6 Differences Between Old and New Marbles

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6 Differences Between Old and New Marbles

Since collecting marbles is such a common hobby, it's important to understand a bit about what makes old and new marbles different. Here are six differences as well as a few tips to help people get a marble collection started.

The History of Marbles

Thousands of years ago, Egyptians seemed to believe that a marble made of animal bones could be used as a sort of spiritual medium. Meanwhile, other civilizations focused their use of marbles on recreation. An ancient child's tomb in modern-day Nepal was found to contain marbles, and Cretan children were known to use agate marbles for games. Roman children loved the game of marbles, and Caesar Augustus himself was known to play. Although so many civilizations played marbles, the rules of the game were apparently passed down through oral tradition. It wasn't until the late 1800s, however, that marbles were manufactured in high quantities. At their peak in the early 1900s, each marble company produced about a million marbles per day. Marbles are much less common to play with today, but they are nevertheless a popular collector's item.

The Differences Between Old and New Marbles

Assessing the age of a marble can be quite difficult, especially with the number of reproductions on the market. However, there are a few details that collectors should consider before making a purchase to ensure that marbles are as old as people say that they are. Some collectors already own marbles of unknown age; these can also be assessed by focusing on these simple factors in order to determine their age.

1. How They Were Made

Determine if the marble was made by hand or machine. Most old marbles were handmade, but this is not in itself a perfect criterion. To discover whether a marble was handmade or machine made, look for a pontil: When made by hand, a marble is attached to a stick due to the process of glassblowing, and when the marble is ready, the stick is broken off at the end, leaving a small rough patch where the stick was attached to the marble; this roughness is the pontil. No matter how skilled a glassblower was, there was always a pontil on the finished product. Keep in mind that some handmade marbles are new, and some old marbles were machine made. This is simply a good way to find the most probable possibility.

2. Their Appearance

Antique marbles were made of much higher quality materials than modern marbles. They were also crafted individually, so more care and attention was given to each one. Thus, antique marbles are much brighter and beautiful. While this principle does not guarantee anything, it is one more way to figure out whether a marble is more likely to be old or new. Another matter of appearance to consider is the design in or on the marble. There are so many different designs in circulation that no one could know every possibility, but experienced collectors can help. Certain patterns originated in different countries and were popular at different time periods. This can make it a little easier to determine the origin of a given marble.

3. The Quality of the Glass

Not all marbles contain glass, but most do. Old marbles were made of high-quality glass that did not shatter easily. This was during the 19th and early 20th century when marbles were only collected for the purpose of playing the game, not solely for the sake of collection. Thus, they needed to be resistant to shattering; newer ones are made much more cheaply and shatter more easily as well. Most people do not discover this because playing marbles is more rare than simply collecting them. If an old-looking marble cannot withstand moderate play without getting damaged, it is most likely a reproduction.

4. Level of Perfection

Many people think that more perfect-looking marbles are worth more. This is not necessarily the case. While no one wants an antique marble that has been destroyed, no one wants a so-called antique that looks perfect either. If an antique looks perfect, it probably isn't an antique at all. Antique marbles were almost always created through glassblowing, so there are certain characteristics to look for; the pontil is the most obvious, but there are others. Since glassblowing is not as precise as a machine, older marbles are likely to have bubbles and odd flaws. These flaws actually add character and value to a marble because they prove that the marble was handmade. A marble that looks like it just came off of an assembly line is most likely a new creation.

5. Likely Owners

Consider the age of the seller of any given marble. Although this is common sense, many people forget to do a little mental math when purchasing marbles. Unless an elderly person set up a yard sale just to fool young marble collectors, which is a very unlikely scenario, it's safe to assume that the elderly person's marbles are old as well. Most people of past generations collected marbles in their youth so that they could play games. When such people got older, they almost always put their marbles in a bag or box somewhere, never to be opened again. Older people who sell the marbles of their youth are selling marbles that are also old, marbles that are likely to be in good condition since they've been tucked away for decades. When in doubt, ask sellers when they purchased their marbles.

6. The Major Material

This table can be a great tool in helping people determine the likely age of a marble based on the major material and the country where the marble was manufactured.

Material

Country of Origin 

Era of Production

Glass - Handmade

Germany

About 1850 to 1900

Glass - Machine Made

United States

About 1910 to 1940

Glass - Machine Made

Japan

About 1950

Glass - Machine Made

Mexico or China

Very Recent

Clay, Agate, or Other Stone - Handmade

Germany

About 1850 to 1900

Transitional Period

During the transitional period, it was common for some new marbles to be made by hand and others to be made by machine. In addition, some marbles were blown by hand but perfected with a machine. This may explain why some older marbles look perfect and have no pontil. When assessing the age of a marble, odd contradictions may lead to the transitional period.

Modern Handmade Marbles

Anyone looking to purchase a modern handmade marble can spend thousands of dollars. Such marbles are rare and are seen as fascinating works of art. If someone is trying to sell a new handmade marble for a low price, notice the red flag and avoid that seller.

Antique Reproductions

One cannot overemphasize the reality of fake antiques. Great antiques are prone to being reproduced because everyone wants to stumble upon an antique at a low price. Although unwitting sellers sometimes make huge mistakes, this is such a rare occurrence that it is safe to stick with an old adage: If something is too good to be true, it probably isn't true.

Age and Condition

Age isn't everything: An old marble in terrible condition may not be worth a whole lot. When assessing the age of a marble, be sure to take into account the condition as well.

Get Connected

Keep up to date on current trends in marble production by following trusted collectors online or by joining an association. Marble shows are also a great way to meet people who are open to selling and purchasing marbles.

Finding Marbles on eBay

The Internet is a great place to buy and sell collector's items like marbles. To find marbles on eBay, begin at the eBay home page. On the left sidebar, hover over Toys & Hobbies. When the menu expands, click on Collector & Hobbyist Toys. Scroll down to the heading All Categories within Toys & Hobbies in the main frame of the page. Near the bottom of the third column is the link for Marbles. There are two additional links beneath that heading. One links to Pre-1970 marbles while the other is a link for 1970-Now. Marbles for kids are found in a separate category as well. Use the tools in the left sidebar to narrow results even further.

Conclusion

Collecting marbles is a popular hobby. By understanding these six differences between old and new marbles, one is prepared to make informed decisions while shopping for marbles on eBay or elsewhere.

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