Have You Lost Your Marbles?

"Marbles Champ" by Norman Rockwell

Have you lost your marbles? The question could be interpreted as a reference to one’s mental state or the loss of a marble collection as in those used in a child’s game. This article deals with the latter. Because of the marble’s ancient history, it’s not certain when and where they actually originated.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines a Marble as “…a small, hard ball used in a variety of children's games and is named after the 18th-century practice of making the toy from marble chips.”

The world's largest producer of marbles is currently Vacor de Mexico located in Guadalajara. They make about 90 percent of the world’s marbles. That translates into approximately 12 million per day which they ship to 35 different countries. Today, marbles are still produced in large numbers, but mostly in 3rd World countries.

Some historians would say Marbles originated in Pakistan near the river Indus where some stone marbles were excavated. Others would say they came from ancient Rome and Egypt. Yet others believe marbles started with cave people playing with small pebbles. They’ve even been found in ancient Aztec pyramids. The oldest marbles found so far date from around 3000 BC. They were rounded semi-precious stones buried with an Egyptian child. So, take your pick.

Marbles are frequently referred to in Roman documents, and many different types have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. Some have been found dating back to the ice age. They were commonly made of clay, stone or glass.

Common materials used to make more recent marbles were china, real marble and glass and were all made by hand up until 1848. That was the year a German glass blower invented the marble scissor. It resembled a pair of tongs with a small cup on one end and a slicing device on the other and made production much easier.

It is thought there are only three places in the world still crafting marbles in the traditional manner. In North America, engraved marbles have been found in ancient Native American earthen mounds. Apparently, ancient peoples played marbles the same as they do today.

History records such notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams were marble players, as was Abraham Lincoln. The game of marbles became so popular, a World Marble Championship has been held at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England since 1932. The Green itself has seen marble contests for centuries. Marble history there can be traced back to around 1588.

It should come as no surprise many have made marble collecting a hobby, happily pursued by kids as well as adults. Did you know in the early 20th century, boys loved to collect marbles as well as play with them? Marble collecting was very fashionable during that period. Most antique marble collections today are actually collections once owned by them.

To start a marble collection, it’s advisable to study about histories and types. It’s difficult to identify one by a cursory glance. Many have similarities only a thorough knowledge of marbles can discern. Having such knowledge is a protection against fraud or selling off something worth thousands of dollars. For further information about marble collecting as a hobby visit: http://www.marblesonline.com/

The earliest known book written about marbles was written and published in England in 1815. It verified marbles at that time were made of china, clay, glass or even real marble. Researchers say the first marbles made by machines appeared in Germany in 1890. The first hand made glass marbles manufactured in America for the toy market were made by the Sam Dyke & Company in Akron, Ohio about the same time.

This factory was able to produce up to one million marbles a day. Mass production allowed the retail price of a toy marble affordable. Previously a penny wouldn’t have bought a single common ordinary clay marble (called "commies.") Now, for that price, one could get a whole handful. The technique to produce perfectly spherical marbles was not developed until after 1900.

Today, marbles are made from sand, soda lime, silica, and a few other ingredients added for pigment and decoration such as aluminum hydrate or zinc oxide. Soda lime is used as a drying agent and absorbs carbon dioxide.

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Comments 9 comments

PETER LUMETTA profile image


I had a great collection, you forgot the steelies. Ballbearings that could literally shatter the glass ones. Lot's of memories there, thanks


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

John, at the risk of being redundant by repeating myself....you've written another amazing hub, my friend! The video is fantastic, too. I am familiar w/the glass workings of Murano but I had no idea such detailed effort is also present in the making of marbles. These beautiful spheres are works of art and, should I come upon one at a "flea market" or garage/yard sale; surely, it will be displayed on my mantle in a place of honor.

Great history, too! My older brother and I used to collect marbles, and we played a game where the object was to drop a marble through a hole cut into a sheet of cardboard (usually made using the side of a cardboard box)...! the passage way was measured by all competitors to be sure it was actually possible to do this. Then, each child would stand up and drop one marble towards (as close to) the hole, hoping that the marble would drop into the box. If not, the "owner" of the box kept that marble and placed it inside the box...the next competitor stepped up to the box. If the marble dropped into the box w/very little effort...That competitor got to keep all the marbles in the box...and so on and so on....you can see how this could be self perpetuating as there would always be marbles that DID go into the box and, there would also always be those instances when they did not. So exact was the fit that the dropping of the marble helped to ease its way through the opening while a marble dropped off to the side would not drop in as easily and would remain on top. Voila!

Aren't you glad to know this amazing bit of trivia?

UP Awesome Useful and Interesting!

JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

Peter, no I didn't forget about steelies. They were ball bearings and not made by marble makers, although kids did use them to play marbles. Some people use them in sling shots but I didn't put that in there either. LOL

JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

Lucky, I never get tired of people telling me how good I am. LOL

And BTW, uh I knew that!! (the marble game)

SweetMocha-Monroe profile image

SweetMocha-Monroe 5 years ago

I love this article, it made me remember my marble collection. I guess I am not too old to start a new one. Thanks for an very interesting hub.

JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

Thank you sweet...there's a little kid still left in all of us.

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ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

A good informative article, as always. Now I am left wondering where the term Lost his Marbles, came from.

Jeff 4 years ago

There were actual marbles that were steel, they are hollow and when you find one it can be identified by the cross on one side. The fold mark is the cross that's how they were made to be hollow

JY3502 profile image

JY3502 4 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

Now, I didn't know that...or I forgot.

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