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Akro Agate Company (1910-1951)

COMPANY HISTORY

The Akro Agate Company, perhaps the best known of the marble manufacturers and certainly the most prolific during most of their career, was formed in 1910 in Akron, Ohio, by George T. Rankin and Gilbert C. Marsh. They used as their trademark, which was registered the following year, a crow holding marbles in its feet and beak and flying through a capital "A." For the first three years of the company's existence they simply bought and repackaged marbles made by M.F. Christensen and Son Company. In fact, their shop was located not too far away from the Christensen factory.

Meanwhile, M.F. Christensen's bookkeeper, Horace C. Hill, was embezzling money from his employer. Hill left the company in 1913 and joined up with Rankin and Marsh. In 1914, Hill moved the company to Clarksburg, West Virginia. Hill had applied for a patent on a marble-making machine in 1912 but it was at first rejected for being to similar to Martin Christensen's machine; perhaps Hill had stolen more than money from his employer. In 1915, a year following Akro Agate's relocation, and the same year in which Hill submitted a slightly different patent which was approved by the patent office, M.F. Christensen presented the courts with evidence of Hill's embezzlement. Hill paid back the $4,000 he had stolen, and died in early 1916, not too long after the death of Martin Christensen.

Akro Agate began marble production late in 1914. After Hill's demise, the company hired John F. Early, who made major improvements to Hill's machines. A major enhancement, the so-called Freese Improvement, was made in 1924 which allowed for more precision in the rounding of marbles and which did away with the tiny seams found at the poles of the marbles (often manifested on Corkscrews as fine feathering at or near the ends of the spiral). Previous to this as many as 20% of their marbles had to be rejected. A second improvement four years later more than doubled the production capacity of Akro's machines. The patent for this was approved in 1932, but by this time Early had left Akro Agate.

During the 1920s Akro Agate grew into the leading manufacturer of marbles thanks in large part to Early's innovations. Also, Arnold Fiedler, who had supplied Christensen Agate with its unique marble colors, worked for Akro Agate following his departure from Christensen (by some accounts prior to his employment with them), brought to the company his skills in glass mixing, which lent to Akro's marbles beautiful and vibrant eye appeal.

The 1930s saw some troubles for Akro Agate, as some of their key employees resigned at the beginning of the decade. Some of these went on the form the Master Marble Company. Sales of marbles declined everywhere toward the latter years of the decade  and slowed even more in the subsequent decade. Akro began producing other glass objects during this period, including ashtrays, powder jars, jardinieres, vases, decorative flower pots, candlesticks, bowls, dishes, and more. These met with moderate success. Their line of colorful children's dishes did not sell well at first, but with the onset of America's involvement in World War II and the concomitant  halt of imported Japanese toys they soon became more popular. However, this diversification did not pull Akro Agate from its decline, and by 1951 it closed down for good.

The Akro Agate factory site as it exists today covers some two acres. Late in 1997 and into early 1998 one of the buildings was demolished, revealing large numbers of discarded marbles beneath the foundation. Many experimental types, which were rejected by the company, were discovered due to this incident. This find was termed the "Old Annex" site. Toward the end of 1998 and additional discovery was made in the drainage system used by the factory. Dubbed the "French Drain" site, it yielded multitudes of marbles, again many of them experimental varieties that did not "make the grade." Several new oxblood marble types have entered the market as a consequence of the frantic digging that took place here.

IDENTIFICATION TIPS

Akro Agate marbles were produced in a mind-boggling abundance and in a large variety of styles. Among the most common were the monochromatic "clearies" (transparent) and "Opals" (opaque) marbles. These are just about impossible to distinguish from the essentially identical marbles from other companies, though if one pays close scrutiny to the opaque marbles in original Akro Agate Chinese Checkers boxes, subtle differences between their colors and those of other manufacturers can be observed. The company, however, is to collectors better known for its production of many varieties unique to them and therefore usually readily identifiable.

SLAGS

Akro Agate slags ("Striped Onyxes") were available in the following colors (in increasing order of rarity): amber, purple, blue, green, red, aqua, clear, vaseline, and orange. The red slags were called Cardinal Reds by the company. Like the slags of other companies, those of Akro were produced by the single-stream method and include a transparent colored based mixed with opaque white glass. One exception is the Cornelian which was produced in the same method as a slag but consists of an opaque red base mixed with opaque white. Perhaps the best way to identify an Akro Agate slag is not by any particular feature but rather by its lack of features. Akro Agate slags will lack the seams seen in Christensen Agate and Peltier examples, the fine feathering of the white seen in Peltier examples, and the "nine and tail" of the white as well as the cut-off mark of M.F. Christensen examples. As to the latter rule of thumb, it needs to be stated that early Akro slags, like those of M.F. Christensen and Christensen Agate, were hand-gathered and therefore may exhibit the "nine"-shaped pattern of the white where the marble was twisted out of the glass furnace.

CORKSCREWS

Perhaps the most popular Akro Agate marbles are the corkscrews. These are basically unique to the company and consist of one or more spirals of color encircling the marble from one pole to the other without ever crossing. Some corkscrews have a double or triple twist, particularly those in transparent glass. Corkscrews may have a white, colored, or transparent base; some contain several colors, fluorescent glass, or oxblood. The variety is nearly limitless, and is enhanced by hybrids and experimentals. Corkscrews come in a variety of sizes, though any over one inch are extremely rare and were usually "experimentals," whereas those 1/2" or smaller are perhaps even more scarce. Some corkscrews will possess feathering near the ends of the spirals, manifested as fine "fingers" of color extending from tiny crescent-shaped crimp marks; as mentioned earlier, this trait indicates manufacture prior to the "Freese improvement" of the mid-1920s. Such early marbles will also usually have vibrant colors.

Corkscrews with two opaque colors were called Prize Names, while those with three or more opaque colors were called Specials. These come in a bewildering array of color combinations. White-based examples are most common. Usually, the colors formed separate strata as they were injected into the shearing mechanisms of the marble machines. However, sometimes the colors blended, perhaps because the densities of the different colored glass were similar. When counting colors in corkscrews, it is generally accepted that the blended colors are not counted separately. Therefore, for instance, a blue and yellow corkscrew with a green blend is a two-color Prize Name, not a three-color Special.

Other types of corkscrews named by the company itself include: Spirals, which have a transparent clear base and a colored spiral; Onyxes, which have a transparent colored base with a white spiral; and Aces, which have a translucent milky white base with a colored spiral. Some names have been adopted by collectors. A "snake" is a Spiral or Onyx with the spiral near the surface of the marble, while a "ribbon" has the spiral nearer to the center. Rarely, a corkscrew wil be a cross between a Spiral and an Onyx, in that it will have a colored transparent base and a colored spiral. However, these are often misidentified, as a white spiral may simply look colored beneath the colored base glass.

One of the most popular corkscrew types is the Popeye (marketed as the Tri-Onyx by the company), so-named because it was sold in the much-sought after Popeye box (which depicted the cartoon character). This marble is recognizable because it contains a transparent clear glass with opaque white filaments in addition to a combination of two other colors (Popeyes with three or more colors are called Hybrid Popeyes). Some Popeyes have very little clear areas in them, while others have wide clear areas. Popeye color combinations, in approximate decreasing order of frequency, include red/yellow, green/yellow, red/green, dark blue/yellow, light purple/yellow, dark purple/yellow, powder blue/yellow, dark blue/red, red/orange, blue/green, and black/yellow. The yellow is often entirely or, more often, partially fluorescent.

Related to Popeyes are Imperials and Ringers. Ringers have the clear areas with white filaments of Popeyes but only have one additional color. Usually this color is transparent red or orange. Imperials have a more translucent milky base, with a red spiral shadowed by a more transparent orange spiral.

"Ade" corkscrews are identified by their base glass of translucent off-white mixed with wispy opaque white. The spirals on these marbles will be translucent and come in yellow ("lemonades"), green ("limeades"), orange ("orangeades"), red ("cherryades"), and reddish brown (Carnelians). Sometimes these spirals will be accompanied by oxblood, though this is a more common feature on Ade swirls (see below). Lemonade oxbloods and limeade oxbloods are most common; typically, there is more oxblood on the former than the latter.

Besides oxblood ades, oxblood may occur on other corkscrews. Oxblood is a type of glass that is always dark opaque red with fine black filaments in it. It is extremely easy to recognize once a collector has seen it at least once. Oxblood corkscrews can be quite valuable. One of the rarest types, if not the rarest, is the Popeye oxblood. Besides this and the aforementioned oxblood ades, oxblood corkscrews can include oxblood on a transparent clear base ("clear oxbloods"), oxblood on a translucent milky white base ("Milky Oxbloods"), oxblood on translucent wispy white base ("silver oxbloods"), oxblood on an opaque brown base ("chocolate oxbloods"), oxblood on a milky translucent white base with opaque yellow ("eggyolk oxbloods"), and oxblood on a milky translucent white base with translucent blue ("blue oxbloods"). These are more commonly seen as swirls than as corkscrews, though. True oxblood corkscrews are usually on an opaque or translucent white base, though oxblood on colored bases are known but are rare. Oxblood on top of a blue spiral on a white base is known as a "blueblood." Hybrid examples (e.g. "blue eggyolk oxbloods") occur but are extremely rare. It should be emphasized that oxblood usually occurs on the surface of a marble but is sometimes found beneath.

Sometimes two corkscrews fell down the marble machine chute at the same time, forming together into what is called a "double ingot" corkscrew. This usually is found with those that have all opaque colors and which are in shooter sizes. The resulting marble has what appears to be seams and a "broken" corkscrew pattern. These are frequently mistaken for Peltier's National Line Rainbos.

SWIRLS

Swirls are typified by their random swirling pattern, which stands in marked contrast to the well-defined pattern of a corkscrew marble. Many of the corkscrew types, in particular the ades and oxbloods, occur more frequently as swirls. Other than lacking the characteristic spiral of a corkscrew, their characteristics are the same. Because they are more common they are usually priced lower. Without the diagnostic traits of the fluorescent ades or the oxblood swirls, Akro Agate swirls are very difficult to distinguish from those produced by other companies. In fact, as one does not often see swirls with the rich colors of early Akro Agates (save for those that are easily recognized as Christensen Agates), common white-based swirls were probably produced late in Akro Agate's history.

PATCHES

In basic terms, an Akro Agate patch marble is a corkscrew that didn't twist. Therefore, one may find marbles that have the same colors as many of the corkscrews but instead of spiraling from one pole to the other, there will simply be a short strip of color(s) on the base glass. They are generally considered to have been produced by error. These are rare, and are most often seen in Popeyes. Blue/yellow Popeye patches are the most common, thanks to a recent find of many thousands of them by diggers at the old factory site. Other Akro patches were purposefully made by the company; these were marketed with names assigned by Akro Agate.

Uniques are patches that have an opaque white base with a wispy brushed brown patch covering about one third of the marble, with a small space on the patch that allows the underlying white to show. The Hero is the same type of marble but lacks the space. Both of these are pre-"Freese improvement" marbles. Collectively, these two types are often known as "birds," because when viewed from one angle the patches have a shape suggestive of the breast and head of a songbird. "Grebes" have a  reddish orange to orange brown patch; "brown thrashers" have a dark brownish red patch; "golden tawnies" have a yellowish orange to orangish brown patch; and "rainbows" have all the colors seen on the previous three varieties.

Royals have an opaque colored base with an opaque or translucent patch. Again, the patch covers about one third of the base. Another type, the Moss Agate, has a fluorescent milky light brownish white base with a translucent colored patch covering up to one half of the marble. Hy-Grades have a transparent blue or brown base with a patch of brushed opaque white covering about half of the surface. Finally, there is the Helmet, which has a transparent colored base with an opaque colored patch covering about half the marble, and a colored stripe on the patch. Viewed from the correct angle this marble will resemble a head with a football helmet on it, hence the name. There is strong evidence that Vitro Agate actually produced these marbles, and in fact the colors and the seams do resemble those of that company.

Other patches by Akro Agate tri-color patches that are practically indistinguishable from those of Vitro Agate, as the colors and seam patterns are the same. Perhaps the companies used similar machinery. The patches, which have an opaque milky off-white base, normally have two separate patches. Each patch begins and terminates at seams on opposite sides of the marble. Color combinations include green and red, green and yellow, red and blue, and yellow and blue. Sometimes these patches will have a fourth color, too. In other instances, one of the patches will be oxblood. The colors are always dull and on the surface, and were thus manufactured late in Akro Agate's history.

Other oxblood patches are also known, and most appear to be of larger sizes. Examples I have seen often have oxblood and a patch of one other color brushed on the surface, with a clear glass base containing a core filled with white filaments. These were probably experimental.

SPARKLERS

Sparklers were Akro Agate's only marble that was manufactured with the "injection" method, where colors were actually injected into the clear base. This was essentially the same technique used to produce catseye marbles, which came much later and which were not produced by Akro (since the company folded before they became popular). Sparklers are often mistaken for Master Marble Sunbursts, though this should not happen, as Sparklers always have at least five colors 9with rare exceptions) while Sunbursts have no more than three. Also, the colors used in Sparklers are very bright, whereas Sunbursts are normally duller or more earth-toned. Typical Sparkler colors are red, yellow, orange, green, blue, and white, and these will form a wispy core in the marble. Less often, the colors will be in bands. Sometimes these colors come almost to the surface while at other times they are closer to the core.

FLINT MOONIES AND FIRE OPALS

Akro Agate Flint Moonies (referred to by many collectors simply as "moonies") are translucent white marbles composed of opalescent glass, which will glow orangish when held to a light. Flinties are also opalescent, but have colored base glass (brown, yellow, green, red, and blue, in increasing order of rarity); "Fire Opal" is Akro's name to refer to their red Flinties. Akro Agate's opalescent marbles can be distinguished by their small clear "eye," a small circular area of clear glass surrounded by the remaining cloudy matrix.

CORNELIANS AND BRICKS

Akro Agate produced two types of marbles that were very similar to the American Cornelian (brick) by M.F. Christensen. The first was the Cornelian, which contained a dark red translucent base with white swirls. Though the red in this glass appears to be oxblood, it is not. On the other hand, a type of Akro Agate marble being called a Brick has been appearing lately, likely as a result of the recent round of digging at the Akro dump site. These marbles are comprised of a very dark oxblood which is nearly black, with white swirls. It can be diiferentiated from the M.F. Christensen Brick because it does not have the characteristic hand-gathered "nine and tail" nor the cut-off line of that type. Also, the Akro examples often have hair-thin wires of oxblood coiled on the surface.

EXPERIMENTALS/DUG MARBLES

In the past few years there has been a virtual flood of "dug" Akro Agate marbles appearing at shows, on the Internet, and elsewhere. The reason for this has been because diggers have recently been very active at the Akro Agate plant site, where caches of discarded marbles have been encountered. While many of these discarded marbles are simply rejected examples of the types discussed above, others have either not been seen before or were available to collectors albeit very rarely. Many of these have been termed "experimentals" because they are thought to represent runs of marbles that were tried out by the company but for one reason or another rejected and discarded. Most of these seem to be in larger sizes, from 3/4" to over one inch. Some are quite rare while others have appeared in large quantities and have depressed the value of their counterparts that were already in collections.

Within the latter category are a variety of tri-colored corkscrews that have as a common trait a translucent to transparent red spiral which often has stress or annealing fractures. Usually the red "floats" on top of another color rather than being distinct and separate. These have been assigned somewhat controversial names by some collectors: "patriots" are red, white, and light blue; "supermen" are red, yellow, and light blue; "lifesavers" are red, yellow, and light green; and "Indian blankets" are black, yellow, and red or black, white, and red. As stated, these marbles are normally of a shooter-size. Smaller examples with opaque red appear to have been in general circulation rather than having been abandoned by the company; thus, they have been in collections longer, are generally in better condition, and are more highly valued.

Another class of experimental marble is that of oxbloods. Several new varieties have appeared as a result of the Akro Agate digs, such as the "chocolate oxblood" and the "sky blue onyx." At first these fetched top dollar but once collectors realized the abundance of many of them the prices plummeted sharply, though some were recovered in small enough numbers to remain very highly sought after. Some of these marbles have a transparent clear base with "anemic" oxblood swirled inside. Another type has a transparent dark brown base with an oxblood patch; this patch often forms a "V" on the marble's surface. There are several other types of experimental oxbloods, and many of these also seem to be characterized by their "v" patch. At least three varieties of fluorescent oxbloods have also been identified.

Other experimental Akro Agate marbles, and those which seem to have been around longer owing to earlier digs, are a variety of large corkscrews and patches. Many of these are comprised of the vibrant colors indicative of marbles produced early in Akro's existence. The patch versions appear to represent an attempt to make corkscrews, but produced by error because the spinning mechanism of the marble machinery was not working. One other type of experimental corkscrew has an opalescent milky white bubble-filled base with a spiral brushed on the surface. The spiral is often of an "anemic" color and is translucent to transparent.

SCREENPRINTED MARBLES

Recently, I spoke with a friend who told me his uncle was in the screenprinting business in the mid-to-late 1930s. One of the items he screenprinted for companies (filling stations, Cracker Jack, and small local businesses in the area of western Pennsylvania) and individuals (i.e. political campaigners) included marbles. This elderly gentleman, Howard E. Koehler, was born in 1910, and obtained his marbles from Akro Agate. Over the years he has given these marbles to his relatives, including his nephew, my friend, who showed me a jar full. Among the marbles were Popeyes, Corkscrews, and Opaques. Many were printed with the names of individuals, while others had the names of petroleum companies (Esso, Mobilgas, and Sunoco) and such words as "freedom" and "1937." Mr. Koehler himself kept around 100 of these marbles, and allowed me to go through them. Perhaps some of the more interesting examples contained "Landon" or "Landon/Knox"; Alfred Landon and Frank Knox were the repulican candidates for president and vice president, respectively, during the 1936 election, and lost against Franklin D. Roosevelt.

AKRO AGATE COMPANY MARBLE GALLERY
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Vaseline Slag

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Clear Slag

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Green Slag

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Amber Slag

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Red Slag

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Blue Slag

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Prize Name

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Three Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color)

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Special (Four Color w/Oxblood)

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Special (Five Color)

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Spiral

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Onyx

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Spiral/Onyx

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red/yellow Popeye

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red/blue Popeye

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red/green Popeye

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green/yellow Popeye

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purple/yellow Popeye

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blue/yellow Popeye

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powder blue/yellow Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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hybrid Popeye

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Ace

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Tri-Colored Ace

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Tri-Colored Ace

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Lemonade

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Lemonade Oxblood

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Limeade

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Limeade Oxblood

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Limeade Hybrid

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Carnelian

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Carnelian Oxblood

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Eggyolk Oxblood

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Hybrid Eggyolk/Blue Oxblood

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Hybrid Eggyolk/Carnelian

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Blueblood

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Blue Oxblood

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Double Ingot Corkscrew

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Oxblood Swirl (white-based)

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Milky Oxblood

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Tricolored Milky Oxblood

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Brick

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Popeye Patch

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Helmet

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Helmet

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Tri-Color Patch

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Oxblood Patch

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Oxblood Patch

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Sparkler

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Moonie

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Flintie

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"Superman"

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"Lifesaver"

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"Indian Blanket"

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"Patriot"

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Experimental Oxblood in Clear

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Experimental Oxblood on Transparent Dark Brown

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Experimental Swirl

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Experimental with Oxblood

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Screenprinted Popeye

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Screenprinted Popeye

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Screenprinted Popeye

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Screenprinted Corkscrew

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Screenprinted Opaque

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Screenprinted Opaque

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Screenprinted Opaque

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Screenprinted Opaque

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Screenprinted Opaque

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Screenprinted Opaque

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Screenprinted Flintie

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Screenprinted Blue/Oxblood Swirl

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Screenprinted Popeye

Other Marble Companies

Hand Made Glass Marbles

Hand Made Non-Glass Marbles

M.F. Christensen and Son Company

Christensen Agate Company

Akro Agate Company

Peltier Glass Company

Master Marble Company/Master Glass Company

Marble King, Inc.

Vitro Agate Company

Heaton Agate Company

Champion Agate Company

Ravenswood Novelty Works

Alley Agate Company

Cairo Novelty Company

Jackson Marble Company

Davis Marble Works

Playrite Marble and Novelty Company

Alox Manufacturing Company

Jabo-Vitro Agate, Inc.

Vacor de Mexico

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