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A Helpful Guide to Identify Antique Marbles

Computer games are a favorite with children today, and games like Ringer, Marble Arch, Lagging, etc., playing with marbles are yet to captivate the minds of these young ones. Today, these vintage marbles are collected rather than played with. HobbyZeal's collection of marbles reveals some secrets on how to identify antique marbles for your collection!
HobbyZeal Staff
Believe it or not!!!
The exact origin of the marble still remains a mystery. It is difficult to firmly state the exact country of their origin, as marbles were found in tombs of ancient Egyptians, in the ashes of Pompeii, in the ancient child's tomb in modern-day Nepal, etc.
Marbles have been rolling through history since thousands of years ago. In the earlier times, Egyptians believed the animal-bone-made marbles were a type of spiritual medium. Other civilizations used them for recreational purposes. In an excavation near Mohenjo-daro, various balls of stone were found. The Roman poet, Ovid, focuses on marbles in his poem, Nux. Cretan and Roman children loved marbles, and it is said Caesar Augustus played with marbles himself. However, it wasn't until the 1800s that marbles were manufactured in large quantities.

In the earlier days, marbles were made from stones by cleansing them with running water to get a smooth surface. However, for a long time, marbles were being made from clay, stone, and glass.
Clay Marbles
Clay Marbles
They were produced in bulk between 1800 and 1900 in Germany and the United States. As it required no special technical knowledge, they were easy and cheap to produce. Mass production for clay marbles started when Sam Dyke of Akron, Ohio, invented a machine in 1884 to speed up the process of making marbles. "Commies"―the name for marbles―originated as they were common and used by children in their marble games. As they lack an eye-appeal, collectors prefer glass or china marbles to clay ones.
Stone Marbles
Agates Marble
Besides clay, stones like Agates, Alabaster, Limestone, etc., were used to create marbles. These marbles were preferred over the clay ones as they were catchy.
Glass Marbles
Glass Marbles
These are the most sought after type of marbles. Handmade glass marbles were invented in Lauscha, Germany, in the late 1840s and were produced till the early 20th century. The beautiful colors, ribbons, and patterns, made them popular among children in the 18th and 19th centuries. Glass marbles are famous among marble collectors today.
These guidelines will help you identify rare antique marbles and add them to your collection!
Equipment Required
  • Magnifying glass or jeweler's loupe
  • circle template
  • A guidebook for collectors, like Marble Collectors Handbook by Robert S. Block.
Almost all antique marbles were handmade; therefore, they wouldn't be as perfect as today's machine-made ones.
  • Clay marbles: They were usually cheap, as they were made from local clay―white clay called kaolin. They were not perfect in shape.
  • Stone marbles: They were made by grinding the stones to give them a round shape. A transfiguration of limestone. The design on the stone marbles was a result of the impurities or sand, chert, clay, silt, iron oxides. Though they weren't as appealing as glass marbles, they weren't as rough as the clay ones either.
  • Glass marbles: These vintage marbles were manufactured using a glassblowing technique, inducing characteristics like bubbles and pontils.
However, some vintage glass marbles could be from the transition period when machines were introduced in marble-making. In such cases, the antique marbles could be machine-made. Take a second opinion if you are in doubt. If you are presented with a perfect marble as an antique, think twice before buying.
  • Clay Marbles: They have a chalky, unglazed, porous appearance.
  • Stone Marbles: They come in varied range of colors with diverse vein patterns on them
  • Glass Marbles: Radiant and aesthetic in appearance, with patterns materializing from different countries, each one of these handmade marbles were skillfully made. 
The Marble Collectors Handbook by Robert S. Block with over 500 pictures of different marbles is an excellent guide to refer to.
Identifying Glass Marbles
Glass Quality: Earlier, marbles were collected and used for playing games; therefore, high quality glass was used in old glass marbles. Unlike the newer ones, these marbles did not shatter easily. If an older marble is resistant to damage while playing, it is deemed to be of good quality.
Glassblowing Technique
Glass Marble with Pontil
Pontil: The glassblowing technique was instrumental in the making of marbles in the earlier days. In this technique, the glassmaker would blow into a round mass of molten glass attached to the end of a blowpipe. Once the glob would shape into its desired size, the maker would cut the marble off the pipe. This would leave a rough patch called pontil. Older handmade marbles can be discerned by this unique feature.
Bubbles: The marble finish is not as fine in a glassblowing technique than that produced from a machine. Bubbles were created as a result of blowing into the round blob of molten glass which was considered a flaw; however, this flaw was the distinguishing feature in recognizing antique marbles.
These guidelines will help you identify rare antique marbles and add them to your collection!
Different Types/Patterns in Marbles
Clay Marbles
  • Crockery: It was made from mixing 2-3 different colors of clay. 
  • Bennington: A glazed clay marble, which is not very dense. 
  • Stoneware: A dense clay marble with salt glaze. It has splatter-like and sponge-like patterns.
  • China: Made from very dense white clay, most china marbles are intricately painted.
  • Carpet Balls: Glazed crockery marbles.
Stone Marbles
  • Agates: A colored variety of quartz which were ground into marbles.
  • Alabaster: Created by placing cubes of the alabaster in grooves of grindstones and the application of water force on it to generate a smoother surface.
  • Limestone: Less dense, colors―gray, brown, white, tan, and very rarely found in yellow color.
Glass Marbles
  • Laticinio Swirls: Colored, twisted strands in the core with clear and colorless base.
  • Solid Core Swirls: Solid core with minor or no openings with a clear and colorless base.
  • Divided Core Swirls: 3-6 multi-colored separated bands in the core.
  • Ribbon Core Swirls: 1-2 bands or ribbons swirls in the core.
  • Ribbon Lutz Swirls: Ribbon core swirl with a lutz (goldstone) edging on both sides.
  • Joseph's Coat Swirls: Subsurface multi-colored bands placed together.
  • Banded Transparent Swirls: Colored bands on the surface of the marble with a clear base.
  • Colorless Swirls: Similar to Joseph's Coat Swirls with wider bands.
  • Transparent Banded Lutz Swirls: Clear or colored base with two opposing Lutz bands with edges of white strands.
  • Peppermint Swirls: Transparent base covered completely with the swirls of color that lie under the surface of the marble.
  • Gooseberry Swirls: Colorless swirls with amber base.
  • Caramel Swirls: Colorless swirls with white strands and transparent dark brown base.
  • Mist Swirls: Transparent swirls with translucent colored bands or flecks under the surface.
  • Mica Swirls: Transparent-based marbles with mica (muscovite) flecks.
  • Indian Swirls: Opaque black base with stretched bands of colors on the surface.
  • Clambroths: Opaque, semi-opaque, or translucent swirls with colored strands on the surface.
  • Banded Opaque Swirls: White opaque or translucent base with stretched colored bands.
  • Banded Oxblood Swirls: Solid oxblood colored base with two opposing white strands.
  • Butterscotch Swirls: Semi-opaque light brown base with translucent brownish/pinkish strands.
  • Custard Swirls: Similar to the Butterscotch swirls with a more yellowish brown base.
  • Opaque Banded Lutz Swirls: Black opaque base with colored swirls and strands.
  • Corkscrews: Semi-opaque, made of cane, with two different colors on opposite sides.
  • Onionskin: Flecks of colors stretched on transparent base.
  • Clouds: Similar to Onionskin, with spots of colors on the core.
  • Opaques: Glass marbles that blocks the light from passing through.
  • Transparent (Clearies): Clear see-through glass marbles in various colors.
  • Translucent: Solid, colored marbles that allow the passage of light through them.
  • Moonies: Translucent whitish marble.
  • Sulphides: Handmade with a single-gather, they have a transparent base that have figurines in the gather.
  • Paperweights: Transparent glass base with a fleck of colored glass or layer of millefiori canes made by single-gathering method.
  • Slags: Transitional marbles made with both hand and machine.
Peruvian novelist, poet, and anthropologist, José Maria Arguedas, quote on marbles―"We were fascinated by the little glass spheres, by those dark waves of color, some narrow and drawn out into several swirls, and others that widened out in the center of the marble into a single bundle and thinned out smoothly at the ends. There were reddish streaks in Añuco's new marbles, but in the cloudy, chipped ones the bands of color also appeared, strangely and inexplicably." ― sums up the beauty and uniqueness of an antique marble, whether made by hand or machine is just as exquisite in appearance as a diamond. You can add this hobby to your existing list of hobbies.