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Marble (toy)

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marble is a small spherical object often made from glass, clay, steel, plastic, or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about 13 mm (1⁄2 in) in diameter, but they may range from less than 1 mm (1⁄30 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, which were often collected for play. These toys can be used to make marble runs, a form of art, or they can be used in marble races.

Codd-neck bottle is a type of bottle used for carbonated drinks. It has a closing design based on a glass marble which is held against a rubber seal, which sits within a recess in the lip. 

HISTORY OF MARBLES

In the early twentieth century, small balls of stone from about 2500 BCE, identified by archaeologists as marbles, were found by excavation near Mohenjo-Daro, in a site associated with the Indus Valley civilization. Marbles are often mentioned in Roman literature, as in Ovid's poem Nux (which mentions playing the game with walnuts), and there are many examples of marbles from excavations of sites associated with Chaldeans of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. They were commonly made of clay, stone, or glass. Marbles arrived in Britain, imported from the Low Countries, during the medieval era. Roman children playing with nuts, child sarcophagi circa 270–300. Museum Pio Clementino, Vatican

In 1503 the town council of Nuremberg, Germany, limited the playing of marble games to a meadow outside the town.

It is unknown where marbles were first manufactured. A German glassblower invented marble scissors, a device for making marbles, in 1846. Ceramic marbles entered inexpensive mass production in the 1870s.

The game has become popular throughout the US and other countries. The first mass-produced toy marbles (clay) made in the US were made in Akron, Ohio, by S. C. Dyke, in the early 1890s. Some of the first US-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 US company to enter the glass marble market was Akro Agate. This company was started by Akronites in 1911 but is 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 of different sizes and types

World championship

The British and World Marbles Championship has been held at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England, every year since 1932. (Marbles has been played in Tinsley Green and the surrounding area for many centuries: TIME magazine traces its origins to 1588. Traditionally, the marbles-playing season started on Ash Wednesday and lasted until midday on Good Friday: playing after that brought bad luck. 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, although local teams from Crawley, Copthorne, and other Sussex and Surrey villages often take part as well; the first championship in 1932 was won by Ellen Geary, a young girl from London. 

Game of Marbles, Karol D. Witkowski

Marble terminology

  • "Knuckle down": the position adopted at the start line at the beginning of a match. The player begins with his or her knuckle against the ground.
  • "Quitsies": allows any opponent to stop the game without consequence. Players can either have "quitsies" (able to quit) or "no quitsies".
  • "Keepsies" (or "for keeps"): the player keeps all the marbles he or she wins.
  • "Elephant stomps": when called, it allows a player to stomp his or her marble level with the ground surface, making it very difficult for other players to hit.
  • "Bombies": when called, it allows a player to take one or two steps while holding his or her marble and, while closing one eye, will line up over one of the opponent's marbles and drop the marble trying to hit the marble on the ground.
  • "Leaning tops": when called, a shooter leans in on his or her off hand for leverage over an indentation on any type of surface or obstacle.
  • A "taw" or "shooter" is generally a larger marble used to shoot with, and "ducks" are marbles to be shot at.
  • Various names refer to the marbles' size. Any marble larger than the majority may be termed a boulder, bonker, cosher, masher, plumper, popper, shooter, thumper, smasher, goom, noogie, taw, bumbo, crock, bumboozer, bowler, tonk, tronk, godfather, tom bowler, fourer, giant, dobber, dobbert, hogger, biggie or toebreaker. A marble smaller than the majority is a peawee, peewee, or mini. A "grandfather" is the largest marble, the size of a billiards ball or tennis ball.
  • Various names for different marble types (regional playground talk, Leicester, UK): Marleys (marbles), prit (white marble), Kong (large marble), King Kong (larger than a bosser), steely (metal bearing-ball). Names can be combined: e.g. prit-Kong (large white marble). There are many more such names, as discussed in the next section.

Types of marbles

There are various types of marbles, and names vary from locality to locality.

  • Aggie - made of agate (aggie is short for agate) or glass resembling agate, with various patterns like in the alley
  • Alley or real - made of marble or alabaster (alley is short for alabaster), streaked with wavy or other patterns with exotic names like corkscrew, spiral, snake, ribbon, onyx, swirl, bumblebee, and butterfly
  • Ade - strands of opaque white and color, making lemon-ade, lime-ade, orange-ade, etc.Cat's eye or Catseye - central eye-shaped colored inserts or cores (injected inside the marble)
  • Beachball - three colors and six vanes
  • Devil's eye - red with yellow eye
  • Red devils - same color scheme as a devil's eye but swirly
  • Clambroth - equally spaced opaque lines on a milk-white opaque base. Rare clams can have blue or black base glass. Medium-high value for antique marbles; rare base color valued much higher.
  • Lutz - antique, handmade German swirl, containing bands of fine copper flakes that glitter like gold. Erroneously thought to have been invented by noted glassmaker Nicholas Lutz. Medium-high value for antique marbles, depending on specific sub-type of Lutz design.
  • Oilie or oily - opaque with a rainbow, iridescent finish
  • Onionskin - antique, handmade German swirl, with many closely packed surface streaks. Medium price range for antique marbles.
  • Opaque - a popular marble that comes in many colors
  • Oxblood - a streaky patch resembling blood
  • Pearls - opaque with single color with mother of pearl finish
  • Toothpaste - also known as plainsies in Canada. Wavy streaks usually with red, blue, black, white, orange.
  • Turtle - wavy streaks containing green and yellow
  • Bumblebee - modern, machine-made marble; mostly yellow with two black strips on each side
  • China-glazed porcelain, with various patterns similar to an alley marble. Geometric patterns have low value; flowers or other identifiable objects can command high prices.
  • Plaster - a form of china that is unglazed
  • Commie or common - made of clay; natural color or monochrome coloration. Made in huge quantities during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
  • Bennington - clay fired in a kiln with salt glaze—usually brown, often blue. Other colorations are fairly scarce. Fairly low value.
  • Crock - made from crockery (earthenware) clay
  • Croton alley or jasper - glazed and unglazed china marbled with blue
  • Crystal or clearie or purie - any clear colored glass - including "opals," "glimmers," "bloods," "rubies," etc. These can have any number of descriptive names such as "deep blue sea", "blue moon", "green ghost", "brass bottle", "bloody Mary".
  • Princess - a tinted crystal
  • Galaxy - modern, machine-made marble; lots of dots inserted to look like a sky of stars
  • Indian - antique, handmade German marble; dark and opaque, usually black, with overlaid groups of color bands; usually white, and one or more other colors. Can also have many colors like blue, green, and scarlet. Medium price range for antique marbles.
  • Mica - antique, handmade German marble; glassy to translucent with streaks or patches of mica, ranging from clear to misty. Value depends on glass color.
  • Steely - made of steel; a true steely (not just a bearing ball) was made from a flat piece of steel folded into a sphere and shows a cross where the corners all come together.
  • Sulphide - antique, handmade German marble; large (3 to 8 cm [1.25 to 3 in] or more) clear glass sphere with a small statuette or figure inside. Most common are domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, cows, etc.; then wild animals; human figures are scarce; inanimate objects such as a train or pocket watch are very rare and command high prices. The interior figures are made of white clay or kaolin, and appear a silvery color due to light refraction. A sulphide with a colored-glass sphere, or with a painted figure inside, is also very rare and brings a high price. Like other types of antique marbles, sulphides have been reproduced and faked in large quantities.
  • Swirly - is a common marble made out of glass with one swirly color.
  • Shooter- Any marble but in a bigger size.
  • Tiger- clear with orange-yellow stripes
  • Baby - white with colours visible on the outside
  • Tom Bowler - Large glass marble at least twice as big as a normal marble

A clay marble, found in a field in the East Midlands

An orange and white toothpaste marble

Glass marbles from Indonesia

A green glass marble in India

Art marbles

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.

Art marbles are usually around 50 millimetres (2.0 in) in diameter (a size also known as a "toe breaker") but can vary, depending on the artist and the print.

Marble collecting

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 the 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, and normally "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, websites 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 thousands of dollars.

Manufacturing

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.

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

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. Colour is added to the main batch glass and/or to additional glass streams that are combined with the mainstream in a variety of ways. For example, in the "cat's-eye" style, coloured glass veins are injected into a transparent mainstream. Applying more expensive coloured glass to the surface of cheaper transparent or white glass is also a common technique.

There were a lot of businesses that made marbles in Ohio. Currently, the world's largest manufacturer of playing marbles is Vacor de Mexico. Founded in 1934, the company now makes 90 percent of the world's marbles. Over 12 million are produced daily.

 

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