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Marble Shows 101

By Chris Carrington

The internet has done a lot recently to change the hobby of marble collecting. It used to be that people might not have more than a couple opportunities a year to talk marbles with other collectors. With all the message boards, websites, and online auctions available now, it’s a lot easier to get an education, to meet friends, and to compare notes. Still, there’s nothing like a marble show to satisfy appetites of all sizes. I remember feeling very intimidated before my first show. Knowing what to expect really made the experience one I’ll always treasure.

Most shows consist of one or two days designated for the public “show”, as well as a few days prior to that for “room trading”. Room trading is actually an “open house” that takes place at a hotel, in the rooms of the dealers who’ve come to set up at the show. The hotel will usually have a block of rooms set aside at a discounted rate for the dealers and anyone else who mentions they are there for the show – which may or may not be scheduled at the same location; if it’s not, it’s generally a short distance from there. Room trading is open to anyone who comes early, and is the best part of the experience, in my opinion. No matter how early I go, I still feel like I didn’t have enough time.

When you get to the hotel, you can expect to see a list at the desk of the people who have already arrived, along with their room numbers. Add your name, then ask for a copy if there aren’t already ones available - this will be your “road map”. You’ll see hand-made signs all over the halls and elevators inviting people to come buy, sell, and trade. The dealers who “set up” at the hotel will have their doors open and their wares out, waiting for new and old friends to show.

Prepare to be amazed, and don’t expect to see everything. It would be very easy to spend hours in one room, depending on what the seller has brought, and how talkative they are. Most people are very friendly and very open to helping newcomers. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself and asking lots of questions. You’ll meet lots of very knowledgeable people as well as people who think they are knowledgeable. The hardest part of your job will be to figure out who is who! My advice would be to arrange to meet up with someone you trust if possible, and ask if you can tag along until you get your feet wet. If you have the chance to sit on the sidelines and observe some of the conversations, do that too. Your eyes and ears are your best friends here!

The rooms are never bright enough, so bring a good flashlight and extra batteries. (That is the best advice tip I’ve ever gotten – seriously.) There will usually be marbles displayed all over the beds and dressers – some will be priced, some not. Lots of times there will be bulk marbles priced at $1 or 4/$1, etc. – these are fun to search through for bargains. Most dealers won’t mind if you “touch their stuff”, but I still always ask first. Don’t be afraid to ask what something is, or how much. I’ve been told that sellers expect to barter, but I’m still uncomfortable with that myself. That’s just me though; unless I really feel something is too high, I’ll pay the asking price. However, it’s not an insult to ask a seller to take less, so feel free to ask for a discount, especially if you are buying several items.

Some dealers - as well as other collectors - will also be interested in trading, so bring your “extras”. Most people you meet will be anxious to see what you brought – some are quite pushy about it, in fact! Don’t be afraid to tell people what’s for sale and what is not. Also remember that people bring their best marbles to the shows and are usually looking to take home the same. That’s not to say you can’t bring your less-than-perfect “unknowns” for ID. Just don’t expect to sell or trade anything that’s not in great shape unless it’s really rare.

Speaking of asking for ID help, courtesy is key. During the busy times, it will be hard for dealers to pay attention to their marbles, their sales, and their money while trying to help with questions. Bring all the stuff you want help with, but expect that you might not have time to go through everything. If you’re staying overnight, there’s a good chance you’ll hook up with some night owls who will sit with you after traffic dies down. But otherwise, keep a few of the ones you really want to know about handy, and bring them out as time permits. Don’t be surprised to see them passed around for debate – that’s actually a good sign that you found something good!

Which reminds me….most people are honest, but never forget that there are people who just go to shows looking for opportunities to steal. Don’t leave your box sitting around unattended, and don’t be afraid to let your marbles out one at a time. I also make sure to keep my hands in sight of anyone whose marbles I’m handling just to keep their anxiety levels down.

Some of the shows will have events planned. This can be anything from tours of local factories, speaker events, marble-making demonstrations, organized dinners, post-show auctions, or raffles. These can take place at the hotel, or during the actual show. The show organizers are usually great about making sure people know about these in advance, but it’s good to ask ahead of time so you can plan for them or reserve your spot if necessary.

The shows themselves will vary depending on who’s putting them on. The ones I’ve been to were in a VFW-type room with tables set up around the perimeter. Sometimes they’re really busy in the morning and then people start packing up as things slow down mid-day. Other shows are bustling the whole time with lots of door prizes and games. There will be a variety of contemporary and vintage marbles – some shows are heavier one way or the other. It’s best to research this ahead of time if it will make a difference to you.

Regardless of the show, you’ll be responsible for your own purchasing decisions. I’ve seen a lot of misidentified marbles as well as ones that were polished and ones that were out and out fakes. If you’re going to spend “real” money, be prepared to accept the risk associated with your own level of education.

That said, be prepared to have a great time too! Don’t feel like you have to buy a lot to have a lot of fun. Do expect to make some new friends. Expect to see things you never imagined existed. Expect to learn more than you ever thought there was to know. (Expect to forget more than you learned!) Expect your head to spin. Expect to feel like you never need to see another marble in your life. And then expect to miss it all the minute you get home because no one there will understand you like we understand you!

What are you waiting for? Get your calendar out!!

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