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Shooting Marbles For Fun And Profit

By Henry J. Pratt

September 1991

Most marble collectors these days are interested in obtaining antique marbles not only made of glass. . .

Most marble collectors these days are interested in obtaining antique marbles not only made of glass, but also of steel, procelain and clay. Another popular marble collectible category are those made of semi-precious stones like onyx, agate, carnelian and rose quartz.

Marble itself was a material seldom used, because other materials were more accessible and attractive to early marble manufacturers. Nevertheless, in a mysterious language evolution, marble has given its name to all these beautiful playthings.

Most of the antique marbles were handmade before World War I in Germany, although a few desirable examples come from scattered factories in the U.S. and India. Since about 1920, the majority of marbles sold in America have been mass-produced by machines. Only a few types of these, such as comic marbles, are of significant collector interest.

What are used as agitators in aerosol cans, as a block in stoppered bottles, as a filtering agent in sewerage-treatment plants, as a turkey-poult appetizer in pellet eating trays, and as a fun-and-kid game around the world?

It's marbles, and those colorful, round glass playtoys of our childhood are now in increasing demand by collectors bent on nostalgia and/or big bucks. But boys and girls around the world still love shooting the beautiful beenies in games on neighborhood sidewalks.

Stanley Block of Trumbull, Connecticut, is the founder of the Marble Collectors Society of America. He estimates there are now some 20,000 marble collectors in the U.S. Most are from the Midwest, particularly the states of Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. Since the 1970s, the marble market has been dominated by Japan, Mexico and Taiwan; only five marble factories now operate in the U.S.

According to Block, the most desirable antique marbles are not necessarily the oldest. Block says, "Value depends on material, beauty, and design. An old clay marble, for example, may bring a dollar or less, while a glass sulphide can be worth hundreds of dollars."

The most common old marbles are made of stone, clay or crockery. Even the unusual ones, like Benningtons, are fairly easy to find. Much rarer are limestone marbles made until about 1900 in water-powered grinding mills in Germany.

Still more valuable, Block maintains, are agate marbles, which are chalcedony quartz ground in the mills of the IdarOberstein region of Germany, beginning in the late 1700s. In their natural states, agates display alternating shades of red and white, or brown and white, arranged in configurations as wide bands, elliptic pools and bullseyes.

Glass marbles, although the most common modern type, are less well represented among the antiques. The majority of the old handmade glassies are swirls, so-called because they have spirals of colored glass embedded in them.

Peppermint swirls, named after the striped Christmas candy, are rare among the opaque marble patterns produced after World War I. A rare swirl marble made in India is distinquished by its opaque black body and colorful surface spiraling. Unusually large, this swirl marble is a collector's prize because few of them produced in India reached the West.

A Lutz-type goldstone marble, characterized by mixed swirls of color and sparkling aventurine, always helps fulfills a collector's dream. Some are unusualy rare because of their large size, up to 1-3/8 inches or more across. They are named for Nicholas Lutz because many are found around a Cape Cod, MA. glassworks where he worked as a designer.

The Joseph swirl marble is so named because it exhibits a splash of hues, suggesting the coat of many colors given the Biblical Joseph.

Present value of many marbles is astonishing. Ordinary glass marbles, that once sold for $3.25 a gross, may now be worth up to $1 each, and some as high as $5 apiece. Stone --Continued--

SHOOTING MARBLES FOR FUN AND PROFIT marbles are the earliest marbles made. If you have one or more of them, call both an archeologist and your banker, but not necessarily in that order. Highlight of a recent marble meet in Marlboro, MA. was a locked display case filled with marbles loaned by convention participants. Collectively, the case of marbles was worth about $250,000, but individually, some marbles ranged from $1,000 to $50,000 apiece. Any collector with all his/her marbles would want to hang on to any one of them.

Then come some rainy day down the road a pike, the lucky collector might want to sell a marble or two in order to send his/her kid or grandkid off to college.

© 2002 Mountain States Collector

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