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Those JABOs

By Mike Adams


Well, I’ve been lurking on the chat boards again.  All I can say is, I’m glad those folks are the ‘friends' they profess to be.  Otherwise, there might be bloodshed.  Good Lord.


An old theme has taken on a new, if not all that surprising, twist. The newer commemorative JABO runs caused quite a stir when they first began, Notice they haven’t stopped.  All the initial uproar seemed to be settling into a predictable curve until some of the JABOs from the later runs started looking a lot like vintage marbles from the 20s and 30s.  All I can say is, since they were using oxblood, who didn’t see that coming?  Once the marbles leave the factory, their provenance can easily get lost it’s then that they can be intentionally and unintentionally represented as vintage.  Please notice that I said after they leave the factory.  More on that later.  When even experienced collectors are fooled, it’s time to become concerned.


As usual, there are two, or more, sides to the story.  This time around, folks seem to be talking past one another to make their point.  They seem to prefer to land personal jabs or make infinitesimal points instead of addressing the opposing view.  Pro or con, both engage in it.  It’s like watching a political debate.  So much for electronic discourse.


The concern is being raised that the newer runs are starting to closely resemble some vintage marbles.  Too close for some.  That can have unintentional consequences, and before anyone feels they need to rise up in defense of their friends, most of us, including myself are willing to accept that it is unintentional.  At least initially.  But once the consequences have manifested themselves, it seems reasonable to request the ones making the marbles to respond in a positive manner that takes into account the concerns of the collecting public at large.


“We’re just trying to make a pretty marble” is not a response.  Two reasons.  First, why would anybody want to make a marble that isn’t pretty?  They’re not technical marvels by any means.  Second, it assumes that today’s marble making ventures are occurring in a vacuum.  They aren’t.  Machine marble making has been around for decades.  Most, if not all, of the principals involved in the runs are experienced collectors.  Some are considered experts in their individual fields.  This is a well beaten down path with a lot of knowledge and experience going into each run.  Granted a lot is learned or rediscovered with each successive run, but this is by no means unplowed ground.  Experience of that level is not naïve.  One would hope they would see beyond the excitement of learning and what they have achieved.


Once again, I contend that the resemblance of the newer JABOs to some vintage marbles is unintentional.  However, their manufacture is occurring in the context of an era where high end collectibles (pick a category) are routinely copied or counterfeited in an intentional effort to deceive.  Despite the best intentions of Dave McCullough and Co., it kind of puts JABO in a bad light if the ones involved with the new runs see the results of their efforts and choose not to acknowledge the concerns after the marbles are out the door.  If your efforts are supplying the marbles, you can’t just turn a blind eye to the potential for misrepresentation and depend on “Caveat Emptor”.  We all need to educate ourselves, but new collectors aren’t going to flock to our hobby if all the lessons they learn are via the hard way.  If there are means to reduce misrepresentation, i.e., not using glass that resembles vintage marbles or at least keeping them out of circulation if they are accidentally made, then maybe the makers should consider those options.  At least most vintage collectors would hope that they would.  Choosing not to address the known concerns has implications as well. 


Looking at this from another angle; if you take the “but for” approach, the answer would look something like this:  But for the creation of new marbles that resemble higher end vintage marbles, there would be no controversy or potential for misidentification.  At the very least, it would be drastically reduced.  It’s as simple as that. 


This is JABO’s contribution.  They made the marbles.  They chose the glass.  They chose the settings on the machines.  Whether or not they’re trying to make a pretty marble is beside the point.  Whether they were trying to learn or re-discover something new is beside the point.  And whether it was unintentional or not is beside the point.  What matters is the result.   Nobody would care if the result was a blech marble.  We would all just chalk it up to the price of learning.  Instead, the result is a marble that resembles a higher end vintage marble so closely, that it can even fool an experienced collector.  That fact alone should give anyone pause and compel them to consider the implications.  These types of results are what cause collateral damage to collectors who don’t collect JABO’s.  Notice I didn’t say collectors who don’t like JABOS which is a distinctly different sub group.


So, what do you do if you unintentionally open Pandora’s Box and create Frankenstein while trying to discover the essence of life? (Yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors but you get the idea.)  Well you for sure don’t let it go rampaging across the countryside and you don’t repeat the mistake.  The townspeople shouldn’t chase you with pitchforks either and threaten to storm the castle.


Now for those townspeople.  Criticism is always best accepted from someone you trust.  You know that person at least has your best interests at heart.  We should all be free to offer our opinion, but sometimes it’s best to get off the subject when the conversation diverges from the initial point.  Or at least find an intermediary that can make your point without all the baggage.  This is one of the reasons I lurk instead of post. Over 90% of the marble collecting  people I know don’t post either.  Thread jacking, personal attacks, call it what you want, but I wish that when two or more people disagree that strongly, they’d just take it off line and deal with each other without all the drama and puffery.  Yes, I said puffery.  You add in the ones who are defending their friends and it becomes a trip through the swamp.  Hot, smelly, self deflating and in no way about marbles.


I’ve written before that I felt that this phenomenon at JABO would eventually run its course.  I still believe that after reading from some that the patterns are starting to look the same, the colors aren’t all that original, etc.  Personally, I believe with the talent and palette of color at JABO’s disposal, there are still a number of directions to explore.  Look no further than contemporary handmades if you want verification.  But like the respect most contemporary artists have shown for the German handmades, there needs to be respect for the work done by the great American marble companies of the 20th century.  Historically, when that respect has been compromised, the backlash has been severe for those involved. 


If we just duplicate what has already been accomplished, we cheapen that effort just as some attempt to cheapen the efforts at JABO when they break new ground.  Imitation is not always the most sincere form of flattery.


Finally, people talk a lot about learning.  O.K.  So what have we learned?  Well, for one thing, oxblood is difficult to make and even harder to control.  It wasn’t any easier in the 20th century than it is in the 21st either.  Just line up a few M.F. Christensen bricks or Akro Agate oxbloods and tell me the differences in texture and richness of oxblood you see.  It can be striking.  But as difficult as oxblood is, other vintage colors may not prove to be as difficult to manage.  That line of reasoning and its extensions have implications for established marble collecting categories.


Second, if you stay up late at night during one of the marathon runs at JABO, you just might re-discover how some patterns were achieved on early 20th century marbles.  It stands to reason that the more opportunities you have to tinker with the equipment and colors, the closer your end results may come to mimicking the marbles your grandfather played with.  It can be a happy unexpected surprise that happens when you try the “let’s just see what happens if we do this” approach.  But the knowledge learned can also be sobering when you consider the implications.  Knowledge for knowledge sake is wonderful.  It’s the application of it that can sometimes take you places you didn’t want to go.


In closing, a lady who was wise beyond her years once told me, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”  We should all think before we act, whether it’s with hot glass or our fingers on the keys.


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