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Has Rich Maxwell Lost His Marbles?

The Best Times Magazine

Lynn Anderson

December 7th, 2012


Rich Maxwell


Has Rich Maxwell lost his marbles?

Well, in the literal sense of that question, the answer is clearly no. You'll see that through the colorful photos in this profile.

But in the figurative sense, an onlooker might wonder. A hobby that didn't begin until he was 52 has turned into a near-obsession. His loving wife, Lynn Maxwell, says with a broad smile, "When he talks about marbles, he salivates!"

Here is the story of a marble-hound, with some trivia about marbles shot in for good measure.

Richard Dean Maxwell, 65, has been fascinated with marbles since his childhood in the rural town of Whiting, Kan. There his boyhood playmate Larry Patterson taught him the "ringer" marble game during school recesses.

His mother worked in a garment factory, his dad with the state highway department. He was a middle child with two sisters.

Maxwell earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Kansas State University, then a master's in urban education from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo. For some time he taught elementary-level students in urban schools and 3-year-olds in a Head Start program.

"I used to work with kids and loved it, so I love working with kids now in the realm of marbles," he said.

Like many baby boomers, Maxwell has had several careers. After teaching, he detoured into the sale of horizontal directional drilling equipment—particularly for laying cable.

"I got in on the ground floor in 1989 in Newton, Kan., and we built a company from a staff of 16 to 100," Maxwell said.

Next was a five-year stint at fundraising for faith-based non-profit organizations, including Presbyterian Children's Services and a child abuse coalition. Maxwell also spent seven years partnering with his father-in-law, building a trash collection company from 300 customers to a thriving 20,000.

"We were entrepreneurs," Maxwell recalls. "And that's when I learned I was a marketing guy at heart."

That vast variety of work occurred during Maxwell's first marriage, when he lived in Wichita, Kan., for 21 years. He and his first wife had three sons and a daughter.

For many years, Maxwell has also been a writer, with more than 80 articles and reports published in trade journals such asTransmission and Distribution World magazine. For that writing gig he learned the finer points of the equipment that linemen rely on: rubber gloves, harnesses, bolts, excavators. And he grew to have an abiding respect for the profession.

"Those are incredible guys," Maxwell said of linemen. "They're on call for emergencies and they can work a storm for a couple of weeks with almost no sleep."

Semi-retired, he now lives in Shawnee with Lynn, where he continues to write and is a charismatic public speaker. His favorite topics include discovering one's passion and … marbles!

How they rolled into his life

About a dozen years ago, Maxwell's passion for marble collecting was ignited when Lynn gave him a book about rare marbles for his 52nd birthday. He's a proficient workaholic, and she had hoped to lure him into this hobby (he had none).
Until then, although he had toyed with marbles as a kid, Maxwell hadn't focused on them.

"My stepdad had some jars of marbles, and when he died I kept some of them," Maxwell said. "But they just sat around. I thought marbles were just marbles."

At that point, he didn't know that a certain sort of personcollects marbles.

"Now I'll go just about anywhere to chase them," he said.

After he received the book from his wife, Maxwell started looking for marbles at estate sales. Sometimes he'll call ahead to see whether marbles will be among the treasures presented. He'll show up an hour before a sale to scope out the marble offerings.

"Old marbles are the first things to go at estate sales," Maxwell said. "They're hard to find, and a real prize."

He has driven to Nebraska, the St. Louis area, and small towns in Kansas to attend sales. Lynn, who has an eye for vintage glass bottles and unique ways to display marbles, is often his sidekick.

Has his marble collecting become a passion? Judge for yourself:

"Their very names and characteristics set me on fire," Maxwell said. "I've never seen a marble that isn't beautiful."

In his early years as a collector, Maxwell felt intimidated by the endless variety of marbles available, the intensity and single-mindedness of other collectors, and how much he needed to learn. But from a complete novice, he has turned into the guy who wrote the book on marble collecting for beginners.

When appraising marbles, which he does for free, Maxwell has learned the historic time in which each was made and how the glass workers designed the ribbon patterns and colors. One of his favorite places to identify marbles is a Web site, And yet he's still learning.
"Just yesterday I saw two types of marbles I'd never seen before," Maxwell said.

Rites and rituals of a collector

Maxwell spends endless hours categorizing, storing, and displaying his marbles. Marbles are everywhere in the couple's Shawnee home—in glass jars in the kitchen, on tables in the screened porch, in cases of glass and wood in Maxwell's hobby room.

Some are common, assembly-line marbles like the cat's eyes from Japan that took over the world in the 1950s. Others are antiques, including clay and German swirl marbles from the 19th century. Still others are one-of-a-kind works of art that would make a jeweler at Tiffany's swoon.

Because he has a creative flair, Maxwell's displays are unique. Some are beautiful hand-crafted wooden boxes lined in velvet or felt, replicas of the traveling cases marble salesmen used in the early 20th century. He likes to admire marbles in the displays, but even more he likes to handle them.

"I love to sit in our screened porch in the early daylight," he said, "sorting and admiring marbles I've just bought at an estate sale. Some even fluoresce, so they light up under a black light."

Maxwell admits that he looks at and touches marbles every day, keeps some by the bed, scans sale ads for himself and friends, and attends at least one estate sale every week.

Why do collectors of marbles do it?

"Most do it for the love of the marbles," says Maxwell. "For others it's about money. You can tell the difference right away when you talk to someone."

He's in the love-of-it category.

"I've never sold a marble, and I never will," he said. "The minute you start selling, it's a whole different world. There's a guy in town who has 22 marbles for sale on eBay right now. I won't do that. I love marbles, and I want more, but I couldn't sell them."

He believes that when collectors sell, the hunt for new marbles starts to be about dollars rather than artistry, history, or simple fun.

Learning about marbles means weaving pieces of history and science, and that fascinates Maxwell, too. For instance, a person could spend a lifetime studying the colors of glass marbles. In the earlier heyday of marbles, colorations and formulas were so important to manufacturers that they would conspire to lure the best glass chemists away from each other.

Some took their secret color formulas to their graves.

A marble collector can spend a small fortune on the hobby or keep it simple.

"I know people who stop at every antique store they come across, and will let themselves spend just $10 or $15 there," Maxwell said.

They're the people who can restrain their impulses. The temptation to spring big for unusual marbles is strong, though.
"The most I've ever spent for a collection of marbles is $400," Maxwell said.

He urges collectors to join a club or build relationships with other collectors, for both fellowship and education. He guesses there are about 20 marble clubs nationwide, with 12 to 14 marble shows each year.

He gives great credit to his own mentors, including Scott McBride, president of the Kansas City Marble Collectors Club, who specializes in handmade marbles (whereas Maxwell's focus is marbles made by machine before 1940). He is also indebted to Bruce Breslow, of Moon Marble, who encouraged Maxwell to write about marbles.

Maxwell sums it up this way:

"In marble collecting, you get a tribe around you that loves marbles."

Marble trivia from Rich Maxwell

Start collecting today!

Rich Maxwell is a member of the Kansas City Writer's Group, Write Brain ePublishers, and the Johnson County Library Foundation Board. Between Maxwell's four children and Lynn's two, they enjoy the blessing of five grandchildren—and he's turning them all into marble fans, even though it's tough going."

I'm competing with electronic games, computers, and Wii," he said. "But the kids do like to roll marbles down a PVC pipe or a Hot Wheels track!"

If grandparents like the idea of introducing their grandchildren to marbles, Maxwell suggests a visit to the Marble Room at the Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City, Mo., home to the largest collection of marbles anywhere; taking them to a marble show; or scheduling a field trip to Moon Marble in Bonner Springs.

Help your grandchildren purchase a few, and help them learn to sort—by color, by smooth or bumpy, by glass or clay, etc.
Maxwell lives with diabetes, but he is "keeping the wolves away" by running four days a week and staying very active. For his 50th birthday, he ran a half-marathon in Austin, Texas.

At the time of our interview, Maxwell was working on his next book—about the five most common marble games, complete with illustrations. He hopes to publish it in both Spanish and English.

Sources: Some quotes were taken from an interview that Rich Maxwell gave on KCUR-FM radio on June 19.




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