The History Of Marbles

No one really knows when the game of marbles first began, or when the first marble was made. It is probably fair to say that in one form or another they have been around almost as long as mankind. Archaeologists have found game boards and playing pieces in the earliest excavated graves in Egypt and the Middle East and in most other parts of the world. Little white marbles and round pebbles were found in Austria in caves inhabited by our Palaeolithic ancestors. They were not made of local stone so had obviously been imported. One can only speculate about their use, but they must have been of some value to their owners to have been kept and carried with them. Stone balls and pillars to form an arch were found in a child's grave in Egypt, which was dated around 4000BC. 

The early Greeks played various games with nuts. One of these, called Omilla, was very similar to the game of Ring Taw which is still played today. There are frequent references to marbles and marble type games played with nuts throughout Roman literature. Ovid describes various nut games in his poem 'The Walnut Tree'. It is probably fair to assume the Romans took this popular form of entertainment with them to all parts of their empire. Children playing marbles appear in Roman murals in Bath, England. Clay marbles have been found in a settlement influenced by Roman culture in North Western India dating from the second century AD.

From Clay To Glass Marbles

We know that 'marbles' was played throughout Europe. There are mentions of the game in Shakespeare. The Czech educationalist Johan Comenski talks of them in his book of 1658 and they are seen in a painting by Pieter Bruegel. The earliest marbles were made of common stone, in some cases real marble and clay. Coloured glass marbles are mentioned as early as the fifteenth century in German literature and were known to have been made in Venice and Bohemia at this time. It is assumed that these early glass marbles were not made commercially, but were made by glass workers for their own children at the end of the day. 

China and crockery marbles were introduced around 1800 and were produced in increasingly large quantities until the end of the century. By the middle of the 19th century German glass blowers had invented a tool to cut marble canes more easliy. These specially adapted shears meant that production became quick enough to make the sale of glass mables for the public an economic propostition. These marbles became increasingly popular throughout Europe and America. An enormous variety of colours were used and intricate patterns were created within the glass.


Modern Times

These days, marbles are made from all sorts of materials, but glass remains by far the most popular. Glass lends itself to both hand and machine production and provides an article which is appealing both to the eye and touch. The rather boring clay and compressed stone marbles are hardly made at all now and the beautiful ground agates and real marbles have become so expensive that only one or two mills in Europe and India still make them. 

A marble made of pure, ground marble or other suitable stone is highly prized and regarded as being the most accurate for shooting, but the most beautiful marbles and the most sought-after for collectors are the best handmade glass marbles.

Marble terminology

  • "Knuckle down", the position adopted at the start line at the beginning of a match. You begin with your knuckle against the ground.
  • "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.
  • "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 generally 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, bonker, masher, plumper, popper, shooter, thumper, smasher, taw, bumbo, crock, bumboozer, bowler, tonk, tronk, godfather, tom bowler, fourer, giant, dobber, dobbert, 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.


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