marblealan.gif (105276 bytes)

MARBLES 101

with FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

A RESOURCE PAGE FOR BEGINNING COLLECTORS

Click on items below to jump to section
1: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO MARBLES
2: WHY AND HOW SHOULD I COLLECT MARBLES?
3: WHAT ARE MARBLES WORTH, AND HOW ARE THEY VALUED?
4: HOW IS THE CONDITION OF MARBLES DETERMINED?
5: OK--I UNDERSTAND ALL THE QUESTIONS LISTED ABOVE, BUT I'M STILL CONFUSED!

 

1: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO MARBLES

1a) How long have marbles and marble games been around?

Games involving "marbles" could be almost as old as civilization itself. However, the evidence is only anecdotal for more ancient origins, as glass and ceramic spheres have been recovered from archaeological contexts at Ancient European and Native American sites. However, these spheres may have other uses than for games.

Children's Games (1560) Pieter Brueghel.jpg (58206 bytes)

"Young Folks At Play" painting by Pieter Brueghel (1560)

Better evidence, that provided by historic documentation, definitely places more secure origins for marbles in the late 15th to early 16th centuries, as European paintings and manuscripts from that period do illustrate or mention games involving these little orbs. By the 17th century the game had become common and had even spread to America. The Dutch seem to have been responsible for much of the diffusion of the game's popularity.

dutch.jpg (24713 bytes)

Dutch delft tile from around 1675

The first marbles were produced from stone, primarily limestone, though other materials such as agate and alabaster (you can learn more about these here). The manufacture of earthenware (i.e. clay) marbles became popular in the 1800s, and by 1850 the first true glass marbles were produced in the Thuringen region of Germany (see this page for a more detailed history). Marbles were made by hand until American inventors of the early 20th century perfected the use of machinery to create marbles.

1b) What kind of marbles are there?

As mentioned, marbles have been made from an assortment of materials, including agate, alabaster, limestone, flint, semiprecious stone, refined and unrefined earthenwares, glass, and even steel. Among most collectors, glass marbles are by far the most popular.

Marbles were also available in a wide range of sizes (they are measured by their diameter). Some are as small as 13/32" (about the size of a pea) while others exceed (very rarely) two or more inches in diameter. The size of a marble depended on the type of game for which it was used; certainly, no one would ever have attempted to "knuckle down" with a 2 1/2" sphere! In general terms, collectors call any marble with a diameter of 1/2" or less a "peewee," while a "shooter" is most often defined as being at least 3/4".

Throughout the years, marble players have applied particular names to marbles. These names often have venerable origins and originally referred to the material of the marble, though later was used to refer to glass marbles, which often tried to mimic the appearance of their predecessors. For instance, "allies" first denoted alabaster marbles, while "aggies" referred to agates. These terms were later adopted by not only children playing with glass marbles, but also some of the companies manufacturing the marbles. Some of these companies also labeled their marbles to reflect the type of stone they were hoping to imitate with glass: "Carnelian" and "Onyx" are two such terms.

1c) Who made marbles, and who still makes them?

Though marbles were made in several European countries during the early history of the game, it was the Germans who were most prolific. They created many of the stone and clay marbles of the 1800s and before, and were also the ones who invented the cane cut glass marble. However, it was American ingenuity that led to the invention of marble making machinery, and once these machines were perfected, millions of marbles could be produced by one company in a single day. Those still making marbles by hand could not hope to compete, and the practice died shortly after World War I. In recent years, however, glass artisans breathed new life into the craft, and now hand made "art glass marbles" are very popular, not for use in games, but as highly valued collectibles displayed for their beauty.

Besides a couple hundred individual craftsmen (and craftswomen) currently making glass and ceramic marbles for collectors, there are few companies that actually still make marbles for use in games. Most of these companies use modern machinery to mass produce marbles, though some are still being hand made in China. There are factories in Japan and Pakistan making marbles, while a Mexican corporation, Vacor de Mexico, is presently the most prolific manufacturer, exporting their colorful marbles all over the world.

In America, most of the marble companies that were so prominent in the middle part of the 20th century have long ago closed their doors. Jabo-Vitro Agate, Inc., the current incarnation of the venerable Vitro Agate Company, continues to create glass marbles, though with the exception of limited runs of toy marbles, most are for industrial use. Champion Agate, too, continues to operate, though sporadically; the operators of this company are extremely guarded and their occasional runs of new marbles are immediately snapped up by collectors. The third, and most active, company is Marble King, Inc. Based in West Virginia along the Ohio River (where the vast majority of American marble companies were originally established), Marble King continues to make marbles for children, though due to recent high profile on-site thefts, they offer a less-than-warm reception to collectors.

 

2: WHY AND HOW SHOULD I COLLECT MARBLES?

2a) Who collects marbles, and why do they collect marbles?

Many people collect marbles, and many of them do so out of a sense of nostalgia, to revive memories of a more innocent period in their lives. However, more and more people seem to be collecting due to the beauty many marbles possess. In terms of demography, there are probably more male collectors than female. While men generally appear to be interested more in older marbles, women often lean toward contemporary art glass marbles. This is, however, a broad generalization.

Indeed, marble collecting crosses not only gender lines, but also breaks down social, economic, educational, age, and even racial barriers. Attending a marble show, one will see both men and women, and even some younger people. These collectors will be doctors, lawyers, and scientists, and just as many will be "blue collar" types. Probably just as many collectors have PhD's as will never have completed high school. I have met collectors as young as nine and as old as eighty; the ability to enjoy the inherent beauty of a colorful glass orb does not seem affected by one's age.

If I had to typify the average collector, however, I would say that this person  is a male in his late forties to early fifties, with a high school level education and a modest income, who lives in the Midwestern United States. This is based on the amount of business I've conducted over the past couple years, much of which has been through the Internet and therefore probably statistically skewed. However, it is interesting how many collectors fit this profile; I have often said if I only did business with people who live in Oklahoma I would be doing just fine!

2b) How should I buy marbles, and how much should I pay?

Most collectors, particularly those with modest income levels, begin small and work their way up. A few, however, are fortunate enough to have a lot of "disposable" cash and initiate their collecting with high dollar purchases. The average beginner will start out by rummaging around for marbles at flea markets, garage sales, antique malls, and the like. Such beginning collections usually consist of more common marbles, often purchased for a dollar or less. Later, these marbles are typically weeded out as the collector gains experience, has a few more dollars to spend, and learns to differentiate between the manufacturers and the styles of marbles. The average collector begins with mostly machine made marbles, since for the most part hand made marbles are more expensive. Few people, in my experience, purchase contemporary marbles in their early stage of collecting, and in fact many never do; I find that those who do show interest in such art glass early on often end up only buying such marbles.

As with anything, only pay what you personally think a marble is worth. Certainly, don't go off half-cocked and spend ample sums on marbles you later find are worth much less. Use the price guides to some extent, but also do comparative shopping. Keep in mind that most marbles you will ever see in antique stores are vastly overpriced, and most collectors seem to start by purchasing marbles from baskets or bowls of marbles marked a buck each in such places. It has been my experience that these dollar marbles are almost always worth but a few pennies each, since invariably someone has been there before you to pick out the good ones. Still, a dollar investment is not going to hurt most people, and a modest collection can be built by careful selection of such lower end marbles. Once you are more experienced, don't be afraid to pay more; by this time you'll know enough about rarity, condition, and current market values to make a wiser decision.

2c) Where can I find marbles?

As noted above, a good launching pad for the beginning collector is by searching diligently at flea markets, antique stores and malls, rummage sales, thrift stores, and the like. After time, however, you'll discover that the pickings are slim at such locations. At this point, it's time to try to get to a marble show. Several are held across the country each year. Nothing compares to the excitement a collector will feel upon attending his or her first marble show. Some shows are small and others are large: while a few have barely more than a half dozen dealers set up, others may be able to boast 50-100 tables. No matter how small or large, if you can get to a show, do it!

show.JPG (49689 bytes)

A scene from a marble show

Another excellent venue is the live auction. Often, antique auctions will have a few marbles for sale. Other auctions are dedicated entirely to marbles. Many experienced collectors will admit that they have found many wonderful marbles at local auctions, though perhaps this admission will be hesitant, since they may not want bidding competition!

There are also marble auctions that are available through videotape and/or Internet catalogs only. These services often offer some of the higher priced marbles so keep this in mind; most new collectors are not yet able to purchase such rare items, though the catalogs themselves are full of beautiful photographs and can serve as great guides for identification and pricing.

The Internet has developed into an invaluable resource for most marble collectors. On the World Wide Web you will find weekly marble "cyberauctions," auction services such as eBay, and web sites where marbles can be purchased. A word of warning, however: since on the Internet any marbles bought will have their purchase based on only one or perhaps a few pictures, as well as the assumption that the seller is honest and knows how to grade marbles, make sure you know who you're buying from. Does this person have a good reputation? Is there a guarantee, so a marble may be returned for a refund if you find you don't like it once you have it in hand? Once you feel comfortable with the idea of ordering or bidding on marbles on-line, you will find that this opens up an entire new realm to the collecting experience. It does, in fact, offer more benefits in many ways than even a live show.

One more technique warrants mention, though few seem to employ it. Some collectors with whom I've spoken say they have had good luck advertising for marbles in the local newspaper and on craigslist. Certainly, all have had more than their share of wild goose chases; you will find that everyone who calls has a treasure trove of antique marbles, only to find upon your arrival at their home a fist full of catseyes. Still, it's that one shot in every score or so where you'll walk away a winner.

Various other methods are used by crafty collectors. Some distribute business cards that state their desire to buy marbles anywhere they are able to leave these cards. Some wear hats, tee-shirts, or even have bumper stickers on their cars advertising the same. Clever individuals need only to use their imaginations to think up other ways of building a marble collection!

 

3: WHAT ARE MARBLES WORTH, AND HOW ARE THEY VALUED?

3a) How do I figure out how much a marble is worth?

Placing an exact numeric value on anything, especially a collectible item, is tricky. Prices are subject to a number of factors: current demand, current availability, regional influences, price fluctuations, and so forth. With marbles the problem is compounded by other factors: size, condition, eye appeal, color, etceteras. Subtle differences between two marbles that are essentially identical can separate the two by hundreds of dollars.

Since marbles are now so widely available, as regards the venue from which they can be purchased, do your homework. Follow eBay auctions for a type in which you're interested. Look up the values in price guides, and check out web sites to see if the marble is offered there. Attend shows and do comparative shopping. I have literally purchased certain marbles at a show, only to move to the very next table and find the same ones for a fraction of the cost! Don't rush in to a purchase unless the marble is just that rare---there will be another one available and a little patience can save you some major money.

3b) Are marbles a good investment?

Most collectors will deny that they are in it for the potential for making money. In fact, a lot of people do collect with no intention of ever selling, no matter what they are offered. There are also a few, however, who buy marbles with the sole intention of making money.

Obviously, a person can earn a profit for selling marbles. Otherwise, I would not be able to pay for this web site! However, this can be difficult and you have to have your finger on the pulse of the market, so to speak. When a bargain is obvious, snap up the marble if you don't personally want it for display but know you can turn it over for a few dollars. But also be careful...there are some glaring examples of people who lost big time through speculating. For instance, Akro Agate "Popeye Patches" and Marble King "Blended Spidermen" used to bring up to $100 each. They were that rare. But then they started appearing at shows in greater numbers and some thinking they could make a killing bought as many as they could find for, say, $20 each. Those who sold quickly probably came out just fine. But those who held onto them were in for a nasty surprise: soon it was discovered that the marbles were being unearthed in huge numbers at dump sites. Today, one is lucky to get a buck for the blue and yellow Popeye Patch, while the Blended Spiderman, by no means as available, demands a price of around $10.

Perhaps a better way of viewing your collection as able to be sold for a profit is long term. Marble prices are always fluctuating up and down but like stocks and bonds, the prices have a general upward trend. In other words, the potential for a long term investment is more secure than short term. No one knows what the future holds, though. It all depends on whether or not people are still collecting as avidly down the road, as it also depends on other factors, such as how many are found between now and then, and how well the reproductions are made, since there is always someone trying to copy the look of older and more valuable marbles.

3c) Can I trust the price guides?

Well, let me put it this way. Would you buy stocks based on a price you saw in the Wall Street Journal, if that newspaper only came out every year or so? Price guides are an excellent collector's resource, but only if used properly. They are generally great for identification, though the authors will readily admit they can not cover each and every type of marble out there. And the prices are usually based on their own selling experiences. While mostly accurate at the time of publication, between updated editions the prices can and will rise and fall on most of the marbles. So use them as the "guides" they are, and not as something written in stone. Remember, though a particular marble may be valued at a particular amount, slight variations in the colors and patterning of a given type can wildly affect how much someone is willing to pay. And as you start buying more marbles, you will find yourself more than once grimacing and clenching your fists when a seller demands a price for a marble he has found valued a certain way in a price guide, though it will give you pleasure year after year seeing the same seller at a show, still trying to sell the same marble.

A final word of advice: if you try to sell off your entire collection you're going to discover you will make less overall than if you sold the marbles individually. This is particularly true if the buyer is a dealer. Remember that a dealer has to make some money in the resale, so don't expect to get "book" prices for your marbles. The general rule in this case, which holds true for just about any type of collectible, is that a dealer will offer you about half of what he expects to eventually make.

 

4: HOW IS THE CONDITION OF MARBLES DETERMINED?

4a) How do I grade the condition of a marble?

Grading a marble can be very tricky. There are two basic systems, both of which call upon the same general criteria. The most common system groups marbles into the following categories: Collectible, Good, Near Mint, and Mint. Among the latter three, marbles can usually be subdivided the into the Minus (-) or Plus (+) ranges; when neither denomination is used, the grade is considered mid-range.

 

So how are marbles graded, then? I know of several methods, mostly macroscopic. Some people hold the marble anywhere from six inches to a foot or more from the naked eye and judge based on their ability to detect damage from this distance. This method is very subjective and is dependent upon that person's eyesight: obviously those with 20/20 vision are going to give a more accurate assessment than those who are farsighted! Another system uses this "eyeballing" technique, with the addition of feeling the marble's surface with the fingernail to discover damage that is otherwise undetectable. Again, while better than the first method, it is weakened by subjectivity.

My favorite grading method is microscopic, though this too has inherent flaws. For instance, what power of magnification is used? I know of people who use 3X, 5X, 10X, and even 20X. I personally like 20X, because I want to be absolutely sure that if I say a marble is Mint, then indeed it is. No matter what method of grading is used, all collectors should be equipped with a jeweler's loupe with 10X magnification. These are handy not only for grading, but also for detecting repaired marbles.

Let's look at each range of condition now. Though there are various definitions of what constitutes a certain grade, I'll use mine, since few would disagree with my approach, I think. Mint is the easiest, since such a marble has no visible damage. Under magnification, if I can still detect no damage whatsoever, the marble is Mint (+). If there is just a hint of wear, or a tiny rub spot or abrasion invisible to the naked eye, then it is Mint. If, under magnification, I can find a pinprick, tiny subsurface moon or reflection, or a sparkle, but no damage that can be felt with the fingernail, I rate it Mint (-).

The Near Mint range is pretty straight forward, too. Such a marble will have visible damage or at least enough microscopic damage for me to not want to classify it as Mint (-). Near Mint (+) marbles may have a small flake or two, or a couple moons or some such defect, but otherwise be free of wear and able to be viewed mint from at least one angle. Near Mint marbles will have more numerous or larger flakes, moons, or other minor damage, but still have at least one side that can be seen as mint. Near Mint (-) specimens, on the other hand, will have multiple flakes, moons, scratches, abrasions, and so forth, but no exterior damage that is very deep or large. Such a marble may have overall damage but generally less than a quarter of the overall surface will be affected.

When we move into the Good range, things get a bit more difficult. I am often at wit's end whether or not to classify some marbles as Good (+) and Near Mint (-), and indeed in my own opinion this is perhaps the most subjective division in the grading system. Good (+) marbles will have a substantial amount of damage, a bit more than marbles that can squeak through into the Near Mint range; the damage can be larger and deeper. Good marbles might have such damage covering up to 50% of the overall surface, and may also include damage so deep that polishing the marble could not remove it. Good (-) marbles are at the very fringe of what is worth keeping and what you want to toss. Such examples may have almost no areas of glass unaffected by damage and wear. On transparent marbles, the wear, haze, and frostiness on the remaining surface may be so bad you cannot see what is inside the marble.

"Collectible" is a grading term that makes me cringe. First, are not marbles in better condition also collectible? Second, since this grade covers the remaining range of condition, would you truly consider a "2.5" condition marble worth keeping? The difference here lies in the rarity of the marble; an Akro Corkscrew, for instance, would be worthless in 5.0 condition, but a two inch black-based Clambroth in the same condition would still maintain some level of collectibility. I now prefer to use the term "Poor" instead of "Collectible." Whichever your opinion, the fact is that a Poor/Collectible marble will have deep damage, and a lot of it. If you see me grade a marble as such, and your desire is only to have marbles that maintain some semblance of respectability and ability to be visually enjoyed, don't walk away---run!

The second system is numerically based and often controversial, since there is no set standard for most of this precise grading. The following is used for the Running Rabbit Auctions:

10.0 (Pristine): This describes a perfect marble, with a "wet," clean surface even under magnification. All contemporary marbles should have this grade, though very few antique or vintage marbles will ever be graded as such.

9.7-9.9 (Mint +): There is no damage present, even under magnification, though the marble is not quite a perfect "10."

9.3-9.6 (Mint): To the unaided eye, this describes a marble with no damage, though under magnification there may be one or two pinpricks, a hint of wear, or an abrasion or rub spot. Marbles in this range may have a small "as-made" such as a pinprick-sized blow-out pit or a touch spot.

9.0-9.2 (Mint -): Mint (-) marbles will have no missing glass, with the exception perhaps of some microscopic pinpricks. There may be minor wear, a sparkle or two, or a tiny subsurface reflection or moon.

8.7-8.9 (Near Mint +): These marbles are almost in the Mint range, but may have a tiny flake or moon, or two, as well as a few sparkles, subsurface reflections/moons, minor "as-mades," and/or minor wear. Near Mint (+) marbles will have at least one angle from which they view Mint.

8.3-8.6 (Near Mint): This range describes marbles that have the same sort of description seen on Near Mint (+) marbles, only to a higher degree. One side should still be viewed Mint.

8.0-8.2 (Near Mint -): These marbles will have the same sort of damage seen on specimens in the upper Near Mint ranges but only more so. No side will be viewable as Mint, but the damage will not be deep or cover more than one quarter of the marble's surface, with the exception of overall wear.

7.7-7.9 (Good +): The difference between marbles in this range and those that are Near Mint (-) is highly subjective, though such marbles will have over one quarter of the surface covered with damage, but not more than 50%. A Good (+) marble should be able to be reconditioned (polished) without too much glass required to be removed.

7.3-7.6 (Good): Good marbles will have substantial damage, some of it deep enough so that polishing may not remove it all. Roughly half of the surface will have damage, and wear is generally heavy.

7.0-7.2 (Good -): More than 50% of the surface has damage, including substantial chips, and you would probably not want to collect such a marble unless it were extremely rare or if you planned on having it reconditioned. Polishing will probably not remove all the damage without substantiallyreducing the size of the marble.

6.7-6.9 (Poor +): Poor (+) marbles are so beat up that there has to be a really good reason it would still be desirable. You would be taking a risk to try to have such a marble polished.

6.3-6.6 (Poor): Marbles in Poor condition have so much damage you can barely tell what type it is. These are beyond repair.

6.0-6.2 (Poor -): A marble in this condition is so beat up that there would be no reason to want to own it, unless it happens to be a unique example. 5.9 and under (Non-Collectible): Throw it away!

4b) What types of damage can a marble have?

A number of terms are bandied about when it comes to describing the condition of a marble, and some I do not use so will not discuss them here. These include "flea bites" and "chigger bites," and the like.

There are two basic categories of damage that can occur on a marble. These are surface damage and subsurface damage. Keep in mind that many of these terms are appropriate only for glass marbles, but since 99% of you will only seriously collect such orbs, I'll limit the discussion to glass. Of course, non-glass material can have the same types of damage in most cases.

Let's begin with surface damage, since that is going to be the most prominent.

Chips are left when pieces of material are broken away from the marble. They tend to be large and deep, and are often angular.

chip.jpg (11686 bytes)

Chip

Flakes are generally more shallow and, as the name suggests, are bits of material that have been flaked away. They can be large but for the most part are small.

flake.jpg (6032 bytes)

Flake

Pinpricks are what they sound like: pin-point sized pieces of missing glass. They usually cannot be easily seen or felt, but are evident under magnification.

pinprick.jpg (4175 bytes)

Pinprick

Surface moons are crescent-shaped flakes. They often occur as a result of impact against a hard object.

surmoon.jpg (8961 bytes)

Surface Moon

Scratches are pretty much self-explanatory. They are usually shallow and may be hard to see, though they can be felt with a fingernail.

scratch.jpg (12535 bytes)

Scratch

Surface fractures are hairline cracks in a marble. Some are caused by annealing, or the cooling of the marble during manufacture, though some are caused by impact.

Pits are generally small, round areas on the surface of a marble. Often caused during manufacture, they are usually the result of trapped pockets of air just under the surface being exposed by glass breaking away.

pit.jpg (13158 bytes)

Pit

Wear is a condition on a marble that does not really constitute missing glass, but a general dulling over the surface due to use. Other types of wear may be the result of aging and chemical weathering: hazing is an appearance of glass where the surface is dulled, making it difficult to see inside the marble; frostiness is a more advanced form of hazing where the marble's surface is so weathered that one cannot see into the interior (if transparent); patination is a condition in which the surface of the glass is weathered and has taken on an iridescent appearance.

wear.jpg (13142 bytes)

Wear

Crazing is a condition where the surface of a marble is covered with fine fractures with an almost spiderweb-like appearance. Sometimes caused by annealing, it can also result from age and weathering, and is particularly common among dug marbles.

crazing.jpg (9410 bytes)

Crazing

Abrasions and rub-spots are minor types of damage that aren't really severe enough to consider scratches. These usually occur during manufacturing when thousands of marbles are grouped into single containers.

abrasion.jpg (14981 bytes)

Abrasion

Now we'll consider subsurface damage, which usually is not as noticeable or bothersome as surface damage.

Subsurface moons are similar to surface moons in appearance, but are completely inside the glass and involve no missing material.

submoon.jpg (11424 bytes)

Subsurface Moon

Sparkles are pinprick-sized reflections beneath the surface. They often are only seen when the marble is held at a certain angle, and they are made visible by the fact that they reflect light.

sparkle.jpg (3698 bytes)

Sparkle

Reflections are like sparkles, but are larger in size. The term is often interchangeable with subsurface moons.

Bruises are round areas on the marble resulting from impact. The glass is literally bruised and takes on a discoloration. These begin at the surface but are mostly beneath it, and involve no missing glass.

bruise.jpg (9305 bytes)

Bruise

Subsurface fractures are completely under the surface. Again, they may have formed during the cooling process, but also can occur after manufacture.

ssfracture.jpg (22261 bytes)

Subsurface Fracture

A third category of damage is "as-made" and as such really isn't damage in the true since of the word, but since it detracts from the beauty, and therefore value, of a marble, it will be considered here.

Annealing fractures are been discussed above. They are caused when the glass improperly cools during the final stage of manufacture.

Blow-outs are naturally occurring pits. Trapped air bubbles just under the surface burst during cooling, leaving usually small round pits.

blowout.jpg (5136 bytes)

Blowout Pit

Roll lines are linear depressions in the surface of marbles that are hand made. They may also occur in machine made marbles that were not properly rounded as they descended the machinery's chutes.

roll.jpg (27125 bytes)

Roll Lines

Seediness is a condition in glass where microscopic air bubbles are trapped at the surface.

seedy.jpg (7491 bytes)

Seediness

Craters often occur in handmade marbles where, apparently, the still hot glass is impacted by something. They are usually small, round, shallow depressions with concentric rings.

crater.JPG (14140 bytes)

Crater

4c) Is there a universal system for grading marbles?

Not really. The Marble Collectors Society of America has promulgated a system which has been widely adopted due to the club's influence. However, there are variations within the system and experienced collectors and dealers often develop their own criteria. Naturally, Mint is Mint, but as discussed above there is a wide range of Mint. Unlike, say, numismatics, which has a strict set of criteria for the grading of coins and a handful of experts who are recognized as possessing the authority to set exact numeric grades, no such system has been developed for marbles. Even so, you will eventually feel comfortable grading your own marbles and perhaps even some you will want to sell; experience, in this case, is the keyword.

 

5: OK--I UNDERSTAND ALL THE QUESTIONS LISTED ABOVE, BUT I'M STILL CONFUSED!

5a) What is with all the different marble names?

Early in the manufacturing history of machine made marbles, some of the companies deemed it necessary to name their different marbles. These names were often reminiscent of earlier popular stone types that the makers tried to imitate with glass. Later, children playing with these marbles also gave them names, and eventually, when marbles became collectible, the hobbyists too conceived descriptive names. Many of the marbles given names by collectors sported superhero titles, such as the Peltier Glass Company "Superman" or the Marble King "Spiderman."

Such names adopted by collectors stuck in many cases and today are widely used to identify specific marbles. Unfortunately, as the popularity of the hobby gains momentum more and more people are applying names of their own choosing to certain previously unnamed marbles, causing the "old time" collectors to often ring their hands in frustration. Now, they protest, we have to contend with the Akro Agate Superman, the Christensen Agate Superman, and even the Vacor de Mexico Superman! Other recent names are more imaginative, and while many are not readily accepted, most collectors have noted that previously unnamed marbles that now have accepted names, like the Peltier "Superboy" for instance, skyrocket in price once the name sticks. This can be good or bad, depending on whether you're selling or buying the marble in question!

5b) How can I tell old from new?

The answer to this is simple: experience. You have to become acquainted with marbles, and their particular traits, to be able to distinguish old from new. Generally, this is easier for hand made marbles (though many of us as "newbies" have bought unsigned contemporary marbles thinking them antique), and can be quite difficult for machine made marbles.

As you progress through this hobby, you'll learn that machine made marbles from different companies have often subtle differences in glass color, seam configuration, patterning, etceteras. Soon, it will be obvious to you when you hold a marble in hand whether or not it is vintage. In general terms, and applying primarily to opaque colors in machine made marbles, older glass is brighter, more vibrant, and more opaque. Newer marbles often have a dull look to the colors, and the opacity often borders on translucency.

Explaining these differences in text is very difficult, and really the best method is going to be through direct experience...by handling as many marbles as you can. Therefore, you're going to have to attend marble shows! Even so, be warned: experienced collectors are not immune to making errors. I just received a collection on consignment from a person who has been collecting ten years, and mixed in with the Christensen Agate marbles (which date to the late 1920s) were several Mexican marbles with similar coloring and designs, but made only recently. There were also a couple fakes: modern torchmade marbles intentionally created by a glass artist to look like these older examples. So don't be frustrated by being ripped off or unintentionally fooled. Think of it as a lesson, albeit perhaps an expensive one. When it comes to accidentally purchasing modern marbles that you think are old is not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when."

Even though I do tout experience as the best tool for protecting yourself against buying newer marbles, thinking them old and valuable, some books and web sites do offer guides on avoiding modern machine made or contemporary hand made marbles (or original packaging, for that matter) misrepresented as genuine. My own is a good place to begin, and it can be accessed by using this link.

5c) Try as I might, I still can't identify my marble! What gives?

Don't fret! Many marbles, particular machine made marbles made after around 1940, are very hard to identify. First, they may be so common that they have not been given the descriptive names that you find attached to older, rarer marbles. Or it may be a type of marble manufactured by many different companies, and therefore obscured by its own homogeneity. Even if you have a type of marble that is identified in the various books or on a site such as mine, remember that due to variations in the pattern it may be very difficult for you to pin it down. Once more, experience will solve this problem, but not completely. Personally, I don't trust a collector who claims to be able to identify every single marble he or she sees. Though by no means as experienced as some, in the past few years I've seen hundreds of thousands of marbles and still have some go by me that only make me scratch my head and shrug. Alas, that's the challenge and allure of marble collecting: you'll never get to the point where you become jaded because you've seen it all!

Back to Top

Home

Back to BuyMarbles.com Home Page

Email questions or comments to: craig@buymarbles.com

Copyright © 2012 BuyMarbles.com