(not all thumbnails will lead to full sized images)


Today there are scores of glass artists who are creating hand made marbles. Mostly, these do not imitate the classic designs and styles of antique hand made marbles, though many draw inspiration from them. However, a few artists are very skilled at creating marbles that are virtually identical to genuine old marbles. Unlike many other types of contemporary marbles, many of these are left unsigned and even have pontils. Though few makers of such marbles actually try to pass them off as old, the marbles do often get eventually sold to those without such scruples.

It is very difficult for the inexperienced collector to be able to tell reproduced hand made marbles from their genuine counterparts. However, a few cautionary notes can help you from being fooled. First, if the marble is absolutely pristine, with no damage and not even a sign of normal aging of glass (haze, patination, wear, frosting, etcetera), chances are it could be a fake. Second, such fakes are often larger than the typical hand made marbles you'll encounter. Third, if it is being offered at a price that is far lower than you believe it should go for, stop a moment and think before buying it----why is the person selling such a marble for a cost far below "book value"?

cr1.jpg (48393 bytes)

Indian Lutz, unsigned, Chris Robinson

cr2.jpg (44441 bytes)

Indian, unsigned, Chris Robinson

cr3.jpg (41781 bytes)

Indian Lutz, unsigned, Chris Robinson

cr4.jpg (49886 bytes)

Naked Solid Core wirh Aventurine, unsigned, Chris Robinson

cr5.jpg (43655 bytes)

Indian, unsigned, Chris Robinson

sp20.jpg (58442 bytes)

Lutz Onionskin, unsigned, Scott Patrick

sp21.jpg (31730 bytes)

Lutz Mist, unsigned, Scott Patrick

sp22.jpg (48753 bytes)

Lutz Onionskin, unsigned, Scott Patrick


The "California Sulphide" Debate

Between late 1993 and early 1994, several Sulphides with never-before-seen figurines appeared on the market. One group originated from California and another group came from Florida; collectively, these have become known as the "California Sulphides." The California examples were said to have been found in East Germany when the Berlin Wall was brought down, while the Florida examples were said to have been unearthed from the site of a drugstore that had been owned by a German immigrant. Besides containing previously unknown figurines, many of these Sulphides had double figurines. Prior to this only around a dozen were known. Both the Florida and California specimens were tested by Antique and Collectors Reproduction News, including the use of a Scanning Electron Microscope to determine chemical composition. ACRN could not unequivocably identify these as fakes, but their results, which included discovering that the new Sulphides contained three to five times as much sodium as the originals, demonstrating that the new Sulphides have no signs of ordinary wear under magnification, and finding clouds of bubbles and dull spots on the surface caused by the exposure of tiny air bubbles, indicated that sufficient differences between the California Sulphides and ones known to be genuine existed to suggest that these "finds" were in fact a hoax perpetrated by one or more individuals.

On the other hand, research conducted by Jeff Treat, a well known collector, in collaboration with Nicholas E. Pingitore, Ph.D., of the University of Texas (Department of Geological Sciences), seems to contradict the findings of ACRN. Using some of the same methods for detecting elemental composition, this study demonstrated that the sodium levels of the California Sulphides were almost exactly equal to that of known vintage Sulphides. Comparisons of other elements (oxygen, silicon, and calcium) also indicated similarities between the two rather than differences. Perhaps the most salient difference found between the two sample groups was that the California Sulphides contained no manganese, whereas it was present in all the specimens known to be old. The researchers were quick to point out, however, that other old suplides they examined, but which were not part of the study, lacked manganese altogether. In summary, they concluded that sufficient differences between the two sample groups to point to recent origins for the California Sulphides did not exist. In stating these results, they sharply repudiated ACRN's findings.

I have spoken with several well known collectors on this subject and my own conclusion is that the marble collecting community is about equally split between calling the so-called California Sulphides fake and genuine. Some have made the point that many of those who firmly aver that these marbles are indeed old and genuine are the same people who originally purchased these, and that their opinions are biased toward protecting their investment. Those targeted by these accusations, however, simply counter by saying that the nay-saying is due to "sour grapes." Since the marble collecting community is divided on this issue, it is up to you to decide for yourself whether they are fakes or not. I myself presently hold no opinion either way.

Repaired Sulphides

Sulphides are again becoming the target of misrepresentation following a hiatus after the "California Sulphide" controversy. Since Sulphides are difficult to find, and very expensive, in mint condition, damaged ones are being repaired with polishing and/or polymers to fill in deep chips. Some are also being coated with green glass not only to repair them but to give them the appearance of far more valuable colored glass sulphides. Though often sold as repaired and altered, others who buy them as such may not be so honest in their descriptions and might try to pass them off as genuine. Known examples include amber coating (monkey and coin), green coating (eagle, dog, and turtle), cobalt (numeral and cow), and blue (lion).

Reproduced Sulphides

Sulphides are also being reproduced. As the contemporary "art glass" marble market continues to expand, artists are not only exploring new design techniques but are creating "classic" pieces. Thomas Thornburgh is one such artist who creates sulphides that are not meant to be exact reproductions of older examples but employ new figurines. Thornburgh's sulphides lack pontils, and there is also some darker swirling in the glass, a trait not seen on original pieces. Jim Davis of Pennsboro, West Virginia, is another of several artists creating sulphides, though his employ painted figurines and would not easily be mistaken for old. Again, it needs to be noted that the individual artists are not making these to precisely copy the old styles and certainly are not trying to pass them off as old. Yet, as they are bought up by others, beware of them being attempted to be passed off as antique.

sulphidea.JPG (36085 bytes)

Damaged Clear Sulphide with a Green Glass Coating

sulphideb.jpg (46502 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)

sulphidec.jpg (52854 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)

sulphided.jpg (43272 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)

sulphidee.jpg (44466 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)

sulphidef.jpg (43448 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)

sulphideg.jpg (48696 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)

sulphideh.jpg (37255 bytes)

Thomas Thornburgh Contemporary (note that figurine is not a copy of genuine antique sulphide figurines)


The picture below may seem familiar to you, especially if you live or travel in the southeastern United States. They are the "marbles" that were allegedly dug in 1991 during renovation in Atlanta, Georgia, in preparation for the then-upcoming Summer Olympics. Apparently, a construction worker unearthed 50,000 of these and somehow the story got to the newspaper that they represented porcelain marbles produced by a local factory during the 1820s-1830s. Since the time of recovery these "marbles" have found their way into many antique and collectible venues, particularly in such states as Georgia and Florida.

Atlanta.jpg (28586 bytes)

The "Atlanta Porcelain Marbles"

star.jpg (19755 bytes)

"Star" Example--note star is natural color of underlying ceramic

Are they genuine? The fact is this: during the period in question Atlanta was a small village, incapable of supporting a marble factory, much less one manufacturing porcelain specimens during an era when most children's marbles were made of limestone and imported from Germany. In fact, there was never a marble factory in America until the late 1800s, and most of these made softer-paste earthenware marbles as a sideline while concentrating on other forms of ceramics. Also, when found these marbles were unpainted; the colors you see were added subsequent to their excavation. The paint has been shown to most likely be latex, a type of paint not available then. In fact, these are probably spheres that were used in mill drums. It needs to be noted that to my knowledge they never appeared in any collections prior to 1991 and they have never been encountered during archaeological investigations.

These "marbles," being comprised of industrial porcelain (introduced to America sometime after 1860), are heavy to the touch and measure 3/4" or slightly smaller and sometimes up to 13/16". When painted, they will often be brown, red, green, blue, purple, or beige. Some have designs on them, most likely a single star that exposes the natural color of the underlying porcelain. I surmise that these were made by placing on the sphere one of those stick-on stars teachers like to put on highly graded exams, dipping it in paint, then removing the star following drying of the paint. Others I have seen have even been brashly decorated with a magic marker, often in geometric patterns.

Almost a decade after their "discovery," these objects remain the subject of some controversy and the latest tall tales have them being excavated from Civil War battlefield sites, to make them appealing to collectors of militaria.

Back To Reproductions Main Page

Back To Home