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NON-GLASS HANDMADE MARBLES

Please note that most of the information on this page is borrowed from the writings of Jeff Carskadden and Richard Gartley, both of whom have heavily researched this topic and are gratefully thanked for helping advance the hobby of marble collecting into the realm of professional archaeology.

AGATES

Hand cut agates were mostly produced in the Idar-Oberstein area of western Germany at least as early as 1775 and probably much earlier. However, the peak period of production was in the 1880s. Agate was mined from Idar-Oberstein for centuries and evidence for actual agate mills dates to as early as 1454. By 1775 there were 26 agate mills in the region.

In 1802, to counter the dwindling supply of locally procurable semi-precious stones, agate was begun to be imported to Idar-Oberstein from India. Then in 1827, agate was discovered in Uruguay (in a region that is now part of Brazil), and thereafter (beginning around 1834) this agate was exported to Idar-Oberstein.

The agate marble market thrived after 1860 and continued until the onset of World War I. Many of these marbles were shipped to the United States during this period. After the great war, the industry was seriously crippled, not only because of the war but likely resulting from the growing popularity of machine made glass marbles, which were initially given names to suggest their similarity to "aggies." Hence, such companies as Akro Agate and Christensen Agate. Though some hand cut German agates were distributed in small Master Marble boxes at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair, production of these marbles had effectively ceased around 1925.

Agates are composed of chalcedony, a fibrous quartz, that formed concentric layers (bands), mostly in lava flows. Mineral impurities in these layers give the stone various natural colors, usually shades of red and brown. Specific names have been applied to agate marbles, depending on their color. Carnelian agates are red to reddish brown, striped carnelian agates have alternating red and white bands, onyx agates are black, and striped onyx agates have alternating black and white bands. There are other types of agates, too. Dendritic agates possess "fern-like" patterns in an otherwise gray matrix, while moss agates have intertwined hair-like fibers. Both of these patterns are formed by mineral impurities.

However, most banded agates from Idar-Oberstein were heated and/or dyed to create their banding effect, due to the fact that after 1834 a lot of the stone used for the marbles was translucent bluish-gray South American agate. It was long known in Idar-Oberstein that otherwise plain agates would become red when exposed to long periods of sunlight. Therefore, after 1813 agate workers began heating the agates in ovens to achieve the same effect. This heating changed the color in the stone because the ferric oxide impurities would react to the high temperature. Soon thereafter, the workers realized that a reddish color could also be achieved by immersing the marbles in iron nitrate or iron vitriol solutions. The black color in some agates was effected by boiling that agate in a sugar solution or soaking it in honey, and then treating it with sulfuric acid. Black dyed agates was an idea introduced from India around 1819. Less commonly, some agates were dyed blue, green, or yellow, and this apparently was done only after 1845.

Agates were made by first chipping small cubes of stone from a larger piece of material.  Then, the stone was ground down by workers who had to lie on their stomachs across a sloping board, with their feet braced against pieces of wood attached firmly to the floor. This position allowed the workers to face the millstone and exert the considerable force needed to grind the stone. The millstone itself was made of sandstone and measured around five feet in diameter. It was kept moving by a water wheel attached to  a set of cogwheels to quicken the number of revolutions.

Hand cut agates are typically faceted, as they were ground by hand into spheres. However, following this procedure they were placed into polishing drums, and depending upon the amount of time they spent in these drums the facets could be completely removed, or might remain mostly intact.

Machine ground agates, on the other hand, never have facets, though this too cannot be used as a trait to date agates. Again, some hand ground agates will lack faceting, and will appear to be machine ground. Conversely, some people still hand grind agates avocationally, so just because an agate manifests facets does not necessarily mean it is old.

There are many other types of semiprecious stone that can be placed in the agate category. However, most (but not all) of these are modern and machine ground. These minerals may include malachite, tigereye, rose quartz, amethyst, onyx, bloodstone, and rhodenite, among others.

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Banded Agate

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Blue Dyed Agate

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Green Dyed Agate

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Green Dyed Agate

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Eye Agate

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Banded Agate

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"Crystal" Eye Banded Agate

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Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Bullseye Banded Agate (Striped Carnelian)

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Agate (untreated)

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Banded Agate

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Banded Agate (Carnelian)

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Rose Quartz (machine ground)

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Tigereye (machine ground)

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Malachite (hand ground)

ALABASTERS

Alabaster marbles are made from real marble and originate primarily from the Berchtesgaden-Salzburg region of Germany, where they were made chiefly after around 1790. Marble mills were operating in this region no later than 1680. Here, the marble was mined primarily from Untersberg Mountain, though some came from near the town of Oettingen; this latter marble is called Hochhaus. The marble mills in this region continued operating commercially until the beginning of the twentieth century, and in fact some still operate today as tourist attractions. The annual production is low, around 500-2000 pieces.

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One of the Mills at Work (courtesy Dr. Christian F. Uhlir, University of Salzburg)

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A Group of Alabaster Marbles (courtesy Dr. Christian F. Uhlir, University of Salzburg)

Most alabasters, or marble marbles, are composed of a white to light pink material with reddish veins. Some are of a grayish, yellowish, black, or red material, though. Though the term "alabaster" is something of a misnomer, as true alabaster is comprised of gypsum, the use of the term to refer to any stone containing banded calcite has been popularized by sculptors, architects, and the like. The term was adopted by marble players, and from this we get the term "alley" (hence the company Alley Agate).

Marble marbles are comprised of a softer material than the quartz agates. Therefore a different method was used to produce them. First, the parent material was cut into appropriately sized cubes. Then these cubes were placed into grooves in sandstone grindstones through which water was forced, turning the marble until it was smoothed into a perfect sphere. This process consumed as little as fifteen minutes, and therefore a single marble mill could produce thousands of these marbles each day.

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Alabaster (Marble)

LIMESTONE

Limestone marbles are among the oldest marbles made from stone and date to no later than around 1575. The earliest limestone marbles were from the Berchtesgaden-Salzburg region of Germany and are often recovered from archeological sites in Amsterdam. However, it was the Sonneberg-Coburg region of Germany that produced the bulk of limestone marbles; known production in this area began in 1769 at the Trinks marble mill, though there may have been earlier, undocumented, mills in the region.

After 1769, the limestone marble industry truly flourished in the Sonneberg-Coburg region. Another mill went into operation in 1771 and was responsible for well over one million marbles per year. By 1800 there were nine mills in the region; by the end of the century, there were more than 70. Thereafter, the limestone marble industry declined and by the end of the 1930s only two mills were running, and only to fill special orders.

Not all limestone marbles were used as toys. In fact, many of these "marbles" were used by the navies of several nations, particularly England, as canister shot for their cannons. This was especially common in the late 1700s into the early part of the following century, though there is at least once instance where limestone marbles were used in this fashion during the American Civil War. This occurred when the Union ship The Essex attacked the Confederate ship Arkansas, using a mixture of stone, earthenware, and glass marbles as shot.

Limestone marbles were manufactured by first being cut into small cubes. These cubes were then placed into grooves in millstones. Water was forced through a water wheel, which turned the millstone against an oaken block, smoothing down the limestone. Some limestone marbles were then polished. Polishing was conducted as early as 1781, but seems to not have been used commercially until after 1822. As time passed, polished limestone marbles became more popular, but were somewhat more expensive than non-polished examples.

Limestone marbles were available in natural colors of mostly gray and brown, with white, tan, and (rarely) yellow.   Often, limestone marbles, being of a less dense material, will be misidentified as earthenware marbles. However, one reliable test is to drop a diluted acid solution (such as  hydrochloric acid) on the marble's surface. This acid reacts with the calcium carbonate in the limestone and will cause mild effervescence. If there is no reaction, the marble is composed of clay. Another characteristic of limestone marbles is that they sometimes have flat spots, which are remnants of their having been ground down from cubes.

Some limestone marbles were dyed, and though it is not known exactly when this first took place, such dying was conducted at least by the 1880s. Most of these dyed marbles were in shades of blue and red. Some naturally yellow limestone marbles with brown banding have been found.

FLINTS

Flint marbles are discussed separately from agates because, though they are related, they are composed of non-semiprecious stone. Flint can either be pure (a dull variety of chalcedony) or comprised of silicified limestone (chert). It also includes jasper and petrified wood, which are other forms of chalcedony. The remainder of chalcedony marbles (carnelian, etceteras) are considered here as agates. For purposes of classification, the flint marble category will also include those marbles made from sandstone and even river pebbles.

Flint marbles and related spheres were produced for the most part after 1781, though they have turned up at archeological sites dating to the sixteenth century. It might be surmised that these date even farther back in time, especially naturally rounded river pebbles, since they have been recovered from sites of great antiquity. Their use as "marbles," however, is in question. By 1763 there was at least one mill dedicated to grinding pebbles into marbles; this mill was located near Sollingen, Germany.

True flint marbles are found in shades of brown, gray, and tan; they are often difficult to distinguish from limestone marbles since the material of each is closely related. However, as the calcium carbonate in limestone has to be replaced by silicates to become limestone, flint marbles will not effervesce when in contact with acid. Flint marbles are also much harder than limestone marbles; flint cannot be scratched with steel, whereas limestone can be. Flint marbles, and related spheres, are rare.

STONEWARE

Stoneware marbles are those that are distinguished by their hard-paste characteristics. These were the earliest of the three basic styles of ceramic marbles (the other two being Chinas (porcelain) and Clays (earthenware). Stoneware marbles first appeared in the 1500s and were produced mainly in Germany and Belgium, and distributed by the Dutch. The main centers of stoneware marble production were in Raerin, Flanders (now part of Belgium) (ca. 1550-1650); Frechen, Germany (ca. 1550-1725); Grossalmerode, Germany (ca. 1550-1885); and Thiersheim, Bavaria (ca. 1790s).

Brown Saltglazed Stoneware (ca. 1600-1800)

Brown saltglazed stoneware marbles are gray-bodied, with a salt glaze over a light brown to dark purple (iron or manganese) slip. The salt glaze very frequently lends the marbles an "orange peel-like" texture. The slip may completely cover the marble or simply form patches on it.

That these marbles date to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has been very well documented. They have been securely dated to ca. 1600-1805 in closed contexts at Dutch archaeological sites, and they were retrieved from the wreck of the Amsterdam, a Dutch East India ship that sank in 1749. In America, they have been recovered from sites dated from the mid-1600s to as late as 1761. They are known to have been manufactured at potteries in Grossalmerode as late as the 1790s, and those made at this stoneware-producing center often manifest orange inclusions in the paste. It should be noted that these marbles are the most common types associated with archaeological sites of the 1600s.

Gray Saltglazed Stoneware (ca. 1600-1880)

Generally, gray saltglazed stoneware marbles are the same as the brown saltglazed stoneware marbles mentioned above, but without the slip. However, as many of them lack the orange inclusions seen in many Grossalmerode brown saltglazed marbles, they may have been produced intentionally elsewhere.

Gray saltglazed stoneware marbles marbles were probably manufactured in the German stoneware centers of Westerwald and Cologne during the 1600s and 1700s, but were also made in America during the late nineteenth century. Most of the American examples, however, were decorated with sponged, spattered, or (rarely) banded cobalt blue decorations. They appear to have been made between 1860-1880.

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Cobalt Banded Gray Saltglazed Stoneware

Bisque Stoneware (ca. 1600-1800)

Bisque stoneware marbles have the same paste characteristics as the brown saltglazed and gray saltglazed examples discussed above, but lack any slip or glaze. Some have orange inclusions and thus may have been made in Grossalmerode. These represent either unintentionally unslipped and/or unglazed marbles, or intentionally made, less expensive marbles.

Raeren Brown Stoneware (ca. 1600-1640)

Raeren Brown marbles are almost identical to brown saltglazed marbles. However, their primary distinguishing trait is the fact that they do not have the "orange peel" texture typical of salt glazed ceramics. Rather, they are smooth and lustrous. This characteristic is common to ceramics from the Raeren-Frechen region, exemplified by Bellarmine bottles, in which an iron or lead oxide was added to the slip.

These marbles are rare and to date have only been archaeologically recovered from sites in Europe, ca. ca. 1600-1640. They may often be mistaken, however, for the more common brown saltglazed marbles, as their luster tends to wear off over time, which would be hastened by their burial in soil.

Tigerware (ca. 1600-1650)

Tigerware is related to Raeren Brown. However, on ceramics bearing this name, usually Bellarmine bottles attributed to Frechen origins, the glaze is heavily mottled. Tigerware marbles are extremely rare and, because of their resemblance to Frechen bellarmines, are considered to have occurred contemporaneously with, and slightly later than, Raeren Brown marbles.

Lined Crockery (ca. 1860-1920)

Lined crockery marbles, originally called "jaspers" or "cloudies," are variegated stoneware marbles that replaced variegated earthenware marbles of the late eighteenth to mid nineteenth centuries. They are differentiated from their earlier counterparts by not only their harder-paste but also by their blue, green, or even green bands or veins, as compared to the brownish mottling or banding of the earthenware examples. Some lined crockery marbles are glazed.

Lined crockery marbles were introduced in the late 1850s in Germany. They were called jaspers because of their similarity to Jasper Ware, a ceramic type introduced around 1775 by Josiah Wedgewood, who had also created the popular Creamwares and Pearlwares of the late 1700s and early 1800s.

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Lined Crockery, Glazed

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Lined Crockery, Unglazed

EARTHENWARE

Earthenware marbles can be divided into two classes: brown-bodied and white-bodied. The latter class originates from earlier periods than the former. A third class, yellowware, comprises a very small portion of the earthenware marble category.

Common Brown-Bodied Earthenware

Common brown-bodied earthenware marbles are usually referred to as "clays" or "commies." They were manufactured from low-fired brown or red clays, and depending on the amount and type of impurities always present in the clay, would assume a post-firing color of red, brown, gray, or tan. These marbles are very porous and rapidly absorb water placed on them.

These marbles were produced in vast numbers in both Europe (mainly Germany) and America. Their date of production is between the mid 1700s up to the late 1920s or even 1930s. They are often found in their original boxes, most often from Germany but even found in Christensen Agate Company boxes.

Brown-bodied earthenware marbles have been found on archaeological sites dating to the 1600s in England. However, these are isolated incidences and do not represent commercial manufacturing, which appears to have begun until the middle of the following century. By late in the same century they became common enough to be found in significant numbers at archeological sites in Europe as well as America during this period. Early clay marbles were molded by hand, as evidenced by many of them being out-of-round and even having fingerprint impressions, while after the invention of a marble-shaping machine in 1859 they were made more perfectly spherical.

In America, these marbles were probably made locally by immigrant Moravian potters in Bethabara, North Carolina, around 1756-1773. They may also have been produced at potteries in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania between 1795-1840. In 1889, several potteries in and around Akron, Ohio, began producing "commies." These were apparently made is such mass amounts that the flow of these marbles from Germany was effectively halted.

Many of these American clay marbles were not specifically used in children's games. Large numbers of them were utilized in a number of different manners, particularly in oil cans and oil pipe lines to clean out paraffin buildup.

As mentioned, manufacture of common brown-bodied earthenware marbles began in Akron, Ohio, in 1889. They were first made there by S.C. Dyke and Company, and shortly thereafter by that company's co-owner's brother, Acton L. Dyke. It was Acton Dyke who apparently introduced painted, or dyed, clay marbles in 1890, around the same time he also applied for a patent for machinery that could produce 600 marbles per hour.

The following year the two brothers consolidated their companies and operated as the American Marble and Toy Manufacturing Company until 1904. They soon had their machinery producing approximately 1000 marbles per hour.  These marbles were sold both dyed and undyed; the dyed examples were most frequently red, green, yellow, and blue. Some were dyed in solid colors while others were speckled with one or more colors.

There is evidence that Germany produced some dyed clays prior to 1890 and after 1883. These were called "bird's eggs" and more mostly speckled and less commonly solid colors. After the turn of the century, when that country was exporting very few clays to the United States, Germany did produce a type of clay that was covered with colored metal foil and distributed with "Mosaic" games.

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Brown-Bodied Earthenware (Undyed Clay)

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Brown-Bodied Earthenware (Dyed Clay)

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Brown-Bodied Earthenware (Multicolored Dyed Clay)

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Brown-Bodied Earthenware (Multicolored Dyed Clay)

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Brown-Bodied Earthenware (Multicolored Dyed Clay)

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Brown-Bodied Earthenware (Dyed and Painted Clay)

Lead-Glazed Brown-Bodied Earthenware

Some common brown-bodied earthenware marbles were made with a clear lead glaze. These are very rare and have only been found in Dutch collections lacking provenience information. It is believed that a hand full of these were probably made at potteries that were mainly producing kitchenware that need the slip added to prevent the absorption of liquid. Such vessels and other ceramics were slipped with lead glaze prior to around 1820 and beginning around the middle of the previous century, and therefore the marbles likely also date to this period.

White-Bodied Earthenware

Clays that fire to a whitish color contain less impurities than brown-bodied clays and therefore can be fired at higher temperatures. Porcelain is the purist form and has the hardest paste of all ceramics. Refined earthenwares, also known as whitewares, are fired at the lowest temperatures and have a soft paste, while the stonewares were fired at higher temperatures and have an intermediate paste that is considered semi-vitreous to vitreous. White-bodied earthenware marbles, then, are those that are fired at the lowest temperatures.

These marbles were produced in Holland and Germany during the mid sixteenth century up to the early nineteenth century. They are comprised of the same white-firing clays found in German and Dutch ceramic wares of that period. A few such marbles, probably made non-commercially, have also been recovered from at English potteries near Wakefield, Yorkshire. Some may also have been manufactured around 1818 at the Frazey Pottery in Zanesville, Ohio.

White-bodied earthenware marbles are almost all unglazed, though some that were made in Germany from around 1885-1920 may be either glazed or unglazed. These marbles, however, were made from more refined clays and were intended to imitate the more expensive porcelain "Chinas" of the period, and as such will be discussed in the China category.

Some white-bodied earthenware marbles were painted. These are rarely found in either private collections or at archeological sites, but may be confused with other types of marbles as the paint obscures their white bodies. This paint was red, blue, green, or yellow. To date it is not known when such marbles were painted but as one was recovered from a Dutch site occupied circa 1700 they may be from around this time.

Aside from the harder-paste "whiteware" marbles discussed below in the section on Chinas, few white-bodied earthenware marbles are thought to have been decorated. These were probably made at the Grossalmerode potteries from the mid 1500s and are reported to have been hand-painted with dots and intersecting lines.

One final category of white-bodied earthenware marbles includes those made from "pipe clay," or kaolin. These marbles are polished and therefore are probably from Holland during the 1600s and 1700s, as their polished surfaces resemble tobacco pipes from this time and place. They were not made commercially and in fact only a few are known from a private collection.

Variegated Earthenware

Variegated earthenware marbles were meant to resemble the more expensive stone marbles and were made from various clays of different colors. This produced a mottled or banded marble that did superficially have the appearance of agates and "alabasters."

In the ceramic industry, particularly in England, pottery using a variety of blended clays was produced as early as 1740. Such ceramics are collectively referred to as "agatewares." However, the manufacture of marbles utilizing this technique did not occur until later that same century, around 1788 or perhaps earlier.

Variegated marbles were made in Germany, though they were often called "Dutchmen" or "Dutch alleys" because they were distributed by Dutch merchants and perhaps because of the similarity of the German word "Deutsch."

Variegated earthenware marbles are generally unglazed, though glazed examples have been found, but only from American sites and collections. Therefore, such examples may have been produced in the United States, perhaps in the Zanesville, Ohio, area, as one glazed specimen was recovered from a privy there dated to ca. 1830-1850. The glaze on these marbles is a clear leadless alkaline glaze; such glaze was used after around 1820 as the harmful effects of lead glaze came to be realized.

Three techniques were used to produced "Dutchmen" variegated clay marbles. In one method crumbs or shavings of the darker (usually brownish) clay was sprinkled and the stirred into the white clay, while another method called for twisting coils of the different clays together; both of these methods resulted in a swirled or mottled appearance. The third method was to stack thin layers of alternating colored clays, and this caused a banded effect in the final product.

Around 1860, the "Dutchmen" variegated clay marbles were replaced by a variegated white-bodied stoneware type. These are called "Lined Crockeries" and are discussed in the Stoneware section above.

Yellowware

True yellow earthenware marbles are rare and seem to have been restricted to manufacture by a handful of potteries in Ohio, such as Howson and Hallam Pottery in Zanesville and Bromley's Brighton Pottery in Cincinnati. The former company produced such marbles during the 1860s to as late as 1874, and specimens found at the site include both plain and geometrically decorated bisque examples and marbles with a clear glaze. The latter company, on the other hand, manufactured yellowware marbles that, save from their interior paste, are indistinguishable from German "Benningtons" (see below).

Benningtons

Benningtons were created in Germany around 1870. Despite their name, they are not from Bennington, Vermont, as commonly believed, though they do have the appearance of the glaze of Rockingham ware from that town. Production of these marbles probably ceased sometime around 1910.

Benningtons were made from both white stoneware and porcelain clays. However, at least two potteries in Ohio produced similar marbles made of yellowware clays. They were usually glazed either brown (manganese) or blue (cobalt). Some possess a combination of the two colors and are called Fancy Benningtons. Rarely, Benningtons will also be found with white, pink, or green glazes.

The best identifying characteristic of a Bennington is the number of circular raised spots, or "eyes," on the marble, which were formed where the marbles touched one another while their glaze was still soft and they were being heated in kilns.

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Brown Bennington

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Blue Bennington

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Pink Bennington

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Green Bennington

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"Fancy" Bennington (blue/brown)

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"Fancy" Bennington (blue/green)

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"Fancy" Bennington (pink/blue/brown)

CHINAS

Chinas are, for the most part, comprised of porcelain. Porcelain is a term used to refer to high-fired white-bodied clays. These clays are extremely pure and therefore can be subjected to very high firing temperatures, resulting in a dense, vitreous, white, and often translucent paste. Porcelain is totally resistant to water absorption, unlike lower-fired ceramics such as earthenwares and whitewares.

China marbles were probably introduced in the 1840s, and perhaps even earlier in the century. As with many types of handmade marbles, they originated in Germany. They may also have been manufactured in America as early as 1844, at the Indiana Pottery Company, situated on the Ohio River in Troy, Indiana. These dates agree well with archaeological evidence, as Chinas have been recovered from contexts dated between 1830-1870. Many Chinas were imported to the states from Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century, but this importation had ended by 1910, coinciding with the rise in the American machine-made marble industry.

Chinas can be either glazed or unglazed, and they may also be either painted or plain. If glazed, the glaze will be under the paint, if present. Chinas with designs under the glaze are modern and are often passed off as old. The "glaze" on modern reproduction Chinas usually consists of an acrylic spray or other fixative substance.

In general terms, most unglazed Chinas date to the 1860s and before, while most glazed Chinas date to after 1890. Several stages of firing occurred depending on the treatment of the Chinas in terms of glazing and decoration. All Chinas were air dried following their formation, and then were fired (bisque-firing). If painted decorations were applied to the marbles following the bisque-firing, they were then refired at a lower temperature in order to set the paint. Glazed Chinas were dipped into a clear glaze and also refired at a lower temperature. If, after the glaze-firing, decorations were added, the marble would requite a third firing at an even lower temperature to soften the glaze and allow the paint to set.

The color of paint applied to Chinas was limited because many coloring compounds could not survive the final firing of the marbles. In order of decreasing presence, colors found on painted Chinas include brownish red, green, black, orange, blue, pink, yellow, brown, and lavender. A very few possess liquid gold.

Most painted decorations on Chinas were applied by hand with a brush. Some designs required that the marble remain static during the painting, while others, such as spirals, required that the marble be spinning on a small wheel during the procedure. Infrequently, some designs were stamped or stenciled onto the marble surface.

The design elements of painted Chinas are varied, and some of them are temporally sensitive and can be dated to a more or less specific period of time. These time periods have been divided into the Early (ca. 1846-1870), Middle (ca. 1870-1890), and Late (ca. 1890-1910) Periods. Each of the primary design elements will be discussed in detail below.

Lined Chinas

There are five basic styles of lined Chinas: single sets of narrow parallel lines, intersecting sets of narrow parallel lines, intersecting single lines, intersecting sets of narrow and wide lines, and single sets of narrow and wide lines.

Chinas with single sets of narrow parallel lines have only one set of lines, usually three or four lines, that encircle the marble's equator. Sometimes the marbles will have flowers, pinwheels, or leafsprays on the poles perpendicular to the lines. These marbles are typically unglazed and mostly date to the period ca. 1846-1870.

A much more common design element is that of intersecting sets of narrow parallel lines, which resemble the previous type but have an addition set of lines perpendicular to the first, intersecting at the center of the marble. This design has the effect of leaving four quadrants open on the marble, and these are usually filled with leafsprays. On rare occasions the two sets of lines are oblique to one another, forming an "x" shape where they intersect, leaving open areas which are filled with leafsprays on two poles. More commonly, there will be three sets of intersecting lines, leaving no open areas for the application of other design elements. For the most part, each set of lines will be of a single color, though usually each set is differently colored from one another. Most of those with two sets of lines are unglazed and date to the period ca. 1846-1870; the most common color combinations on these are red and black. When there are three sets of lines on glazed examples, orange-green-blue is the most frequently found combination, followed by red-green-black; when the marble is unglazed red-green-black and red-green-blue occur most frequently.

Chinas with intersecting single lines are similar to those with sets of lines, though there are simply two or (rarely) three single lines that encircle the equator and intersect with one another. Again, open quadrants are typically decorated with leafsprays. The lines may be narrow or wide. Most of these marbles are unglazed and are early (ca. 1846-1870).

Chinas with intersecting sets of wide and narrow lines have, as the name implies, two or three sets of lines that intersect at right or acute angles. However, the lines in individual sets vary in width, and the most common variation has a wide line (band) paralleled on either side by a narrow line. These marbles are unglazed and presumed early (ca. 1846-1870).

Chinas with single sets of wide and narrow lines are identical to those above but have only one set of lines. These lines encircle the marble's equator leaving two poles that are always decorated with another element, normally pinwheels or flowers. The unglazed condition of most of these marbles, together with the fact that they contain early style flowers or pinwheels, indicated that they primarily date the the period ca. 1846-1870.

Helix Chinas

Helix Chinas are similar to lined examples, though on these the lines are continuous. Like spiral Chinas, they were decorated with a brush stroke as the marble revolved on a wheel. Unlike spirals, however, the lines are around the equator and not on the poles. Thus, they are sort of intermediate between lined Chinas and spiral Chinas.

Helix Chinas can have a single helix or two or three sets of intersecting helix. Most helix Chinas are glazed, and those with three helixes are probably from an earlier period of manufacture than those with two. Over time, helixes probably replaced lines on the marbles since the marbles could be decorated more swiftly, as lines were, for the most part, painted on a stationary marble while helixes were made on a spinning wheel.

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Late Period Glazed China: Helix

Bullseye Chinas

Bullseye Chinas have sets of concentric rings, and the rings usually occur in pairs, three pairs per marble. Early examples sometimes have a pair of opposing bullseyes or one bullseye opposite to another design element. One pervading trait is that all bullseyes have rings of the same color (typically black, orange, or green), and no matter how many bullseyes are on a single marble, they will be of the same style. The various styles of bullseyes are discussed below.

The "solid eye" motif is one in which the "eye" is a solid-colored dot surrounded by one or two rings. They are probably early examples, and are very rare.

The "doughnut eye" motif is similar to that of the "solid eye," but rather than having a solid-colored dot, the inner ring is simply wide with an unpainted center. This wide ring will be surrounded by one or two narrower rings. These Chinas are early (ca. 1846-1870).

The "multiple ring" variety is a China in with the bullseyes have five or more rings as compared with the two or three usually seen. The rings will all be the same width. These marbles date to the early period.

The "overlapping ring" motif is a late style in which the bullseyes have been hastily applied, usually resulting in overlapping of the bullseyes. These Chinas are always glazed.

The "opposing eyes" motif is one in which there are only two bullseyes on the marble, always set opposite one another. These bullseyes may occur as the "solid eye," "doughnut eye," or "multiple ring" styles. Usually, the marble's equator is filled in with a three-palmate leaf or polychrome flowering wreath pattern (see below). These Chinas are unglazed and are early types.

Banded Chinas

Banded, or striped, Chinas are very rare and were probably made mostly in the ca. 1846-1870 period. They are always unglazed. Some have doughnut bullseyes on opposite poles, with so many rings on each bullseye that they meet at the marble's equator. Others have simple bullseyes on either pole, and a set of wide or narrow lines around the equator.

Spiral Chinas

Spiral Chinas possess a spiraling line on one or both poles. There is usually a band of leaves around the equator to offset the sets of spirals, though on a few examples there is no equatorial decoration. When two spirals are present they are always the same color; in decreasing order of frequency the colors are orange, red, black, and blue on glazed examples and red, green, orange, and pink on unglazed examples. When there is only one spiral, the opposite pole normally is decorated with a leafspray. Leaves on these Chinas are primarily red or green. Most spiral Chinas are glazed and therefore are assigned to the period ca. 1890-1910.

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Late Period Glazed China: Spiral

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Late Period Unglazed China: Spiral

Leaf Chinas

Leaves are seldom the defining element of Chinas, but rather were used to fill in spaces left by other designs. The leaves may occur in one of several styles: sprays, in garlands, wreaths, clovers, and palmate bands. The most common color is green, followed by red. Most Chinas with leaves are unglazed and thus early (ca. 1846-1870).

Leafspray Chinas have either random sets of leaves on them or are found radiating from the quadrants formed by two sets of perpendicular intersecting lines. Random Leafsprays often occur as "fillers" on Chinas with other design elements. They will have two or more leaves radiating from a single point, though the leaves seldom touch one another. There is a late example in which there is only one leafspray, on the pole opposite a spiral.

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Late Period Glazed China: Leafspray

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Late Period Glazed China: Leafspray opposite Spiral

Garland Chinas are those in which there are linear "chains" of leaves filling each quadrant of a China single intersecting lines or sets of lines.

Wreath Chinas are those in which two sets of spirals, one on each pole, are separated by an equatorial band of leaves or leafsprays. There is an early variation lacking the spirals, with two sets of intersecting wreathes.

Clover Chinas have three or four "V-shaped" or "heart-shaped" leaves extending from a stem. They are always unglazed and the clovers are always diametrically opposed and usually separated by an equatorial set of wide and narrow lines.

Palmate Chinas consist of a band of three-fan or five-fan leaves around the center of the marble. They are unglazed, and therefore early types, and almost always occur in conjunction with bullseyes or pinwheels on either pole.

Pinwheel Chinas

There are two styles of pinwheel Chinas, standard pinwheels and exotic pinwheels, and each will be discussed below.

Standard pinwheel Chinas could alternately be considered a variety of flower Chinas (see below), as the motif does indeed resemble a stylized flower. Standard pinwheels have between four and sixteen "petals" radiating from a central dot and can resemble not only flowers but propellers. Eight-bladed pinwheels are the most common, followed by seven, six, four, nine, and ten. Usually, there will be two pinwheels on an individual marble, and they will be diametrically opposed to one another and separated by a set of parallel lines, usually a wide/narrow combination, around the equator. The number of "petals" on each pinwheel are generally the same, and are also mostly of the same color. Green and red are the most common colors, followed by pink, black, blue, brown, lavender, and yellow. However, polychrome examples do occur. Standard pinwheel marbles are unglazed and represent early (ca. 1846-1870) examples.

Exotic pinwheel Chinas differ from standard pinwheels in not only being glazed (and dating to the middle period, ca. 1870-1890), but also by possessing bifurcated or trifurcated blades rather than single petals. The pinwheels will always have at least two colors (polychrome) and sometimes three. The two-colored versions are typically red/pink, red/green, or blue/orange, and these colors alternate. Some of these Chinas have opposing pinwheels separated by a helix or a set of wide/narrow lines around the equator, while others occur individually on a marble and lie opposite a spiral.

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Middle Period Glazed China: Exotic Pinwheel

Geometric Chinas

Chinas with dots are very rare and come in two basic styles: one with a circle of dots encompassing a central dot on opposite poles of the marble; and one with dots encircling the marble's equator and flanked by single or multiple lines.

There is one known example of a China with converging bands. In this style, the bands extend longitudinally from one pole to the other, so that the entire marble is covered with vertical stripes.

Checkered Chinas are very rare and are decorated with an alternating colored checkerboard pattern. They have never been found archaeologically, and are possibly modern.

Flower Chinas

Chinas with hand-painted flowers were introduced around the same time that this decoration began being used on tablewares. Typically, flower Chinas have flowers on either pole, opposite one another, and are set apart by parallel lines encircling the equator. More than one dozen distinctive styles of flower Chinas have been categorized, and their complexity, care of application, and association with or without glazing have allowed them to be roughly dated.

Chinas with primitive flowers are among the earliest of flower Chinas; they have also been referred to as "tomatoes" or "apple" flowers, because the design is simply a red dot with a stem and a few leaves. They are almost always unglazed and usually have a flower on each pole, set of by an equatorial set of parallel lines (most commonly the narrow/wide combination).

Doughnut flower Chinas are those that resemble the doughnut bullseye motif with a stem and leaves added. In fact, they are identical in style to primitive flowers with the exception of a central wide ring and not a solid dot. They, too, are unglazed and early (ca. 1846-1870).

Three bud flower Chinas have three red petals radiating in a fan-like pattern from the tip of a stem. Rarely, the flowers will resemble clovers or tulips. The marble will have two such flowers, one on each pole, with an equatorial set of lines, usually the wide/narrow combination. They are always unglazed and as such are early.

Chinas with the strawberry motif are extremely rare. There is one known example; on this marble there is a flower with four small red "buds" resembling strawberries. Each bud has a black stem; between each stem is a trifurcate green leaf, and all the stems and leaves radiate from a central green dot.

Polychrome dot flower Chinas typically have a small central dot which is surrounded by five or six dots of a color other than the central dot. There will be leaves radiating from this circle of dots. Like the above examples, such flowers occur on opposite poles of the marble and are separated by a set of lines around the center of the marble. On rare occasions the equatorial design has a repeating pattern of the dot flowers. These are early marbles (ca. 1846-1870) and as such are unglazed.

Radiating petal flower Chinas resemble standard pinwheels, with the exception that there leaves and a stem added to the radiating petals. This is a rare, early type that can either have two opposing such flowers or be part of a polychrome flowering wreath motif.

Polychrome flowering wreath Chinas come in one of four forms: differently colored palmate leafsprays forming a continuous pattern around the equator; a vine-like band of leaves around the equator interspersed with bud-like dots; a series of early style flowers (particularly doughnut flowers and polychrome dot flowers) evenly spaced around the equator, with leaves between the flowers; and elaborate and intricate flowers interspersed among wandering vines. These are all early styles.

Monochrome dot flower Chinas, otherwise known as "radiating splotch flowers," are those that have as their primary design flowers which consist of five or six dots, normally pink, that are usually elongated to superficially resemble petals. These dots or splotches radiate from a central dot of the same color. These are thought to date to the early-to-middle periods (ca. 1846-1890), since they are either glazed or unglazed, and because pink flowers are considered to be a middle period trait.

Five bud flower Chinas are considered later versions of the three bud flower types. This motif involves the use of five red buds radiating in a palmate fashion from the tip of a stem.

King's Rose flower Chinas possess a single rose with leaves and a stem or vine on one side of the marble. The leaves typically radiate outward from around the rose, and there will be no other decoration on the marble. These Chinas are always glazed and are thought to date to the middle period (ca. 1870-1890).

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King's Rose China

The flowering plant motif is a middle period (ca. 1870-1890) style in which the China is decorated with flowers that do not fit into any other category. Such Chinas have two diametrically opposed flowers consisting of red or blue dots or splotches on a vine or stem. These are extremely rare and all known examples are glazed.

The most frequently encountered flower type on Chinas is the common rose. This motif only occurs on glazed examples (and thus is probably a middle period type), and has two opposed flowers usually separated by equatorial wide/narrow lines but rarely by a helix. The flowers are pink (very rarely blue) and consist of a simple splotch to a more elaborate depiction.

Stylized flower Chinas are the only the only ones that belong exclusively to the late period (ca. 1890-1910). These share as common traits more stylized designs, less intricacy and fewer brushstrokes, and glazing. The flowers approach sloppy in their application, and usually consist of a pair of leaves or leaf and stem with an individual red splotch. Typical examples of this type of China have two opposing flowers and a helix around the center of the marble.

Pennsylvania Dutch Chinas

The so-called Pennsylvania Dutch Chinas exhibit complex designs utilizing such elements as flowers, leaves, and/or interlocking semicircular lines. Some have bands or stylized tulips encircling the equator. The decorations tend to be pink and black. They are generally larger than most other Chinas and can be glazed or unglazed.

Pennsylvania Dutch Chinas are called such because of their similarity to that particular style of art. They also resemble more modern Mexican ceramics, in particular piggy banks, and have even been called "Mexican Piggy Bank" marbles. Controversy surrounds their true origins, and it is believed that many, if not all, of them are of recent origins.

Scenic Chinas

The term "scenic," or "figural," as it applies to Chinas refers to those examples with animals, humans, or objects other than the aforementioned stylized designs. These are extremely rare. Almost all known examples are glazed and have the motif on the equator, separated by polar standard pinwheels. Though glazed, they are considered to be early types, based on the complexity of their designs. These carefully and artistically painted designs are polychrome and include a man plowing a field, a man with a cane beside a castle, a woman beside a castle, a horse-drawn carriage, man riding a horse, a house, a pipe-smoking man seated on a stump, a dog,  a sailing ship, a boy drinking from a flask, and a hunting scene.

There is one known example of an unglazed scenic China which has a crude sailing ship opposite a pinwheel, with wide/narrow red lines around the equator.

Miscellaneous Chinas

There are several styles of Chinas that do not fit into any of the above categories. Such Chinas may have painted numbers (one through sixteen) or, much more rarely, advertisements that may have been meant for use as tokens.

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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