Antiques & Collectables - Marbles

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No one really knows when the game of marbles started, or when the first marble was made.  Archaeologists have found game boards and playing pieces in the earliest excavated graves in Egypt and the Middle East and in most other parts of the world.  Little white marbles and round pebbles were found in Austria in caves inhabited by our Palaeolithic ancestors.


The early Greeks played various games with nuts.  One of these, called Omilla, was very similar to the game of Ring Taw, which is still played today.  Children playing marbles appear on Roman murals in Bath.


We know that 'marbles' was played throughout Europe.  There are mentions of the game in Shakespeare and they are seen in a painting by Pieter Bruegel.


It is assumed that early glass marbles were not made commercially, but were made by glass workers for their own children at the end of the day.


By the middle of the 19th century, German glass blowers had invented a tool to cut marble canes more easily.  These specially adapted shears meant that production became quick enough to make the sale of glass marbles for the public an economic proposition.  Marbles became increasingly popular throughout Europe and America.  An enormous variety of colours were used and intricate patterns were created within the glass.  Stone, agate and marble marbles continued to be produced.


These days, marbles are made from all sorts of materials, but glass remains by far the most popular.  Glass lends itself to both hand and machine production.


There are many types of hand-made marbles.  The basic method of production is the age-old glass makers' technique.  A glob of clear, molten glass is gathered on the end of an iron rod.  Colour is added either in the form of pre-prepared, coloured glass canes or in the form of chips of powdered or granulated coloured glass.  A large glass cane is built up to the pattern and colour desired and of a width the size that the marble is going to be.  Thin, coloured glass canes are used for making elaborate spirals and swirls, glass grits are used for making 'end of day' or spotted, mica and copper filings are used to make snowflakes and other patterns.


For rainbows, oilies, spotties, etc., various chemicals and chips of glass are applied to the outside of the hot marble when it is almost formed.


Marble collecting is taken very seriously by adults who have become addicted to antique marbles.   In the USA in particular, there are thousands of collectors.  Rare antique marbles change hands for hundreds of dollars and for several thousand dollars in the recent case of a sulphide featuring a bust of George Washington.


Collections are generally built up by swapping and by winning them at play. The most beautiful and rarest examples are the most sought-after.


Another range for collectors is the modern hand-made marble.  There are several glass studios in the USA and the House of Marbles in Devon, England, which now make works of art in the form of marbles as manufacturers have done with paperweights for many years.  Elaborate and beautiful designs are produced in the round.  These marbles are expensive, but are highly valued by those who appreciate the beauty and skill involved in their making.


There is no point in giving a price guide here, as prices change from year to year.  However, the Marble Collectors Society of Trumbull, Connecticut, USA, publish a price guide periodically.  There is no equivalent publication elsewhere in the world so a collector must be sure to buy only after making price comparisons in the market place.


When playing marbles competitively 'Knuckling Down' is the method used by experts.  The marble is held above the first joint of the thumb by the tip of the forefinger.  The top of the thumb is held by the middle finger.  The hand is kept quite still with the knuckles on the ground.  The thumb is released with the required force.  With practice great accuracy may soon be obtained with this method.


Names given to marbles vary considerably from town to town within each country.  The best marbles are often known as 'Allies'.  A marble actually being used by a player is often called a 'Taw', 'Shooter' or 'Tolley'.


Two of the many types of marbles are: Swirls which are of transparent glass with stripes of colour often around a centre core.  There are solid cores, open cores, cores of latticework and an enormous variety of colours. Onionskins have grains of coloured glass gathered on a glob of clear glass and then another layer of clear glass is gathered over this.  A multi-coloured mottled effect is achieved.


How many of you remember "Pop Allies"


If you are interested in finding out more, please contact :


House of Marbles

  The Old Pottery

  Pottery Road


  Devon  TQ13  Email:

     Website :




© Mike Hicks

August 2003