Vintage Marbles: the History
Marbles are one of the oldest toys on the planet, and they were played with in ancient India, Egypt, and Rome. The oldest marbles were made from clay, though old marbles may also be made from metal, glass, or stone. Nearly every culture around the world has a history of games involving marbles!
Collectors buy vintage marbles, generally from a more modern era. Handmade German "swirlies," for example, were manufactured from the 1840s through about 1915. The first mass-produced marbles were created in Akron, Ohio, by S.C. Dyke in the early 1890s.
Antique Marble Types
Onionskin: A glass marble with a flecked, swirled appearance.
Clambroths: A glass marble with an opaque base and opaque, evenly spaced lines.
Sulphides: A clear glass marble with a porcelain figure embedded in the center. Early collectors thought the marbles were made from sulphur, hence the term.
Indians: Dark, opaque glass marbles with colorful stripes.
Mica: A translucent glass marble with streaks of mica, giving the marble a subtle sparkle.
Lutz: Any marble that contains aventurine glass (also known as goldstone). The marbles are named after Nicholas Lutz, a 19th century glass artist who used aventurine glass extensively in his work.
Logo: Several vintage marbles were manufactured with a company name or image imprinted on the marble. Marbles with vintage comic book and cartoon characters are particularly rare and valuable.
Clay: The oldest marbles were made of clay and are exceedingly rare. In the 1950s, the United States manufactured many modern clay marbles: these marbles were so common, they were called "commies." Most clay marbles encountered in today's market are not rare, and are not very valuable despite being old.
Ceramic: Ceramic marbles are quite collectible, and many were painted with crossing lines in attractive patterns. Ceramic marbles are unlikely to chip, but may split or crack over time. Rare, Pennsylvania Dutch ceramic marbles were painted with intricate scenes are are extremely valuable.
Antique Handmade: Made from glass, antique handmade marbles were created in Germany. These marbles are also known as "swirlies" due to colorful swirls embedded in the glass.
Displaying Antique Marbles
Antique marbles are best displayed in a marble cabinet. Marble display cabinets protect marbles from dust, damage, and secure marbles to prevent them from rolling. Display cabinets backed with a mirror will help illuminate transparent marbles, and may be mounted on a wall for others to admire.
Identifying Handmade Marbles
Vintage, handmade glass marbles are easily discerned from modern, mass-produced marbles. Look for the following identifiers to verify a handmade marble's authenticity:
- Shape: handmade glass marbles will not be perfectly spherical. Any marble that is perfectly round has been produced by modern methods.
- Pontil Mark: Hand blown glass must be cut from the glass blower's cane, and this will leave a small mark on the glass. If the marble lacks a pontil mark, it is not handmade.
- Facets: Stone marbles will have slight planes in the surface where the stone was cut to make a round surface.
- Eyes: Ceramic marbles often have an "eye" where the marble came into contact with a solid surface as they dried. These marbles are also not perfect spheres.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Leah Lefler
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on December 19, 2011:
I love marbles for the way they look - so beautiful! I'm not sure I could ever spend a lot of money on a collection of rare marbles, though!
Stacie L on December 19, 2011:
I was at an auction where the men were bidding wildly for the Akro Agate marbles...funny thing some people will pay high prices for...lol
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 18, 2011:
Thanks, Peggy! My boys are obsessed with marbles. They don't always play the actual game, but they love collecting the shiny glass! We don't own any vintage marbles, but I always keep an eye out for them when we go to barn sales. They're so pretty!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 17, 2011:
Does this ever bring back memories! My brothers and I used to play marbles. I always thought that what I called cats eyes were the prettiest ones. I guess if one keeps anything long enough it will eventually become collectible...or 100 years later, an antique. Thanks for this informative hub. Voted up, useful and interesting!