Marble (toy)

"Marbles" redirects here. For other uses, see Marbles (disambiguation).
Marbles of different sizes and types

A marble is a small spherical toy often made from glass, clay, steel, plastic or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about 1 cm (12 in) in diameter, but they may range from less than 1 mm (130 in) to over 8 cm (3 in), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 30 cm (12 in) wide. Marbles can be used for a variety of games called marbles. They are often collected, both for nostalgia and for their aesthetic colors. In the North of England the objects and the game are called "taws", with larger taws being called bottle washers after the use of a marble in Codd-neck bottles.


Roman children playing with nuts, child sarcophagi circa 270-300. Museum Pio Clementino, Vatican
Game of Marbles, Karol D. Witkowski

Various balls of stone were found on excavation near Mohenjo-daro.[1] Marbles are also often mentioned in Roman literature, like Ovid's poem Nux about nuts playing and there are many examples of marbles from Chaldeans of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. They were commonly made of clay, stone or glass.

Marbles were first manufactured in Germany in the 1800s. The game has become popular throughout the U.S. and other countries.[2]

Ceramic marbles entered inexpensive mass production in the 1870s.

A German glassblower invented marble scissors in 1846, a device for making marbles.[3] The first mass-produced toy marbles (clay) made in the U.S. were made in Akron, Ohio, by S. C. Dyke, in the early 1890s. Some of the first U.S.-produced glass marbles were also made in Akron, by James Harvey Leighton. In 1903, Martin Frederick Christensen—also of Akron, Ohio—made the first machine-made glass marbles on his patented machine. His company, The M. F. Christensen & Son Co., manufactured millions of toy and industrial glass marbles until they ceased operations in 1917. The next U.S. company to enter the glass marble market was Akro Agate. This company was started by Akronites in 1911, but was located in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Today, there are only two American-based toy marble manufacturers: Jabo Vitro in Reno, Ohio, and Marble King, in Paden City, West Virginia.

Marbles games

In Australia, games were played with marbles of different sizes. The smallest and most common was about 15 mm (58 in) in diameter. The two larger, more valuable sizes were referred to as semi-bowlers and tom-bowlers, being about 20 mm (34 in) and 25 mm (1 in) in diameter respectively. They were used in much the same way as ordinary marbles, although sometimes they would be declared invalid because of the advantage of their larger mass and inertia. Owners of large marbles were also afraid to use them lest they be lost to another player as "keepsies". They were usually of the clear "cat's eye" or milk glass type, just bigger.

"Firing" a marble meant that a player had to flick his/her marble from a stationary position of his hand. No part of the hand firing the marble was permitted to be in front of the position where the marble had been resting on the ground. Using that hand, (s)he would flick or fire the marble from his/her hand, usually with the knuckle on the back of his/her hand resting on the ground, and usually using the thumb of that hand to do so. All shots of the game were conducted in this manner throughout except the very initial pitch towards the bunny hole that commenced the game.

Once a player was able to land his/her marble within the hole, (s)he would immediately then fire his marble at his opponents' marbles. However, if any player hit another player's marble before his/her own marble had been to 'visit' the bunny hole, the act would be referred to as "a kiss"; the game would be over, and all or both players (in the case of two players only) would have to retreat back to the starting line to re-commence the game, without result. This, of course, could be quite annoying or frustrating if a player had already built up quite a few hits on another player's marble! So, most skilled players did not resort to this kind of tactic.

The overall aim was to hit a particular marble 3 times after getting into the hole, then you had to "run away", before the final contact shot was allowed to be played - which was called "the kill". Once a player made a kill on another marble, if the game was 'for keeps', (s)he would then get to keep the marble [bunny] (s)he had 'killed'. The format of playing this game was that each time you successfully hit another player's marble, you were to have another shot - even if it was not the marble you had originally intended to hit.

Of course, the ploy was to hit the particular opponent marble 3 times, and then 'run away' to the bunny hole, because once you rested the marble into the hole, you immediately had your shot again, thus leaving no opportunity at all for your opponent to retreat his/her marble before "the Kill" was made on it.

In Uganda, a popular marbles game is called dool. It requires a small pit dug in the ground for two or more players, each with his own marble. To improvise, Ugandans also use the seeds of a candlenut tree, locally referred to as Kabakanjagala[4] (The King loves me). To start a game, a throwing line is drawn on the ground using chalk or a stick about a meter (or some feet) from the pit. Then the players roll their marbles close to the pit. The one whose marble falls in gets points equivalent to one game. If a second marble falls in and hits the first, a player gets more points than the previous player, but all have to return to the throwing line. When no marble falls in, the player whose marble rolls closest to the pit starts the firing session. When he misses, the next opponent fires. You can only fire 24 consecutive times per turn earning one point for each hit. But all that time, a player must make sure the gap between the marbles is bigger than two stretches of the hand. If an opponent realises that it isn't, then he can make a call, pick his marble and place it anywhere. When a player is targeting a marble placed near the hole, he must avoid knocking it into the hole or else give away an advantage. There are various rules for dool but the player with the most points wins. Favoured fingers include the middle finger for blasting strength and small finger for accurate long distance target.

World championship

The British and World Marbles Championship has been held at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England, every year since 1932.[5][6][7] (Marbles has been played in Tinsley Green and the surrounding area for many centuries:[5][8] TIME magazine traces its origins to 1588.[9]) Traditionally, the marbles-playing season started on Ash Wednesday and lasted until midday on Good Friday: playing after that brought bad luck.[6] More than 20 teams from around the world take part in the championship, each Good Friday; German teams have been successful several times since 2000,[5][8][10] although local teams from Crawley, Copthorne and other Sussex and Surrey villages often take part as well;[5][9][11] the first championship in 1932 was won by Ellen Geary, a young girl from London.

Marble terminology

Types of marbles

An orange and white toothpaste marble
Glass marbles from Indonesia
A green glass marble in India

Marble collecting

Some historic marbles

Marble players often grow to collect marbles after having outgrown the game. Marbles are categorized by many factors including condition, size, type, manufacturer/artisan, age, style, materials, scarcity, and the existence of original packaging (which is further rated in terms of condition). A marble's worth is primarily determined by type, size, condition and eye-appeal, coupled with the law of supply and demand. Ugly, but rare marbles may be valued as much as those of very fine quality. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule - "Condition is King" when it comes to marbles. Any surface damage (characterized by missing glass, such as chips or pits) typically cuts book value by 50% or more.

Due to the large market, there are many related side businesses that have sprung up such as numerous books and guides, web sites dedicated to live auctions of marbles only, and collector conventions. Additionally, many glass artisans produce art marbles for the collectors' market only, with some selling for hundreds of dollars.


A very large American-made marble making machine at Bovey Tracey, Devon, England

Marbles are made using many techniques. They can be categorized into two general types: hand-made and machine-made.

Marbles were originally made by hand. Stone or ivory marbles can be fashioned by grinding. Clay, pottery, ceramic, or porcelain marbles can be made by rolling the material into a ball, and then letting dry, or firing, and then can be left natural, painted, or glazed. Clay marbles, also known as crock marbles or commies (common), are made of slightly porous clay, traditionally from local clay or leftover earthenware ("crockery"), rolled into balls, then glazed and fired at low heat, creating an opaque imperfect sphere that is frequently sold as the poor boy's "old timey" marble. Glass marbles can be fashioned through the production of glass rods which are stacked together to form the desired pattern, cutting the rod into marble-sized pieces using marble scissors, and rounding the still-malleable glass.

One mechanical technique is dropping globules of molten glass into a groove made by two interlocking parallel screws. As the screws rotate, the marble travels along them, gradually being shaped into a sphere as it cools. Color is added to the main batch glass and/or to additional glass streams that are combined with the main stream in a variety of ways. For example, in the "cat's-eye" style, colored glass veins are injected into a transparent main stream. Applying more expensive colored glass to the surface of cheaper transparent or white glass is also a common technique.

Manufacturing locations

There were a lot of businesses that made marbles in Ohio.[12] One major marble manufacturing company is Marble King, located in Paden City, West Virginia, which was featured in the television shows Made in America, Some Assembly Required and The Colbert Report. Currently, the world's largest manufacturer of playing marbles is Vacor de Mexico. The company makes 90 percent of the world’s marbles. Over 12 million are produced daily.

Marbles are also made in China and may contain lead, arsenic, and/or cadmium due to the manufacturing process of old glass.[13]

Art marbles

Main article: Art marble

Art marbles are high-quality collectible marbles arising out of the art glass movement. They are sometimes referred to as contemporary glass marbles to differentiate them from collectible antique marbles, and are spherical works of art glass.

Collectible contemporary marbles are made mostly in the United States by individual artists such as Josh Simpson.

They are used for art Art marbles are usually around the size of a 50mm marble, also known as a "toe breaker", but can vary, depending on the artist and the print.


Video games


See also


  1. "Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization".
  2. Marble History, Thinkquest website
  3. Johnny Acton, Tania Adams, Matt Packer, 2006, Origin of Everyday Things Barnes and Noble, p. 148
  4. "Young Ugandan Journalist". Cultural Reflections.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Losing your Marbles". BBC Inside Out programme. BBC. 9 June 2003. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  6. 1 2 Collins 2007, p. 88.
  7. Aitch, Iain (4 April 2009). "Event preview: British And World Marbles Championship, Tinsley Green". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  8. 1 2 Sandy, Matt (7 April 2007). "Village rolls out a welcome for World Marbles Championships". The Times. London: Times Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  9. 1 2 "Sport: At Tinsley Green". TIME magazine. TIME Inc. 17 April 1939. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  10. Pearson, Harry (26 April 2003). "Going under in the marble halls of Tinsley Green". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  11. Gwynne 1990, p. 172.
  12. "A Brief History of the Birth of the Modern American Toy Industry". Retrieved 2009-01-21.
  13. "TTI Study Finds Arsenic and Lead in Imported Glass Beads -- Environmental Protection".

Further reading

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