the quality of the marbles.


It didn’t help when the ones who were hyping the marbles actually became financially involved in their success.  No matter how good of a person you are, your motives are going to be challenged under those circumstances.  Everybody at some point “talks up” their marbles to some extent.  But this went beyond that.  Older collectors had questions and cast a doubtful eye toward these “Made for collector” marbles that were fetching such high prices.  Again, history teaches that anything that rises that fast in price is a bubble waiting burst.  The proof is in the results for the “made for collector” markets.  (Got any Beanie Babies at home?)


The shrill defense of the Jokers and those involved in making them only cast greater doubt.  Then the whole conversation about them disintegrated.  When arguments made in a discussion pivot on the King’s English to make a point, you have become truly lost.  It’s not about marbles anymore.  And the other person knows it.


So, motives were challenged from trying to drive the price down, to dismissing people who actually really like these marbles, to envy at not being included from the start.  Then came the counter accusations that people were just in it for the money, to manipulation of the market, to shill bidding on E bay.  Let me say that some of the lesser of these accusations are probably true for some people on some level. But it became a back and forth argument rather than the “If you don’t want them, walk away.”  And that takes us to the last point.


Has marble collecting been changed….for the better?

Has it been changed?   I believe it has.  Just as when the contemporary hand mades were first introduced, there was a lot of concern.  And back then, there was no Internet like today.  Conversations took place face to face or on the telephone.  You didn’t have the scrums that take place in the chat rooms.


There’s a new category that is akin to the contemporary hand made.  (those weren’t made to be played with either.)  but, with all due respect to David McCullough, it does not rise to the artistry of a Mark Matthews marble.  Or rarity for that matter.  These runs seem to be more commemorative in nature than anything else.  They all have names.  Even sub family names for each run.  You would think the names have trademark infringement rights by the reactions of some.  Named marbles “always” sell for more. Right?  What other motive besides profit drives that type of behavior? 


Guess what?  Names get reused.  You don’t have to look any farther than Akro Agate and Peltier Supermen to understand that, although confusing for the beginning collector, the same name sometimes gets used for different marbles.  And nobody dies from it happening either.    


The people associated with the run now seem as important as the run itself.  Add in the relatively large amount of investment/profit on the line and the faux prestige that is affixed to “being there when the marbles are being made“, and it tends to get personal. 


Although there is great enthusiasm among the principals each time there is a gathering at Jabo for a run, the novelty for those on the sidelines has worn off.  From the outside, it looks like a bunch of folks getting together to have a good time.  I’m sure it is.  But so is a trip to the beach.  It is starting to appear to be like buying your ticket (whatever the buy in price to attend a run is these days) in order to have the experience (being there when marbles are actually being made)  and getting a few marbles to take home (like picking up seashells off the beach) as souvenirs of your experience.  This should not be construed in any way as minimizing the experience for those who attend the runs.  I love to go to the beach.  


I might say here that there can be a bit of elitism that is unintentionally projected since most marble collectors aren’t invited to attend the runs or don’t have the funds or the connections to participate.  Some of the principals may see this as jealously but there has been a fair amount of arrogance shown by some attendees as well.  Not by all parties to be sure, but enough that it turns off some people.  With the future runs stacked like box cars, you can understand how some grow tired of hearing how great it was to be there.   It probably is great to be there but some people don’t want to necessarily hear how “great it was” and “these are the best yet” for the twentieth odd time…and counting. 


There are those who are genuinely concerned that the hobby is being manipulated and inexperienced collectors may be getting the worst of it.  That can have long term consequences for all of us.  If new collectors drop out due to the impression that they re being manipulated, there is no one to replace collectors who leave the hobby for one reason or another.  Especially the low end to mid market collectors. 


The difficult part in all this is you can’t predict the price will fall anymore than you can believe the claims of some that these marbles will only go up in price. If you could, Wall Street is the place for you, not marbles.


I do believe that they divert a beginning collector’s funds from the low end vintage and antique marbles.  I was a beginner at one time and had very limited funds.  But I can assure you I tried to get the best value for every extra dollar I had.  You may believe that it is sour grapes, but I can understand why dealer/collectors who have low end marbles to sell are a bit miffed by these special runs.  It really is no different than what the rise of collecting machine mades did to low end hand mades.  They are competing on the most part for the same collector dollar and let’s face it, funds are tight. 


This also has an unintended detrimental effect on shows.  The majority of money taken in at shows by these marbles does not find its way back into the market.  If this continues, you will see fewer low end or part time dealer/collectors set up if there are not buyers for their marbles.  There is a finite amount of money at a show and if it does not continue to circulate, the bottom feeders will be the first to drop out.  These people are really the heart and soul of any show.  That may not matter to the Internet crowd but it is very upsetting if you like the shows.  Marble shows have always been about more than marbles.  Just stay up late at night and trade stories in someone’s room.  But the core of a show is being able to find marbles to add to your collection.  If people on a limited budget drop out because they can‘t sell enough to make expenses and buy a few new pieces, it makes it all the more difficult for shows to survive.  If the focus of a show is contemporaries and commemoratives, well…. just stop by an antique mall near you that has allowed in non antiques and you can guess the rest.


It seems unfair to say that those who don’t care for the special run Jabos are trying to drive their price down.  I have Mark Matthews marbles.  I don’t collect them.  Same is true for these new Jabo marbles.  There are a number of sub categories in marbles that I don’t actively collect.  I’m not trying to drive the price of them down.  I would just rather have other marbles.  So, not actively supporting the Jokers and their descendants does not mean you automatically have an agenda.  Some people collect because of the association to their childhood or the fact that marbles have a history as toys.  Some collect because of the intricate and boundless color/pattern combinations they come in.  Some collect just because they are round.  We should all understand that what we see in them may not be what others see.  And just leave it at that.  These Jabos will develop into their own sub category and the prices will eventually stabilize.


If you go out on E bay this seems to already be underway.  These marbles have started to show a “leveling out” of prices.  The more attractive ones still command top dollar as they probably should, but the more common ones are coming down in price.  Again, it’s the good ole American free market system - supply and demand.  


So, will all this change the hobby for the better?  Well, it certainly has generated a lot of talk among collectors.  And when that has remained civil, I believe it is positive.  I have met new collectors who are excited about the Jokers, et al.  That’s good too.  But I don’t buy the argument that beginners can start out with these and graduate to the vintage marbles someday.  History doesn’t support it either.  I am a generalist marble collector and I can tell you I am in a distinct minority.  Most collectors are specialist even down to a certain company or marble type.  You see very few collectors shift from, say machine mades to hand mades. While they may have examples, they don’t actively collect other sub categories.


Where I believe the hobby has suffered are the toxic discussions that become personal.  I have first hand witnessed damaged relationships between long time friends.  People whose friendship extends beyond marbles.  I can’t see how that’s positive.  I can’t say to them “Just get over it.” either.  Maybe the Internet isn’t such a good thing if people cannot find a way to remain civil when they disagree. 


My approach to this hobby is that it should be fun.  It’s hard to have fun when you are feeling disrespected.  Respect means not having to defend a phantom motive someone has affixed to you.  Pro or con.  If you respect that others may disagree.  If you accept that for short periods of time there will be fads that, by definition, run their course.  If you find from time to time you are in the minority and not try to defend every point as if it is your last.  Then this is fun.



Home    E-Mail    Marble Pictures    Manufacturer Information    Marble Articles
Marble Shows    Marble Photography    Marble Games    Marble Links 
Buy/Sell Marbles