by Dr. Lori Verderame
Marbles, those small ordinary spheres of clay, glass, agate or plastic have been a popular toy since the time of the ancient Romans. Marbles were uncovered during the archaeological excavations of ancient Rome. Marbles have been played with worldwide for centuries. Arguably the most famous marble tournament takes place at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England at the World Marbles Tournament where they have been playing the game since the 1500s there. The world tournament debuted in 1932.
In the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, the most popular marbles were made by hand aided by grinding of clay, stone or agate. Collectible china clay marbles are made of ceramic materials like porcelain and commonly glazed or hand painted. Clay marbles with a brown and blue spotted salt glaze are called Benningtons, unglazed marbles are called Plasters and hand painted and glazed marbles are often referred to as Chinas. The most common and inexpensive type of marble–known as the poor boy’s marble–is the crock marble which were made from local clay or leftover earthenware ceramic crockery that was rolled into spheres, glazed, and fired at a low temperature.
Glass marbles were originally introduced in Germany in the mid 19th Century as the marble scissors, a tool used to make marbles easily, came into widespread use there in 1846. By the turn of the 20th Century until World War II, circa 1940, glass marbles were made in large numbers by machine. American marble manufacturers, many of them based in Akron, Ohio, like James Leighton, S. C. Dyke, and Martin Christensen produced nearly 1 million marbles every day for approximately four decades after Christensen produced a glass marble making machine that changed the industry. By the 1950s, marble makers abroad put the Americans out of business and today, China and Mexico produce the great majority of marbles.
Values for Marbles
Antique and vintage marbles are highly collectible and very valuable if you know what to look for. Collectors trade marbles for high values on the market. While some people claim that you can send your marbles to them so they can evaluate your marbles’ value, this is a very bad idea as you will almost certainly never see your marbles again. Don’t fall for it. Read more on how to spot bad appraisers. Specific marbles sell for lots of money as individual pieces and in sets or collections.
Highly desired large glass marbles are called many names like: taw, kong, boulder, smasher, giant, bonker, biggie, etc. A grandfather marble is the largest of all marbles and can be as big as a billiard ball. Marbles are named for the way they look. Some marbles made of alabaster are called alleys. Some are made of slag glass or with glass rods and have wavy patterns which are called corkscrew, swirl, ribbon, or spiral. Some marbles are opaque white (like milk glass) with strands of color called “ades” as in a yellow/white color combination known as lemonade marbles.
What to Look For
In addition to some of the collectible marbles described above, collectors look for marbles of various sizes, colors, patterns, materials, etc. Antique and vintage marbles are categorized for value by overall condition, type, place of manufacture, manufacturer, age, style, material, rarity, and original packaging. Surface damage like chips or pitting to the marble will decrease a marble’s value significantly.
Some of the most sought after marbles are milk glass marbles, German-made Lutz marbles with swirls of glittery copper flakes, and clear glass marbles with clay or kaolin figures inside of them called sulphides. Sulphides are antique German glass marbles that can measure to 3 inches in diameter with a figurine inside depicting animals, humans, or everyday objects. Hand painted figural sulphide marbles are very, very collectible
Get an online appraisal report of your marbles from Dr. Lori.