Illustration from an old book
It was in the 1850âs that glass marbles made their appearance, most of them coming from small German glasshouses (which were in fact small family factories). The reason for this sudden mass production and export was due to the invention of the Marble Scissors, a small hand held device that rounded one end of the cane or rod that made the marbles, while cutting the other, so making them round. The glasshouses made the mass production of these individual works of art possible, they did so in the last half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th.
When I went to the German Marble Championships in August 2004 I visited Lauscha where Elias Greiner first mass produced glass marbles in the 1850s and looked round the modernised Farb Glas Hutte where hand made marbles are still made.
I also went to the Marbel muhlen in Eisfeld and saw a marble mill that was still working up until the 1950s. They had an exhibit which showed the mill a wooden barrel that was used to polish the marbles, a board which had holes holding a 100 marbles, this was used to quickly counting the finished marbles, 10 of these boards = to 1000 marbles were then empted in to small sacks, these small sacks were then used as baldest on the many sailing ships that plied there trade all over the world.
Marble games were established enough to have been included in Lady Gommeâs 1890 book of âTraditional Gamesâ. There are 11 games many of which are still firm favourites today. She says, âDifferent kinds of marbles are alleys, barios, poppo, stonies. Marrididdles are marbles made by oneself by rolling and baking common clay. By boys these are treated as spurious and are always rejected. In barter, a bary = four stonies; a common white alley = three stonies. Those with pink veins being considered best. Alleys are the most valuable and are always reserved to be used as âtawsâ (the marble actually used by the players). They are said to have been formerly made of different coloured alabaster.
Â M F Christiansen, who lived at Akron, Ohio, USA, invented the first glass marble-making machine in 1901. It was semi-automatic and looked like a row of small bicycle wheels in a long line.
By the 1920âs the Akro Agate Company had fully automatic machines, which were making thousands of uniformed two and three colour marbles every day. Over the next three decades there were many companies in the USA and through out the world making marbles. In 1948 the English Glass Company were producing marbles, which were used at Tinsley Green for a number of years. This company was however short lived as in the 1950s the Cats Eyes marbles from Japan were introduced to the worlds markets. It was not only the manufacturing in England that was affected, many of the biggest and best known companies American that had dominated the markets stopped making them.
The following is an extract form an Hong Kong guidebook (1950âs) that gives a description of how marbles are made.
âThe local factory uses scrap glass for raw material which is fed into an oil-fired furnace which can generate a temperature of 1,200oC. The glass emerges in liquid form from a valve, which has been adjusted in relation to the size of the marbles required. The liquid sliver is cut as it descends from the furnace and the globules fall into water-cooled revolving drum. The rolling and cooling result in the globules contracting into spheres and in doing so, the marbles are formed.
There are two ways to produce the traditional colouring for the opaque marbles, the colouring agent is placed in the furnace with the scrap glass, but for the internal colouring, the melted colouring agent is streamed into the liquid glass as it emerges from the furnace.â
As the twentieth century merges into the twenty-first the biggest marble factory would appear to be one in Mexico. Set up in 1930 the Vacor de Mexico factory in Guadalajara to day makes twelve million marbles a day in ten sizes from 10mm to 35mm.
Personally I think the best glass playing marbles come from the factories that are situated in West Virginia USA and I have quite a few of the in my collection still.