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What’s in a name….????

By Mike Adams


After reading the chat boards for the past few years (yes, I am a “lurker”.  But, after seeing how people who supposedly talk to each other regularly over the net choose to treat each other, I have come to the conclusion that it is best to remain on the sidelines.) I have become increasingly confused and concerned by all the fuss over by what name a marble is known or where it came from.


I started collecting marbles in 1984.  Back then, there were handmades and machinemades.  That was pretty much it for machinemades except for bricks, Akro oxbloods, guineas and slags.  How far we have come.  Seems like with every new dig or some other marble find, we are desperate for a name by which to call them. 


The confusing part is that people seem to rush to name each sub class of marble, no matter how minute the difference.  The reasons can be many.  Here are two:

FAME - They want to be the person who named a marble.

FORTUNE - “Everybody” knows a named marble sells for more.


I guess I can understand the fame part.  However, names are usually determined by consensus, not just one person.  Fortune would be relative.  Eye appeal has always been the primary driver for these little gems.  Condition would be the next consideration.  Rarity?  Well, a rare ugly marble is ….an ugly marble.  Hype though, cannot be overstated in a volatile market where there is a mad scramble for a “new” marble.


I have had many marbles in my sale/trade box over the years that, when someone asked “what kind of marble is that?”, I’d answer “it’s a twenty dollar marble”.  If I didn’t know who made it or what to call it, I’d just assign a price based on, you guessed it, eye appeal.  Never had trouble letting those marbles go and usually got a good laugh over them.  I have yet to regret selling or trading one of them for fear of being taken.


What is interesting is how some names have stuck and others haven’t.  Marble collectors use a mix of names that the original companies used and others that were made up along the way. 



When you say “popeye” most collectors know what you are talking about.  However, Akro Agate called them “tri onyx”.  That name was even a play on MF Christensen’s use of the word “onyx” for their marbles we call “slags”… and MFC used it to compare favorably with the German imports.  The same logic applies to the use of moss agate, cornelian and carnelian.  These two companies understood marketing much better than some of those who came after them.


My dad called brown benningtons “walnuts”.  You can understand why when you look at them, but the name never caught on.  Bennington” actually is wrong because it refers to a town in Vermont when most of the “Bennington” marbles were made in Germany.


To my knowledge, there is no evidence that Christensen Agate ever used the name “cobra” or “cyclone”.  My understanding is that both of these names appeared at about the same time due to original boxes having the word “bloodies” or “agate” marked out and a hand written “C” instead.  What did the “C” stand for?  Who knows?


Conversely, there is a classification system for National Line Rainbows (NLR) and Rainbos that came out according to type.  Example:  type 2 NLR vs., type 1.  Although I still see this used from time to time, it never really seemed to catch on.  Superman, Liberty, Rebel and all the rest sure did.  Peltier just called them National Line Rainbows.  As a category, we still do.


Miller was thought to be a classification of NRL that was made on the earliest Peltier machines.  While that has been pretty much debunked, most collectors still refer to swirley NRLs as Millers. (Note: there does seem to be crusade underway to change this, although I‘m not sure why.) 


Akro Agate Imperials are having an identity crisis as well.  First, they were thought to come in a presentation box labeled “Imperials”.  That has been determined to be incorrect.  So what?  Akro didn’t use the names “Popeye” or “oxblood” for their marbles either.  Do those get thrown out as well?  We now know “Imperial” is a collector name, not a company name


Marble King.  Now there’s a company with more names given to its marbles than you can count.  Some of them by the company, most not.


And the best for last.  Vitro Agate.  First, there were blackies, whities, all reds, yellow jackets, conquerors and victorys, (named by the company). Then collectors came up with “parrots”, “parakeets”, “buttermilks”, “aquamarines” and the old stand by “mystery patches” became “superiors”.  But then something happened that really has not been all that unusual in marble collecting.  Somebody found the old company brochures and records.  Suddenly, “parakeets” were “tiger eyes“.  Oops.  That’s the collector name of a particular Master Made Marble sunset, isn’t it?  Ironically, within the present day marble collecting community the term “elite” had become in vogue for colorful older style Vitro marbles.  Sounds a lot like “du-lite and “tri-lite” (from the company records) doesn’t it?  Talk about coincidence!  Pre-Vienna vs. post-Vienna (the fire, of course) production gained new meaning.


So….let the discussion begin.  Do you use the collector term or the company term for the style of marble?   Marble companies made toys for children, not pocket watches.  Pocket watches were intended to last for generations. Their records are for the most part meticulous.  Marbles, on the other hand, were playthings that were lost, broken or thrown away in the span of a season.  There just isn’t that much to go on.  We haven’t found all the original records yet.  Maybe we never will.  That still leaves a lot to figure out.


Now to what has me concerned.  When these type of issues arose in the past (popeyes vs. tri onyx) they seemed to sort themselves out by consensus as to what was the most popular name to use.  I’m sure there were some ruffled feathers but the point is: it ended without too much bloodshed.  Maybe it’s the advent of the Internet and the ability to instantly communicate one’s thoughts but, it sure seems like there is a lot of animosity over things like “naming a marble”, or a certain marble’s authenticity…the list goes on.  As long as the discussion, human and electronic, remains on subject I believe it has merit.  I and my friends do this on a regular basis.  The key is, we remain friends.  We disagree from time to time, but we don’t personally attack each other over it.  Maybe it’s because a computer screen cannot give you the inflection in a person’s voice or the look in their eyes, but the behavior I’ve seen has degraded with others taking sides and then the discussions seem to take a nasty turn.  People’s names who aren’t involved are dragged in as “experts”.  “Who was where“, “who’s friends with who”…and on it goes.  “Where’s the cullet?” has replaced “Where’s the Beef?”  Never have quite seen the logic in that one.  Ever seen Peltier green galaxy cullet?  Is anybody questioning their authenticity?  “Where’s the same run marbles?”  I’ve seen numerous singular examples of cobras and guineas.  Nobody has questioned them.  All this over the name of a marble or where a marble originated from.


Maybe it has something to do with people not wanting to be cheated out of their good marbles.  Maybe it has something to do with wanting to get in on the ground floor and clean up.  Or maybe it is trying to find a standard you can trust e.g. a name or provenance, in order to “buy with confidence” without being duped.  Well, marble collecting isn’t all that precise.  It gets complicated when you have:

1.      Marble companies playing off of other marble companies or German import names.

2.      Marble companies packaging or selling another company’s marbles or having sketchy

      written records.

3.      New discoveries of marble advertising, company records, digs and other information.

4.      Experimental runs.  Remember the 1 ¼” blue and orange corkscrews on the front of the
                  Akro Agate book?  Akro’s size charts don’t even show a 1 ¼” marble.

5.      Marble collectors racing to see who can “name that marble”


I don’t believe you should try to apply science to an imprecise science such as marble making.  Rather, just maybe remembering why you got into this hobby in the first place would help.  I have seen people who are out for a quick buck or power trip come and go.  I wasn‘t sorry to see them move on either.  Most people I talk with like marbles as much as I do and know enough to realize they don’t know everything there is to know either.  We enjoy each other’s collections; not covet or envy them.  The pursuit of learning something new about a marble company remains exciting.  In 2005 I saw three original boxes that, to my knowledge, had never been seen before.   All in a space of two months!!  Testing your theories out on each other should not be cause for concern of being attacked or ridiculed.  Of course, being respectful and open to alternative views when you share them is the first step.


Along the way, we may find out that some of our original conclusions weren’t quite correct or just completely wrong.  That is cause for a laugh, not a public lynching.  This is supposed to be fun.


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