When I was a schoolboy in London in the late 1940s and early 50s we would play marbles in the gutter on the way to and from school. This game was called ‘Follows’ and is one of the three main types of marble games. The other two are ‘Ring games’ and ‘Hole games’ all other marble games are made up of these three elements. In the mid 50s the Japanese made a new type of marble the ‘Cats Eye’, this marble had a clear glass body with a leaf or twist of colour in the centre. Before this, machine-made marbles were a random mix of one, two or three different colour glass.
After playing for some time I became one of the better marble players and won more often than I lost. In this way I began building up my collection. After a while I began to look at them and saw the wonderful colours in the different types that I acquired. That was how and why I came to love marbles.
In 1956 I moved to Crawley New Town where my father had just got a job in one of the new factories. It so happened the home of marble – the Greyhound Hotel, Tinsley Green is very close, and so on Good Friday along I went with hundreds of others to witness this time honoured tradition, the first of many such trips.
When I started work in 1960 I had some money to spend and went round second hand shops looking for books and other bits and pieces. Buying any marbles I found for a few pennies, in those days there were no over priced Antique Shops.
I think my favourite marbles are the early machine-made ones, the colours are so vibrant, but I collect all sorts and in my collection I have many different types.
The oldest marbles I have come from the excavations of a roman villa, and are made of clay. There are stone marbles made of Tiger’s eye and Rose quartz plus agate from around the world and a selection of handmade Tennessee Flint marbles.
I have handmade glass German Swirls, Lutz (these have goldstone in them), Indians, Sulphides and Micas. The Micas are of a clear green glass with small flex of silver in them. The Sulphides are clear plain glass with a white figure pushed into the middle. The Indians are all earthy colours red, yellows, brown and orange; these are laid on to a dark or black glass body.
I also have many contemporary glass marbles; the ones that are made by David Salazar are like small round paperweights. Jody Fine and Steve Maslach make a more traditional type of marbles, whereas the late Joe St. Clair made Sulphides. In 1991 I took two ex marble champions to San Francisco where I met Ro Purser a marble maker of some note, for the exhibition he produced a limited edition Sulphide with a figure playing marbles inside. I am happy to say that I was presented with one of this limited edition.
I also go out and teach people from 9 to 90 how to play the game, how to shoot a marble and how to have fun. We use small half-inch single colour marbles for targets and three-quarters marbles for shooters are the most popular and are made by Marble King in America. They use recipe glass, which is as hard as steel and marbles from West Virginia, in my opinion are the best in the world. But there are lots of Mexican marbles in so many different designs and coloured, just the thing to start a low cost collection.
My collection is not catalogued, it dose not need to be, as I know and love each and ever one of them, when I need them I know just where to look and find them. There is nothing as therapeutic as running your hands through a bag of marbles, feeling them running through your fingers looking at the colours. I believe that if everybody had a bag of marbles the world would be a better place.
Sam McCarthy-Fox Mr Marbles
Sam McCarthy-Fox is a recognised expert on marbles in Great Britain and has contributed to a number of books incorporating the subject. He has also made several television appearances and taken part in radio broadcasts. Sam is Secretary to the British Marbles Board of Control and has organised the annual British and World Marbles Championships at Tinsley Green since 1977.
Cartoon of Julia and Sam
from Boston market 1995
Sam and Julia are both honorary members of the National Marbles Club of America and The Japan Marbles Association, on whose behalf they have visited The National Marbles Championship in Wildwood, New Jersey.
They contributed to a major marbles exhibition in San Francisco in 1991 and attended the Rolley Hole Marbles Competition in Tennessee as guests of the Tennessee State Parks Department.
Zachary began playing marbles from an early age and first played at Tinsley Green in 2002. In 2007 he was invited to become an ’honorary’ German for the day as a member of a team from Neukirchen and became their star player when his shot put them through to the final, In the all German final he was the last British play in the tournament.
Since Easter 2010, Julia and Zachary have made two marbles related trips to the USA. In June they attended the National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood, New Jersey, where Zachary was invited to be a guest referee. Then in the autumn they visited two marbles factories, Marble King, in West Virginia and Jabo, in Ohio.
Sam won his Community Sports Leader Award under the sponsorship of Worthing Borough Council. This award means that he is the only qualified marbles instructor in Sussex.
The marble room in their house in Worthing contains numerous marble related objects and pictures and some 40,000 marbles!
Zachary ’honorary’ German player 2007
Rodger M Molyneux ‘Mol’ is our main tournament referee and has been at Tinsley Green all the time I have been organising the event. Over the years he has play in many different teams from the Dowager’s Bottom, the Guisers, Knuckle Wrappers, Mensa Maniacs, Rumple Drumskins, Sharp's Shooters, Six Foot Ringers to the Soho Squares. His highest score was in 1988 when he scored 9 marbles.
Mol has appeared in the national press many times over the years not least in the Times? in 1997ish dancing around the ring in the rain.
He describes himself as a Living Traditionalist and has many interests Morris dancing, Giants, and drumming to name just a few.
Dave and Mike have been refereeing the ‘Golden Oldies’ for quite some time now and I am happy to say that they have taken over all the hard work of organising the event. They both play for the Handcross 49ers and have done so from the beginning first playing in 1996 & 1997 as the 49ers changing to the Handcross 49ers in 1998
Jean and Ron Fox, Julia’s mum & Dad have been helping us out for many years, selling marbles which all helps with the cost of running ‘The Marbles’ all year round - not just on Good Friday.
I am sorry to announce that my father-in-law, Ron Fox, died at the end of November 2013.
Ron was well known to visitors to the tournament, where for many years now he and his wife, Jean, have run the marbles stall.
Although never a player, Ron had gained a great marbles knowledge over the years, not just of the history of our tournament but of the games in general, and he has attended many shows and demonstrations with me where we have taught both children and adults to play.
The phone enquiry number used for marbles in the UK is actually Ron and Jean's number, and every year, throughout the year, people calling from all over the world, with both media and general enquiries, some straightforward and some obscure, have always been guaranteed a friendly and helpful response, something I am very proud of and grateful for. Phone calls do not always come at the most convenient moments!
So, not only have we lost a much loved member of our family, the tournament and I have both lost one of our greatest supporters and British marbles has lost a great ambassador.
Thank you Ron.