Marbles are defined as round spherical objects used to play games; they have been in existence for at least 3,000 years. Marbles have been found at historical sites from Egyptian pyramids to Native American mounds. More modern marble related event and associations continue this long-standing tradition. The annual marble tournament in Tinsley Green, England has been held on Good Friday for the past 300 years. In the United States, The National Marbles Tournament is held on the third weekend of June in Wildwood, New Jersey.
Antique glass marbles are highly collectible and the types range from handmade examples of German glass-makers in the 1800s to U.S. machine-made marbles of the early and mid-1900s. The majority of antique handmade glass marbles came from Germany during the period of 1860 to 1920. A limited number of handmade marbles in this same time frame were made in the United States.
The majority of collectors today are mainly interested in handmade marbles; examples from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s can be identified by a pontil mark. This mark is formed when the marble is removed from the pontil rod during production. Machine-made marbles became an alternative to handmade marbles during World War I at a time when the U.S. stopped importing handmade marbles from Germany. Many collectors enjoy collecting these machine-made marbles because they are a reminder of their childhood.
Types of Collectible Marbles
German Handmade Glass Marbles - 1850's to Early 1900s
German Handmade marbles are one of the first types of marbles brought to the United States. These marbles remain one of the most popular types of collectible marbles throughout the world. There are hundreds of color combinations and styles, but most fall into the following categories:
Latticinio Swirls – Most Common
Divided Core Swirls
Solid Core Swirls
Ribbon Core Swirls
Joseph’s Coat Swirls
Indian Swirls – Almost always with a black base
Lutz – All have gold metallic bands
Micas – Clear with metallic flakes
Sulphides – Figures embedded into marbles
German Handmade Marbles - 1850's to Early 1900s (Non-glass)
Agates – Natural or Dyed (Dyed are more valuable)
Glass Machine Made Marbles - 1900 to 1970s
The advent of marble making machines in the early 1900s meant that glass marbles could then be mass produced at a rate of up to 1 million marbles per day. These machine-made marbles remain one of the most popular types of collectible marbles. There are hundreds of color variations and styles of machine-made marbles, here is a selection of the most popular.
Christensen Agate 1925
Peltier Co. 1927
Akro Agate 1910-1951
F. Christensen 1940-1917
Master Made Marbles 1930
Vitro Agate Co. 1932
Marble King 1949
Other Makers 1920’s-1930’s
Glass Machine Made Marbles - 1980 to Current
A few marble companies remain in the United States today; those still in existence include Marble King and Jabo, Inc. while the majority of marbles are manufactured in Mexico and China. This current crop of marbles are all very colorful and beautiful to look at but have no particular value to collectors other than their purchase price. Most modern marbles cost between 10 and 50 cents each.
Vacor – Mega Marble (Mexico)
Jabo, Inc. (USA)
House of Marble (UK)
Fakes & Reproductions
There are some glass marbles out there that are made to mimic old machine made or German handmade marbles. Over the last decade or so a massive influx of fake clay and sulphide marbles has entered the collectors market. The most common “fakes” are clay marbles which are said to have been dredged from the river in the Tennessee area or are “Civil War” era marbles. If clay marbles had been in the river for 100 years, they would have broken down and washed away ages ago. These false pieces are easy to spot as they are hefty for clay and have crude graphics drawn in marker; they may also have imitation crazing added to make them look older.
Just because a marble is old does not mean it is automatically valuable. The condition is so important. Marbles that are chipped and in rough condition will not appraise for much.
Marbles are antique toys made of glass or clay and like any glass antique, chips, cracks, and scratches can all lower the final value of each item significantly. It does not take much damage at all to reduce the value of a marble and since they were designed as kids toys meant to be played with this can be a big issue for collectors. The majority of marbles will have some damage but collectors want marbles that are in mint condition or as close to that as possible. Marbles in poor condition will be of little value even if they would be valuable in mint condition.