Names of Marbles




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By Dan Beard

Local Names of Marbles.

But Malaney must have secured his supply from somewhere, because I know he did not make them himself, and he always had a quantity on hand of "potteries," "plasters," "chinas," "crystals," "agates," "alleys," and "commies."

Atlantic coast boys do not use these names, but they use the same marbles. We had a tradition that the potteries were made at a pottery near the Brighton Hotel in the suburbs of Cincinnati. What truth, if any, there is in this tradition I am unable to state. In New York I seldom see this rich brown mottled marble, whose glossy surface is marked by three rough dots.

The "crockery" never had the splashes of white that distinguished the "burned agate" of New York, nor the green of the "moss agate" of the same place. Both of the latter were unknown to the Western boys 125 years ago.

At the beginning of the 19th century marbles were sometimes called "bowls," and all came from Nuremberg, down the Rhine to Rotterdam, and thence to all other parts of Europe.

How Marbles are Made.

Stone marbles were manufactured in immense quantities fit Saxony for exportation to the United States, India, and China. The common marble is manufactured of hard stone quarried near Coburg, Saxony, and the process is practically the same as that used by nature in grinding out the little round pebbles originally used by the children of long ago.

Nature, though constantly busy, is slow. We do not want to wait a thousand or maybe a million years for her to get our marbles ready. Our fingers might be too old to shoot with them, so we adopt nature's principles, but make more haste. In place of frost man uses a hammer to break the stone into fragments.

The hammer breaks the bard stone into small squares, or, more properly, cubical shaped blocks. These are placed a large millstone one hundred or two hundred at a time. The millstone has several grooves cut in it in the form of rings, one ring inside another, or, as your Geometry would put it, in the form of concentric circles. Over this a block of oak of the same size as the lower stone rests on the small square fragments and is kept turning while water flows upon the bottom stone.

Power is supplied by a water-wheel, and when the machinery is set in motion the little cubes are compelled, by the pressure and motion of the upper piece, to roll over and over in their circular tracks, and round and round and round they travel like circus hones in a ring. In fifteen minutes' time the mill does what nature takes years to accomplish, and the little blocks of stone are turned into small stone balls. These are the unfinished marbles and need something.

One such mill can turn out two thousand marbles a week, and if there are four or five sets of millstones running, eight thousand or ten thousand a week can be manufactured. In another part of the establishment the waterwheel turns a number of wooden barrel-shaped receptacles, something like the copper ones used for making candy in this country. Inside the wooden casks are hard stone cylinders. These revolving cylinders smooth the marbles, which are compelled by the motion of the machinery to keep up a constant rubbing against each other and against the stone cylinder. When they are smooth enough the dust made by the last process is emptied from the casks and fine emery powder substituted. This gives finish and polish to the marble.

Common Marbles.

The small, gray marbles are what the Western boys call "commies" or "combos." They are often painted bright colors, but the paint soon wears off and they look like little dried clay balls. They are not much valued, and five "commies" usually represent the value of one "plaster."

The Century Dictionary gives an "alley" as one of the definitions of a marble. On what ground it bases this information I am unable to state. "Agate," "meg," "duck" or "real" would be just as good a definition. "Meg" or "duck" would be better, inasmuch as, in different sections of the country, both of these terms are used to define marbles of any description; while "alley" in almost all parts of the country means a particular kind of marble.

The Alley.

In some parts of Ohio and Kentucky the marble designated by the latter name is a small, hard sphere with yellowish-white ground, streaked with wavy lines of bluish green. These are not the same as the "Croton alley" or "Jasper" of New York. The latter, I believe, are made of glazed and unglazed china marbled with blue, and are generally larger marbles than the so-called alleys of the West.

The China and Plaster.

In Cincinnati and the adjoining cities of Covington and Newport, KY., a china is what its name implies-china. This term, when I was a boy, was used only to designate a glazed china; the unglazed ones we called plasters, from their resemblance to that substance.

Both of the latter marbles are decorated with lines of various colors, sometimes crossing each other, forming plaids, and again arranged in circles and called bull's eyes. They are made in wooden molds and are dried, baked, and painted like any other chinaware,

The Bumbo and Peawee.

"Bumbo," "bumboozer" or "bowler" are names applied to very large marbles of any description. A "peawee" is the name used for any very small marble.


is a general name applied in many parts of the country to all glass marbles, including "opals," "glimmers," "bloods," "rubies," etc. They are all very beautiful, but their beauty is only skin deep, and when used much they become dull and fall of nicks. Some of these glass marbles are called "agates" in the East, and hence the genuine agate is called a "real," to distinguish it from the counterfeit glass one. Glass marbles are made by melting the glass and pressing the hot substance in polished metal molds, the halves of which fit so neatly that no trace of a seam or line is visible on the glass to mark where the parts of the mold join.

The "Lucky Taw."

Our lucky taw, or the marble we used when a skilful shot was required, was carefully selected for its weight and symmetry, and was generally an agate or real. Agates are beautiful gems of agate or carnelian, varying in color from a smoky gray to a blood red, or variegated with mottlings or stripes of different colors. Agates are made into marbles at Oberstein. The workmen are very skilful. The stone is first broken into fragments of the proper size, and then, by means of a hammer, clipped into rude balls; these balls are then worn down on the face of a large grindstone, and are managed with great dexterity by the workmen, who in a few minutes bring them into perfect spheres, after which they are polished by hand on lapidary wheels.

External Link: AAM Marble Discussion Group







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Last modified: October 15, 2016.