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History of Marbles

History of Marbles

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  • AmyW AmyW's Avatar 04-24-06 | 01:57 PM
  • [SIZE="4"]Hold a marble in your hand and you hold a piece of history.

    The sparkling, round colored glass in your palm is a descendant of the stone and clay balls that have been used for millennia.. The allure of marbles is timeless and universal, spanning culture, generation, language, and class. The game of marbles, a word taken from the small sphere made from the stone called marble, has been around almost as long as mankind.

    Archaeologists speculate that the small clay balls found in the pyramid tombs of Egyptian kings were produced for marble games. It is thought that the Aztecs played a form of Marbles. These spheres have been found in the Middle East and nearly every part of the ancient world.

    Little white marbles and round pebbles were found in Austria in caves inhabited by our paleolithic ancestors. They were not made of local stone so had obvioualy been imported. One can only speculate about their use, but they must have been of some value to their owners to have been kept and carried with them. Stone balls and pillars to form an arch were found in a child's grave in Egypt which was dated at around 4000 B.C. The early Greeks played various games with nuts. One of these, called Omilla, was very similar to the game of Ring Taw which is still played today. There are frequent references to marbles and marble type games played with nuts throughout Roman literature.

    Ovid describes various nut games in his poem 'The Walnut Tree.' It is probably fair to assume the Romans took this popular form of entertainment with them to all parts of their empire. Children playing marbles appear in Roman murals in Bath, England. Clay marbles have been found in a settlement influenced by Roman culture in north westem India dating from the second century A.D. In Ancient Greece and Rome, children played games with round nuts, and Jewish children played games with filberts at Passover.

    The Latin expression relinquere nuces--putting away childish things- probably refers to the polished nuts used in these games. Although most early marble games were played with stones and nuts, some early Roman glass spheres have been found in Europe. Whether they were intended for jewelry or served as children's toys is not known. A second-cetury A.D. Roman, Athenaeus, writes of a game of marbles in which the suitors of Penelope in the Odyssey shot their alleys against another marble representing the queen. The first player to hit the queen marblee had another turn, and if he was successful again he was considered to be the probable bridegroom.

    Clay balls have been found in prehistoric pueblo ruins in the Southwesten United States, in the Classic period VaIley of Mexico ruins, and in the northern plains. The Ohio Historical Society has in their collection a series of steatite. or soapstone, spheres with incised designs which were foundd in Indian mounds of the Hopewell culture dating to 200 or 300 A.D. The five incised balls were foundd with the cremated remains of a child and are thus thought to have been used as toys.

    Glass marbles are thought to have been among the many glass objects made in ninth-century Venice, but is not until the late middle Ages that the playing of marble games is again documented. It appears that by then marbles were known throughout Europe. A manuscript from the fifteenth century refers to "little balls with which schoolboys played." In 1503 the town council of Nuremberg, Germany, limited the playing of marble games to a meadow outside the town.

    In France, troule-en-madam, a game in which small marbles were rolled into holes at one end of a board, was popular. The game traveled to England, where it became the children's marble game, troll-my-dame. Another marble game, cherry pit, in which polished stones were tossed into holes in the ground, is mentioned in Shakespeare's work.

    The popularily of marbles in England during the Middle Ages is evidenced in the town council statutes of the village of Saint Gall, which authorized the use of a cat-o'-nine-tails on boys "who played at marbles under the fish stand and refused to be warned off." A painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Children's Games, dated 1560, shows, among the eighty games depicted, a scene of children playing marbles. From what we can surmise, the marbles used throughout the Middle Ages were made of clay. It was not until the seventeenth century that water-powered stone mills in Germany were put to work.

    We know that 'marbles' was played throughout Europe. There are mentions of the game in Shakespeare. The Czech educationalist Johan Comenski talks of them in his book of 1658 and they are seen in a painting by Pieter Brueghel. The earliest marbles were made of common stone, in some cases real marble, and clay. Coloured glass marbles are mentioned as early as the fifteenth century in German literature and were known to have been made in Venice and Bohemia at this time. It is assumed that these early glass marbles were not made commercially, but were made by glass workers for their own children at the end of a day.

    China and crockery marbles were introduced around 1800 and were produced in increasingly large quantities until the end of the century. By the middle of the last century, German glass blowers had invented a tool to cut marble canes more easily. These specially adapted shears meant that production became quick enough to make the sale of glass marbles for the public an economic proposition. These marbles became increasingly popular throughout Europe and America.

    An enormous variety of colors was used and intricate patterns were created within the glass. Stone, agate and marble marbles continued to be produced, mainly in Germany in special ball mills, and clay marbles began to be produced in bulk form about 1870 onwards on both sides of the Atlantic.

    In the 1890's the first machines for the manufacture of glass marbles were introduced. However, machine production remained low until the First World War in Europe cut off supplies of marbles to North America. This stimulated the production of machine-made marbles in the USA, to the detriment of European glass and stone marbles. This production technique and the machines themselves are now found in many countries east and west.

    Playing marbles reached the peak of popularity in this country in the 1920's. and 1930's. For children across the country during those years, marble games were a virtual rite of Spring. So were muddy knees as children, mostly boys, crunched down to play Ringer or some other version of marbles. These days, marbles are made from all sorts of materials, but glass remains by far the most popular. Glass lends itself to both hand and machine production and provides an article which is both appealing to the eye and to the touch.

    The rather boring clay and compressed stone marbles are hardly made at all now and the beautiful ground agates and real marbles have become so expensive that only one or two mills in Europe and India still make them. A marble made of pure, ground marble, or other suitable stone, is highly prized and regarded as being the most accurate for shooting, but the most beautiful marbles and the most sought after by the collector arc the best of the glass marbles

    I've included some pics of some marbles. The first are Civil War Era Antique Clay Marbles. The second picture are clay marbles dating from the Civil war also.
  • AmyW AmyW's Avatar 04-24-06 | 02:03 PM
  • This third pic are handmade clay marbles from the early 1800s. These kind are very rare. The fourth picture are unglazed earthenware marbles from 1800s.
  • rudolphia rudolphia's Avatar 04-24-06 | 02:32 PM
  • Cool. Marbles is a game that really isn't played the way it used to be. I'll bet if you asked 100 kids how to play, you'd find fewer than 5 who know. It is a cool game.

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