Marble (toy)

Marble (toy)
Hand-made marbles from West Africa
Different glass marbles from a glass-mill

A marble is a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, steel, or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about ½ inch (1.25 cm) in diameter, but they may range from less than ¼ inch (0.635 cm) to over 3 inches (7.75 cm), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 12 inches (30 cm) wide. Marbles can be used for a variety of games called marbles. They are often collected, both for nostalgia and for their aesthetic colors. In the North of England the objects and the game are called 'taws', with larger taws being called bottle washers after the use of a marble in Codd-neck bottles.



Marbles originated in Harappan civilization in Pakistan near the river Indus. Various marbles of stone were found on excavation near Mohenjo-daro. Marbles are also often mentioned in Roman literature, and there are many examples of marbles from ancient Egypt. They were commonly made of clay, stone or glass and commonly referred to as a "Glass alley".

Ceramic marbles entered inexpensive mass production in the 1870s.

A German glassblower invented marble scissors in 1846, a device for making marbles.[1] The first mass-produced toy marbles (clay) made in the US were made in Akron, Ohio by S.C. Dyke, in the early 1890s. Some of the first US-produced glass marbles were also made in Akron, by James Harvey Leighton. In 1903, Martin Frederick Christensen—also of Akron, Ohio—made the first machine-made glass marbles on his patented machine. His company, The M.F. Christensen & Son Co., manufactured millions of toy and industrial glass marbles until they ceased operations in 1917. The next US company to enter the glass marble market was Akro Agate. This company was started by Akronites in 1911, but was located in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Today, there are only two American-based toy marble manufacturers: Jabo Vitro in Reno, Ohio, and Marble King, in Paden City, West Virginia.

Marbles games

Various games can be played with marbles; any such game can itself be called 'marbles' (cf. darts, skittles, bowls).

One game involves drawing a circle in sand, and players will take turns knocking other players' marbles out of the circle with their own marble. This game is called ringer. Other versions involve shooting marbles at target marbles or into holes in the ground (such as rolly or rolley hole). A larger-scale game of marbles might involve taking turns trying to hit an opponent's marble to win. A useful strategy is to throw a marble so that it lands in a protected, or difficult location if it should miss the target. As with many children's games, new rules are devised all the time, and each group is likely to have its own version, often customized to the environment. While the game of marbles was once ubiquitous and attracted widespread press to national tournaments, its popularity has dwindled in the television age.[2]

United Kingdom

Popular in the early 1970s was a marble game called grids. Similar to rolly or rolley hole, the object was to be the first to land one's marble into a hole. However, a makeshift board was created using manhole grids. Each player would start at either end and attempt to thumb-flick their marble between the raised sections of the grid towards the removal hook holes. A player was not permitted to jump his marble over the raised sections, but only travel down the grid lines. Each player took turns until one reached the hole. In a "keepsy" game the winner would get to keep the other player's marble.


Yet another specialized version of the game (as played in Taiwan) involves a five-holed course and can be played by two to six players. This version is typically played on a flat hard-packed clay surface. Five divots, approximately 2 cm deep and 4 to 5 cm wide, are excavated in the four corners of a 1.5m by 1.5m square. The fifth divot is excavated in the center of the square where the square's diagonals intersect. The players each begin with one marble and a series of games of rock-paper-scissors determines the starting order of the players. The beginning player starts at one of the holes in the corner of the square and this hole becomes the designated "home" hole for the remainder of the game. The first player shoots for the center hole. If he or she successfully shoots his or her marble into the center hole (namely, the marble comes to rest in the hole without bouncing out), then he or she gets to shoot for the hole to the right. In the event of a miss, the next player in line gets to start, and he or she also can proceed until a shot misses a hole. The idea is to shoot the marble from the home hole to center, from center to right, from right back to center, from center to left, from left back to center, from center to top, from top back to center, and finally from center back to home. The first player to complete this course becomes the "ghost" and is at liberty to shoot at the other players' marbles as they attempt to complete the course. If the ghost successfully hits another player's marble, the ghost then wins that marble and the losing party removes the marble from play, surrendering the marble to the ghost immediately. Although the ghost wins the match immediately upon completing the course, the game is not over until all players have either completed the course or have had their marbles removed from play by the ghost.


In Canada, the game is played using a hole. Two or three people can play this way, either solo, or in teams of two. One simply makes a shallow or deep hole in the ground using the heel of his/her foot. Everyone then takes turns (in no particular order) shooting their marbles at the hole, trying to see who can get closer. The closest person gets to go first at flicking the marbles into the hole using the tip of the middle finger or the side of the pointer finger. In some games, feet are used to play. A player's two feet would create an upside down uppercase L shape, with the back foot pointing straight ahead and its toes touching or near the toes of the second foot, which was turned completely sideways, pointing either left (if the right foot was in front) or right (if the left foot was in front). The marble would be placed on the outside of the front foot, near the pinky toe. The back foot would then lightly tap the front foot, which would hit the marble in the desired direction. If the first person misses, the person who was second-closest will then go. This goes on until all marbles are knocked in. Oddly, the person to knock the last marble into the hole wins all of the marbles. No matter what, whoever plays must play for keeps unless the player says not to at the beginning of the game. If a player says "clearsies", then the player takes out all of the marbles, keeping them safe so someone else cannot knock the marbles out of the hole. If a player says "doctor", then they can get someone else to make the shot for them, but only one shot. If one is playing with "knockies", then both players play the same way, but the person to get closest does not go first—the person who gets furthest does. However, he/she must take their turn to move his/her marble back a little and the first person will try to flick the further marble to the closer one to try and knock it in the hole. After there is one marble left, you will play the last one normally. After this is completed the player with the most marbles wins.

United States

A curious version of marbles which used the feet, rather than the hands, to shoot was played in Southern New Hampshire (Nashua-Derry region) in the mid 1960s through 1970s. Players first made a target hole, by pivoting on a heel in the dirt. Paired opponents would take turns to see who would get their marble into the hole first, starting from a distance of up to about ten feet. The marble was aimed and propelled (in the case of a right-footed person) by the left foot being placed touching the marble so that the marble was at the outside, widest part of the foot forward of the arch. Then, with that left foot planted, and requiring a bit of a knock-kneed stance, the right foot kicks the inside of the left foot (directly opposite the marble). This kick dislodges the left foot into the marble, hitting it into the direction of the hole. The basic strategy was that the first one to sink their marble into the hole won the game, and kept the opponent's marble. A distinct advantage was gained by getting to shoot first. Marbles had a defined value system based on size and style, with very large marbles (termed "Elephant Eggs") being the most valuable, and requiring an equally-valued assortment of marbles to be included in the wager if play was to commence. Steel ball bearings of large marble size were also desirable. Due to the two-player nature of the game, and the many players, school-grounds sprouted hundreds of holes, with many simultaneous games during recess. Marbles also became a distraction in the classroom, where they often spilled onto the floor from pockets or from slippery admiring hands.


In Australia, during the 1950s and 1960s, a very popular game with variety in its play was "Bunny Hole". The winner of this game was he who was first able to hit the other player's marble four times, but this had to be achieved under certain constraints. A hole (called the "bunny hole") was dug by pivoting the heel of the foot into the sand or dirt. A line was then marked out some 20 feet [6 metres] away, and each player in turn then pitched his/her marble from the line to see who could rest the marble nearest the bunny hole. The person whose marble came to rest nearest the hole would go first. This player would then attempt to 'fire' his marble in a manner so as to rest it in the hole. No 'hits' on other marbles were accounted to any player until (s)he had successfully played his/her own marble into the bunny hole.

"Firing" a marble meant that a player had to flick his/her marble from a stationary position of his hand. No part of the hand firing the marble was permitted to be in front of the position where the marble had been resting on the ground. Using that hand, (s)he would flick or fire the marble from his/her hand, usually with the knuckle on the back of his/her hand resting on the ground, and usually using the thumb of that hand to do so. All shots of the game were conducted in this manner throughout except the very initial pitch towards the bunny hole that commenced the game.

Once a player was able to land his/her marble within the hole, (s)he would immediately then fire his marble at his opponents' marbles. However, if any player hit another player's marble before his/her own marble had been to 'visit' the bunny hole, the act would be referred to as "a kiss"; the game would be over, and all or both players (in the case of two players only) would have to retreat back to the starting line to re-commence the game, without result. This, of course, could be quite annoying or frustrating if a player had already built up quite a few hits on another player's marble! So, most skilled players did not resort to this kind of tactic.

The overall aim was to hit a particular marble 3 times after getting into the hole, then you had to "run away", before the final contact shot was allowed to be played - which was called "the kill". Once a player made a kill on another marble, if the game was 'for keeps', (s)he would then get to keep the marble [bunny] (s)he had 'killed'. The format of playing this game was that each time you successfully hit another player's marble, you were to have another shot - even if it was not the marble you had originally intended to hit.

Of course, the ploy was to hit the particular opponent marble 3 times, and then 'run away' to the bunny hole, because once you rested the marble into the hole, you immediately had your shot again, thus leaving no opportunity at all for your opponent to retreat his/her marble before "the Kill" was made on it.

World championship

The British and World Marbles Championship have been held at Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England every year since 1932.[3][4][5] (Marbles has been played in Tinsley Green and the surrounding area for many centuries:[3][6] TIME magazine traces its origins to 1588.[7]) Traditionally, the marbles-playing season started on Ash Wednesday and lasted until midday on Good Friday: playing after that brought bad luck.[4] More than 20 teams from around the world take part in the championship, each Good Friday; German teams have been successful several times since 2000,[3][6][8] although local teams from Crawley, Copthorne and other Sussex and Surrey villages often take part as well;[3][7][9] the first championship in 1932 was won by a team from the Black Horse in nearby Hookwood.


  • Kunchey is the term used in northern India to refer to both a game played with marbles, and the marbles themselves.
  • Lakhoti is the word for marble in many parts of western India, mainly in Gujarat. Names for types of marbles include anto, antak and picchi.
  • Goli Gundu is a Tamil term used to refer to both a game played with marbles, and the marbles themselves.
  • "Knuckle down", the position adopted at the start line at the beginning of a match.You begin with your knuckle against the ground.
  • Marbles are also named by their color.
  • "Quitsies": Allows any opponent to stop the game without consequence. You can either have "quitsies" (able to quit) or "no quitsies".
  • "Keepsies" (or "for keeps"): The player keeps all the marbles he or she wins.[10]
  • "Elephant Stomps": When called, it allows a player to stomp his/her marble level with the ground surface, making it very difficult for other players to hit the marble.
  • "Bombies": When called, it allows a player to take 1-2 steps while holding his/her marble and normally closing one eye will line up over one of the opponents marble and drop the marble trying to hit the marble on the ground.
  • "Leaning Tops": When called, a shooter leans in on his/her off hand for leverage over an indentation on any type of surface or obstacle.
  • A "taw" or "shooter" is a larger marble used to shoot with, and "ducks" are marbles to be shot at.
  • Various names refer to the marbles' size. Any marble larger than the majority may be termed a boulder, masher, popper, shooter, taw, bumbo, crock, bumboozer, bowler, tonk, tronk, godfather, tom bowler, giant or Biggie. A marble smaller than the majority is a peawee/peewee or mini. A "grandfather" is the largest marble, the size of a billiards ball or tennis ball.
  • Various names for different marble types (regional playground talk, Leicester, UK): Marleys (Marbles), Prit (white marble), Kong (large marble), King Kong (larger than a Bosser), Steely (Metal Ball-bearing). Names can be combined: e.g. Prit-Kong (large white marble). There are many more such names, as discussed in the next section.

Types of marbles

  • Alley or real - made of marble or alabaster (alley is short for alabaster), streaked with wavy or other patterns with exotic names like corkscrew, spiral, snake, ribbon, onyx, swirl, bumblebee, butterfly, and...
    An orange and white toothpaste marble
    • Toothpaste - Also known as "Plainsies" in Canada. Wavy streaks usually with red, blue, black, white, orange.
    • Turtle - wavy streaks containing green and yellow
    • Ade - strands of opaque white and color, making lemon-ade, lime-ade, orange-ade, etc.
    • Oxblood - a streaky patch resembling blood
    • Oilie or Oily - Opaque with a rainbow, iridescent finish
    • Pearls - Opaque with single color with "mother of pearl" finish
    • Lutz - a type of swirl, taken from the skating term
    • Onionskin - swirled and layered like an onion
    • Clambroth - equally spaced opaque lines on a usually opaque base
    • Cat's Eye or catseye - central eye-shaped colored inserts or cores (injected inside the marble)
      • Devil's Eye - red with yellow eye
      • Beachball - three colors and six vanes
  • Aggie - made of agate (aggie is short for agate) or glass resembling agate, with various patterns like in the alley
  • Bumblebee - mostly yellow with two black strips on each side.
  • China - glazed porcelain, with various patterns similar to an alley marble
    • Plaster - a form of china that is unglazed
  • Commie or common - made of clay
    • Bennington - clay fired in a kiln with salt glaze
    • Crock - made from crockery (earthenware) clay
  • Croton alley or Jasper - glazed and unglazed china marbled with blue
  • Crystal or clearie or purie - any clear colored glass - including "opals," "glimmers," "bloods," "rubies," etc. These can have any number of descriptive names such as "deep blue sea", "blue moon", "green ghost", "brass bottle".
    • Princess - a tinted crystal
    • Galaxy - lots of dots inserted to look like like a sky of stars
  • Indian - dark and opaque, usually black, with overlaid stripes of colors; usually white, and one or more other colors. Some new ones are also many colors like blue, green and scarlet.
  • Mica - glassy to translucent with streaks or patches of mica, ranging from clear to misty
  • Steely - made of steel; a steely was sometimes made from a flat piece of steel folded into a sphere and shows a cross where the corners all come together.
  • Sulphide - Usually, a large (1.25 to 3 inch) clear glass sphere with a small statuette or figure inside. Most common are domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, cows, etc.; then wild animals; human figures are scarce; inanimate objects such as a train or pocket watch are very rare and command high prices. The interior figures are made of white clay or kaolin, and appear a silvery color due to light refraction. A sulphide with a colored-glass sphere, or with a painted figure inside, is also very rare and brings a high price. Like other types of antique marbles, sulphides have been reproduced and faked in large quantities.
  • Tiger- Clear with orange/ yellow stripes

Marble collecting

Some historic marbles

Marbles are categorized by many factors including condition, size, type, manufacturer/artisan, age, style, materials, scarcity, and the existence of original packaging (which is further rated in terms of condition). A marble's worth is primarily determined by type, size, condition and eye-appeal, coupled with the law of supply and demand. Ugly, but rare marbles may be valued as much as those of very fine quality. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule - "Condition is King" when it comes to marbles. Any surface damage (characterized by missing glass, such as chips or pits) typically cut book value by 50% or more.

Due to the large market, there are many related side businesses that have sprung up such as numerous books and guides, web sites dedicated to live auctions of marbles only, and collector conventions. Additionally, many glass artisans produce marbles for the collectors' market only, with some selling for hundreds of dollars[citation needed].[11]


Glass marbles

Marbles are made using many techniques. They can be categorized into two general types: hand-made and machine-made.

Marbles were originally made by hand. Stone or ivory marbles can be fashioned by grinding. Clay, pottery, ceramic, or porcelain marbles can be made by rolling the material into a ball, and then letting dry, or firing, and then can be left natural, painted, or glazed. Clay marbles, also known as crock marbles or commies (common), are made of slightly porous clay, traditionally from local clay or leftover earthenware ('crockery'), rolled into balls, then glazed and fired at low heat, creating an opaque imperfect sphere that is frequently sold as the poor boy's 'old timey' marble. Glass marbles can be fashioned through the production of glass rods which are stacked together to form the desired pattern, cutting the rod into marble-sized pieces using marble scissors, and rounding the still-malleable glass.

One mechanical technique is dropping globules of molten glass into a groove made by two interlocking parallel screws. As the screws rotate, the marble travels along them, gradually being shaped into a sphere as it cools. Color is added to the main batch glass and/or to additional glass streams that are combined with the main stream in a variety of ways. For example, in the "cat's-eye" style, colored glass vanes are injected into a transparent main stream. Applying more expensive colored glass to the surface of cheaper transparent or white glass is also a common technique.

Manufacturing locations

There were numerous businesses that made marbles in Akron, Ohio.[12] One major marble manufacturing company is Marble King, located in Paden City, West Virginia, which was featured in the television shows Made in America, Some Assembly Required and The Colbert Report. Currently, the world's largest manufacturer of playing marbles is Vacor de Mexico. The company makes 90 percent of the world’s marbles. Over 12 million of the little glass balls are produced each day.


Video games

  • Marble Madness, an Atari game where players race each other to the finish line.
  • Marble Drop, a computer game where players place marbles in a complicated apparatus in an attempt to solve a puzzle.
  • Marble Blast Gold, a 2003 'get to the finish' first person game for the PC and Xbox; a sequel, Marble Blast Ultra, was released later for the Xbox 360
  • Oxyd, a 1991 game for Atari ST, Amiga and Macintosh
  • Switchball, a 2007 game for the PC and Xbox 360
  • The World Ends With You uses a marble-like system called "Tin Pin Slammer" as the basis for several plot events. But, as the name suggests, this mini-game event requires the use of pins instead of marbles.


  • Ker-Plunk, a game for two to four players involving marbles.
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos, a game for two to four players involving marbles
  • Chinese Checkers, often called "Marble Checkers", a board game for two to six players using marbles as game pieces
  • Bakugan Battle Brawlers, a game which uses magnetic spring loading marbles which open up to reveal creatures used to play the game
  • B-Daman, a toy that fires marbles and can be played under several game rules

See also


  • Baumann, Paul. Collecting Antique Marbles (4th ed.). 
  1. ^ Johnny Acton, Tania Adams, Matt Packer, 2006, Origin of Everyday Things Barnes and Noble, p. 148
  2. ^ "Dan Ackman, "No One Plays for Keeps Anymore"". The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2009. 25 June 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Losing your Marbles". BBC Inside Out programme. BBC. 9 June 2003. Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Collins 2007, p. 88.
  5. ^ Aitch, Iain (4 April 2009). "Event preview: British And World Marbles Championship, Tinsley Green". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Ltd). Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Sandy, Matt (7 April 2007). "Village rolls out a welcome for World Marbles Championships". The Times (London: Times Newspapers Ltd). Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  7. ^ a b "Sport: At Tinsley Green". TIME magazine (TIME Inc.). 17 April 1939.,9171,761077,00.html. Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  8. ^ Pearson, Harry (26 April 2003). "Going under in the marble halls of Tinsley Green". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media Ltd). Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  9. ^ Gwynne 1990, p. 172.
  10. ^ "Marbles". ThinkQuest. Retrieved April 11, 2010. 
  11. ^ - Contemporary Art Marble Gallery
  12. ^ "A Brief History of the Birth of the Modern American Toy Industry". Retrieved 2009-01-21. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Marble (disambiguation) — Marble is a type of rock resulting from the metamorphism of limestone. Marble or Marbles may also refer to: Marble (toy), a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, steel, or agate Marble sculpture, the art of creating three dimensional …   Wikipedia

  • marble — ► NOUN 1) a hard form of limestone, typically variegated or mottled, which may be polished and is used in sculpture and building. 2) a small ball of coloured glass used as a toy. 3) (marbles) (treated as sing. ) a game in which marbles are rolled …   English terms dictionary

  • marble — marbler, n. /mahr beuhl/, n., adj., v., marbled, marbling. n. 1. metamorphosed limestone, consisting chiefly of recrystallized calcite or dolomite, capable of taking a high polish, occurring in a wide range of colors and variegations and used in… …   Universalium

  • Marble — /mahr beuhl/, n. Alice, 1913 90, U.S. tennis player. * * * Granular limestone or dolomite that has recrystallized under the influence of heat, pressure, and aqueous solutions. The main mineral in marble is calcite. Commercially, marble includes… …   Universalium

  • toy — toyer, n. toyless, adj. toylike, adj. /toy/, n. 1. an object, often a small representation of something familiar, as an animal or person, for children or others to play with; plaything. 2. a thing or matter of little or no value or importance; a… …   Universalium

  • marble — n. & v. n. 1 limestone in a metamorphic crystalline (or granular) state, and capable of taking a polish, used in sculpture and architecture. 2 (often attrib.) a anything made of marble (a marble clock). b anything resembling marble in hardness,… …   Useful english dictionary

  • marble — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) adj. hard, vitreous, unyielding; lifeless, insensible, cold; white, pale, colorless; variegated, particolored, pied, striated, mottled. See color, hardness, insensibility. II (Roget s IV) modif. 1.… …   English dictionary for students

  • marble — Synonyms and related words: Dalmatian, adamant, agate, alabaster, antigorite, argent, argentine, ball, band, bar, baseball bat, bat, battledore, bauble, bespangle, bespeckle, bespot, billiard table, blocks, blotch, bone, bony, bowling alley,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • marble — mar·ble || mÉ‘bl / mɑːbl n. crystalized limestone used in flooring and sculpture; small glass ball used as a children s toy v. cause to resemble marble, apply decorative material or color to give the appearance of marble adj. of or made from… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • toy — Synonyms and related words: Charlie McCarthy, a continental, a curse, a damn, a darn, a hoot, agate, agent, ancilla, appliance, babe, baby, baby sized, bagatelle, ball, bantam, banty, baseball bat, bat, battledore, bauble, bean, bibelot, bill and …   Moby Thesaurus

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