Glass Marbles

A look at modern and antique marbles

Glass marbles have been around for quite some time, and the game of marbles is considered to be one of the oldest in history. It dates back to the ancient Romans, who played with balls of flint, baked clay or stone. Of course, when they expanded their empire they took their game with them, spreading it around the world.

The first glass marbles were made in Venice, with previous marbles being made of stone or actual marble, but they didn't become economical for some time due to the time and materials it took to make them. A German glass blower invented the "marble scissors" in the late 1800's, though, making mass production and distribution of the tiny globes a reality.

Today glass marbles are more of a collector's domain, having been phased out as a pastime when kids became more interested in playing sports and video games. That doesn't mean there still isn't a world of marbles out there, you just need to know where to look for them. Many of us have come across a bag or jar of glass marbles in an attic or garage and set them aside, not really knowing what to make of them. Thank goodness there are knowledgeable folks out there who are willing to help out!

Despite all the fancy designs, there are really only three main kinds of glass marbles; opaque ones, transparent ones and the ones commonly known as cat's-eyes. The kind most people think of when they think of marbles are cat's-eyes, which are either clear or colored glass with a multicolored swirl in the center.

Opaque marbles are exactly what they sound like, but they can either be plain or swirled depending on the company that manufactures them. Transparent, or translucent, marbles usually refers to a marble that has an opaque base with different colors laid over it that still allow the original color to shine through.

Some of the best known companies in the collecting world are the Christiansen Agate Co., Akro Agate Co. and Peltier Glass. Examples from private collections of these marbles are nothing short of breathtaking, and you might be amazed at some of the color combinations and patterns that these companies created. Antique marbles that are certified to be from one of these companies are a real find indeed.

So aside from your attic, where do you find these marbles? Flea markets, bazaars and antique shops are a great source if you've done your homework before you go. Many sellers in these markets know very little about grading and quality, or are simply selling jars of damaged or worthless marbles they found and aren't sure what to do with. A better option is to visit a marble dealer or fellow collector, which was vastly more difficult in the years before the Internet. In years past, your best bet was to locate and join a marble club and hope that they could pass on the name of a good dealer, but all you have to do now is do a little searching and you have millions of glass marbles at your fingertips.

Finding out the value of your collection can be difficult if you're trying to grade the marbles yourself, but there are many experts and fellow collectors who will be more than happy to give you a hand and teach you the ropes. A couple of things to keep in mind, however, are that smaller marbles are generally worth less than larger ones, unless they were originally "pee-wee" sized marbles. However, it can be hard to tell a real pee-wee from a regular marble that has been overly polished or buffed down unless you have some practice. Also, extremely chipped and scarred marbles are almost always worth very little, unless they have sentimental value to you.

Last, beware of sellers who tell you that a certain marble is extremely rare or valuable when they have 20 or more of the exact same item in stock! Genuine antique marbles are often as close as you can get to one-of-a-kind, so take a good look before you buy.

Glass marbles can be some of the most intricate and beautiful pieces of art you will ever see, and they are often astounding in their variety. So the next time you see a jar or bag tucked away in a corner, it might be worth giving it a second look. You never know what you'll find!

more than glass marbles on our Collectible Toys page

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