Small Talk Tag: Marbles

All Hail the Marble King

Marble King Marbles

It’s probably no surprise that most of the toys we play with today aren’t made in America anymore. What might be surprising to hear is that some U.S. toy companies are still going strong! In Paden City, West Virginia, Marble King has been manufacturing marbles since 1949. Founder Barry Pink had made a living selling marbles for over 30 years when he decided to jump into the manufacturing business during the heyday of the marble-playing craze.

While “knuckling down” may not have the same appeal for today’s kids as it did in the 20th century, the secret to Marble King’s success might be their ability to diversify. It turns out marbles have many different uses that aren’t all fun and games. For instance, marbles can be used to clean out industrial pipes. And you know that rattling noise inside a spray paint can? Yep, it’s a marble—likely made by Marble King.
Photo: Courtesy of Marble King.

Jazzy Aggies

Agate Marbles

Agate marbles, or “aggies” (if you want to use mibster lingo) are a kind of marble made of agate, a colored variety of quartz. Agate marbles were the preferred shooter for many marble players because they are denser than glass or clay marbles. Popular from the 1860s until World War I, most agates were hand cut and produced in Germany. After the war, new technology allowed for glass marbles to be mass produced. During the heyday of marble playing, several American glass marble manufacturers like Akro Agate Co. and Christensen Agate Co. had the word “agate” in their name to suggest their marbles were similar to actual agates.

While other minerals were used to make marbles, like malachite (the green one on the left) and turquoise (the blue one on the right) spheres above, they probably weren’t intended for playing ringer or any shooting marble game (you wouldn’t want to lose them in a game of keepsies after all!). Instead, marbles made with semi-precious stones were intended for a variety of tabletop board games like solitaire.

She Was Still A Little Girl Who Had Toys

Anne Frank's Diary, Copyright Anne Frank House, Photographer Cris Toala Olivares, 2010

Like many other Jewish children during Nazi occupation in Europe, Anne Frank gave away her toys before going into hiding with her family. Eventually, she was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died of typhus. The diary Anne kept is now regarded as one of the most widely-read pieces of Holocaust literature.

Anne gave the family cat and several toys, including her marbles, a tea set, and a book, to one of her non-Jewish childhood friends, Toosje Kupers, because she feared they would “end up in the wrong hands.” Kupers, who is now 83 years old, found the items last year while moving and decided to give them to the Anne Frank House Museum. The toys are on display as part of an exhibit at the Kunsthal Art Gallery in Rotterdam: The Second World War in 100 Objects is on view now through May 5, 2014.

Photo: Anne Frank’s Diary, Copyright Anne Frank House, Photographer Cris Toala Olivares, 2010

Pretty Little Angel Sulphide

Angel Sulfide Marble

Highly-coveted sulphide marbles get their name from the figure inside that looks like it’s made out of sulfur. Largely manufactured in German cottage industries from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, the tiny figures are actually made of porcelain clay. Animal sulphides are the most common type. People, numbers, or angels, like the one pictured here from the Larry and Cathy Svacina Collection, are harder to find.

Because antique sulphides were handmade, it’s not uncommon to find flawed or off-centered figures. Others have trapped air bubbles or pontil marks. While some collectors may seek out these imperfect gems, others believe they are, as these heavenly hosts say, “no good.”