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- Marbles come in all
sizes and colours
- Have you lost your marbles?
- By Bob DeFreitas
When I hand someone my business card and tell them that, among
other things, my specialization is in the collection and promotion
of toy marbles as a hobby/collectible, they invariably blurt
out, "have you lost your marbles? with a laugh or
a soft chuckle.
- All in jest, I'm sure.
- You have probably heard or used this expression yourself.
I am not entirely certain of the origins of this phrase, but
it likely had something to do with playing the very competitive
childhood games that involved marbles during the first half of
the 20th century in North America.
- Although nobody knows for certain how long marbles and games
involving marbles have been around, there is evidence, provided
by historic documentation, that places the origins in Europe
as early as the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and reaching
North America in the 17th century.
- The first marbles were produced from stone, primarily limestone,
although other materials such as agate and alabaster were used.
The manufacture of earthenware ( i.e. clay ) marbles became very
popular in the 1800s, and by the 1840s glass marbles were being
made in the Thuringen Region of Germany.
- Marbles were essentially made by hand until American inventors
of the early 20th century perfected the use of machinery to create
marbles. These machine-made marbles were consistently rounder
than the handmade imports and much more economical to produce.
This, in effect, put an end to the handmade marble industry that
flourished from the 1840s until the advent of World War 1.
- From what I can determine, the amassing of marbles as a collectible
really only started in earnest in North America during the late
1950s and early 1960s. Today, many consider the hobby of marble
collecting to still be in its infancy with plenty of room for
growth in all areas and for new collectors.
- Many people who collect marbles do so out of a sense of nostalgia
and to recall happy memories of an earlier period in their lives
or the lives of loved ones. However, more and more people seem
to be collecting today for the sheer beauty these marbles possess.
As is the case with most collectibles, there are those, however,
who buy and sell only to make a profit.
- Given the state of
the world economy today, antique and vintage marbles have held
their market value, and for the more rare and unique types, values
have increased significantly. (I personally believe that collectible
marbles will continue to increase in value into the foreseeable
future, and consequently constitute good investment potential
- but, this is only my humble and biased opinion.)
- Collectors place a great deal of importance on factors such
as type, size, condition and eye appeal.
General categories for types include:
1 - Antique Handmade Glass
2 - Antique Handmade Non-Glass
3 - Vintage Machine Made Glass
4 - Contemporary Handmade and Machine Made Glass and Non-Glass.
Categories 1 and 2, for the most part, were produced in Lauscha,
Thuringen, Germany from the early 1800s until about 1915.
- Category 3 marbles had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s
and continued to be produced on a large scale until the 1970s.
These marble producing factories were heavily concentrated in
and around, but not limited to, the States of Illinois, Ohio
and West Virginia.
- It is also believed that a certain type of early hand-gathered
slag glass marble was made somewhere in South-Western Ontario
during the 1920s and 1930s, but there is no absolute proof of
this. These marbles are often attributed to The Christensen Agate
Company in Cambridge, Ohio, because the style and colour palates
appear to be identical.
- Category 4 handmade glass and non-glass marbles are relatively
new. Contemporary glass artisans started producing handmade marbles,
with some signing and dating their products, in the 1970s. Today,
it is a flourishing business with collectors paying hundreds
of dollars for a single marble by certain artists.
- Mark Matthews is one of the most celebrated of these contemporary
artists. A number of years ago, a glass jar containing 141 of
his handmade glass marbles sold at auction for over $41,000 US.
Additionally, modern machine made marbles are still being made
today and the largest producer in the world is Vacor de Mexico
in Mexico City.
- It's quite like that some of these modern marbles being produced
today will be the vintage collectible marbles of tomorrow.
Marble sizes range
from 7/16 to well over 2 in diameter. Most common
sizes are in the 9/16 to 11/16 range. A 1/2
or less diameter marble is referred to as a Pee Wee and, a Shooter
is generally defined as being at least 3/4. The size of
a marble was generally determined by the type of game for which
it was going to be used. The larger marbles, particularly in
the 2 and larger range were most likely made for display,
similar to the old glass paperweights. I can't imagine anyone
knuckling down with marbles of this size.
- In terms of condition, collectors place marbles into one
of four general grading categories, i.e. Mint, Near Mint, Good
and Collectible. The range for collectability is based on the
collector's personal preferences and objectives at the time of
- Most will collect marbles in the Mint to Near Mint categories,
while some will include in their collections examples in the
Good to Collectible categories until a better quality example
comes along to replace it.
- Grading of marbles is still somewhat subjective. However,
having said that, there are
widely accepted general definitions for each of the above categories.
Some collectors use a plus or a minus ranking in each category
to further elaborate on condition.
- Others use a scale of 9.0 to 9.9 for Mint, 8.0 to 8.9 for
Near Mint, 7.0 to 7.9 for Good, 6.0 to 6.9 for Collectible.
- Anything less will be categorized as Slingshot Material.
It seems that more and more collectors are gravitating to the
latter numerical system, which is certainly more precise, and
it's probably only a matter of time before a formal grading system
evolves similar to that which exists for coins and sports cards.
- Eye appeal is also very subjective and is generally intended
to include, depending on type of marble, very clear glass, strong
and vibrant colours and well formed cores and/or surface decoration.
- In the United States, the hobby of collecting antique, vintage
and contemporary marbles is fairly well advanced when compared
to what exists in Canada today. This does not mean that there
are no serious collectors in Canada because there certainly are
many of us. We are just less open about it and do not promote
the hobby as well as our American counterparts.
- In the U.S., there are at least a dozen well organized Marble
Shows during the course of any given year. One of the best is
the Buckeye Marble Collectors Show held in New Philadelphia,
Ohio, in February and Columbus, Ohio, in August - about an eight
hour drive from Toronto. Canada has only had one Marble Show
and I believe it was held in the Milton, Ontario, area in either
2002 or 2003.
In the United States as well, there is a myriad of formalized
Marble Clubs and Societies that promote, educate and disseminate
information about marbles, their history and collectability.
Many of them organize local shows, swap meets, etc., and help
those less knowledgeable identify what they have and thus gain
more interest in the hobby.
- At one time there was an organization called the Canadian
Marble Collectors Society in Ontario and they published a regular
newsletter. Unfortunately, they no longer exist. It would be
great to see this started up once again provided there was sufficient
- As more and more people become interested in collecting marbles,
the prices they are realizing on resale are being driven higher
and higher. American collectors and dealers believe that Canada
is the last unexplored frontier when it comes to the quantity
and quality of these precious little gems still waiting to be
- I know that there are many people out there that have small
caches of these old marbles stored away in attics, basements,
old barns, sheds and dresser drawers. These are a legacy from
their past and possibly a long forgotten part of their childhood
or that of their parents or grandparents.
- Take a look. You may be surprised at what you will find.
- 1 - Assorted antique handmade German swirls and clay
- 2 - Antique handmade German onionskin marbles
- 3 - Antique General Grant solitaire board with 29
Bob DeFreitas is a recently certified CPPA or Canadian Personal
Property Appraiser who specializes in antique hand-made and vintage
machine-made toy marbles. He resides in Bowmanville, Ontario,
and travels extensively through Central Canada and the United
States in search of these small gems. If you are a collector
and would be interested in joining a Canadian Marble Collector's
Club, give Bob a call at 905-697-9739, or send e-mail him at
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- This Is Livin' Publishing
- 581 8th Line West, RR1
Hastings, ON, K0L 1Y0
- Phone/Fax: 705-696-1833