Ancient marbles were usually made of clay, stone or glass, and were deemed to be originated in Harappan civilization in Pakistan near the Indus river. Stone marbles were found on excavation near Mohenjo-daro; whereas clay marbles were discovered in the tombs of ancient Egypt, and in Native American burial grounds and ancient Aztec pyramids. Marbles are often mentioned in Roman literature. According to MarbleCollecting.com:
Marbles, round spherical objects apparently used to play games, have been in existence for at least the past 3,000 years. They have been found in Egyptian pyramids and in North American indian mounds. An annual marble tournament has been played in Tinsley Green, England on Good Friday for at least the past 300 years. And the United States National Marbles Tournament is still held the third weekend of June in Wildwood, New Jersey.
The first marbles were round stones, nuts or fired pieces of clay and pottery. The Pretty Little Pocket Book, a Newberry book, reprinted by Isaiah Thomas in 1787, contains a verse on playing marbles. William Blake, in his book of prose, Songs of Innocence (1798), painted an illustration of three boys playing marbles for his poem “The Schoolboy”. An original copy of this can still be viewed at the British Center for Art at Yale University. This is one of the earliest known illustrations of glass marbles.
Expensive handmade antique glass marbles were produced mostly in Germany from 1860 to 1914. Mass production of inexpensive ceramic marbles commenced in the 1870s. In Akron, Ohio, the first mass-produced toy (clay) marbles came from S C Dyke in the early 1890s, whilst some of the earliest glass marbles were produced by James Harvey Leighton, and also later, by Martin Frederick Christensen on his patented machine in 1903. The M F Christensen & Son Co. manufactured millions of toy and industrial glass marbles until they ceased operations in 1917. Started by Akronites in 1911 at Clarksburg, West Virginia, Akron Agate was the next company to enter the glass marble market.
Marbles have since become a favourite game amonst children as much as bowling, billards and snookers are the staples of adult games involving hitting balls with precision. Nowadays, computer games, mobile devices, social media, modern entertainments, high-tech toys and other distractions have eroded the popularity of many ball games, including marbles. As a result, and alongside the outcomes of market outsourcing, offshoring and globalization, there are only two American-based toy marble manufacturers: Jabo Vitro in Reno, Ohio, and Marble King in Paden City, West Virginia.
Outside the United States of America, Vacor de Mexico is the largest maker of machine-made marbles, producing over 90% of the marbles in the world. It has an office in Kansas City, Montana. According to MarbleCollecting.com:
We do know that stone marbles were produced in Germany in at least the early 1800′s. It appears that pottery marbles were produced in Germany and in England, during this time period. In The Boys’ Own Book, published by Charles S. Francis, New York, 1829, the rating of different kinds of marbles was listed….
In 1905, Martin F. Christensen of Akron Ohio hit upon the idea to use a machine to produce “perfectly round spheres”. This provided the Americans with the ability to compete with the Germans on two fronts. First, their marbles were superior for shooting. Because they were made by machine, and not by hand, they had no pontils. This greatly aided a marble shooter because he did not have to be concerned with the irregularities of a slightly out of round handmade marble with rough ends when trying to shoot a straight line. Second, the use of machinery allowed the Americans to greatly reduce their unit cost of production. Thus prices could be lowered and American marbles could compete with the Germans.
By the mid-1920′s, the Germans were effectively out of the marble-making business. Almost all marbles were made by machine in the United States. The following two decades saw what is described as “The Golden Age of Machine Mades”. The large marble makers of the time began to compete with each other to produce more unique designs and more colorful marbles each season. This period of time saw the introduction of Akro Agate corkscrews and Popeyes, Peltier National Line Rainbos, swirls and Peerless Patches, and the rise and fall of The Christensen Agate Company. By the Great Depression, Akro Agate Company and Peltier Glass Company had become the largest producers of marbles. With the advent of the Great Depression, marble manufacturers became more cost conscious and brightly colored marbles began to disappear from the scene.
By World War II, Master Marble Company and Vitro Agate Company had entered the marble market. Akro Agate Company failed in 1951 and Vitro Agate Company and Marble King became the largest U.S. manufacturers, but faced stiff competition from Japanese imports of catseyes. By the 1960′s, virtually all marbles were made in the Far East. During the 1970′s, marble playing saw a steady decline, as video games became more popular and readily available. Also, marble making shifted to Mexico, with Vacor de Mexico becoming the largest marble manufacturer.
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