Marbles are played with around the world and it would seem that there are thousands of marbles to choose from these days, but it would also seem that this was not always the case. Marbles, in some shape or form, have been around almost as long as people have. Small balls of clay that were supposedly marbles have been found in the tombs of the great Egyptian rulers. Other small clay marble like balls have been found with relics left behind by the Aztecs. Whether these marbles were used as toys, no one really knows. In Roman times, marbles were played with as well, but smoothed over nuts replaced the small clay balls.
By the time of the middle ages, games were played all over Europe with clay balls. By the time that the eleventh century rolled around, glass blowers in Venice, Italy were already making small balls out of glass. In fact, Shakespeare mentions a game called Cherry Pits, which was no doubt played with some sort of marbles (or perhaps they were actually cherry pits?)
In 1815, the earliest known book was published in England about marbles and the book included several games that are still played around the world today. Marbles at that time were made out of glass, china or clay. But the more popular ones were made out of real stone, such as aggies (made out of agate) and these soon became the popular favourite both in Europe and in the US.
As people immigrated from Europe and England, they brought their marbles with them. Around 1890, the first machine made marble appeared on the scene. They were made in Germany and later made in the United States.
The first national marbles tournament was held in 1922 in Philadelphia and sponsored by Macys Department Store and has been held every year since, excluding two years during World War 2. Marbles again became popular during the 1950s and not to be outdone by the Japanese, the United States began cooking their marbles so they would crack inside without falling apart. Perhaps the crowning moment for the lowly marble was when a few were taken on one of Apollo trips by Neil Armstrong. So marbles have truly been all over the world and beyond.
Collecting marbles is a great hobby. My daughter collects them and we have been known to pick them up at antique markets for her. But there are few terms that you might want to know if this is something you are interested in doing.
You should do your home work before you start collecting marbles. There are many books that you can read about marbles and collecting them and you can get these at the library or at a book store. Educating yourself is the best hedge against people that are going to try to sell you phonies. You should then seek out other marble collectors, join a club, make contact with other sellers that you can get advice from on where to purchase marbles and what to look for in a marble and help you the manoeuvre around the different types of marbles. You can look for marbles at antique markets and flea markets. Sometimes, you will be lucky because most antique dealers do not know much about marbles.
Once you have a nice collection, you will want some ideas on how to store them. One thing you should remember is to never store your marbles in a vertical jar as they can rub against each other, scratch and possibly cause some pitting in the glass. Antique flower frogs are great for displaying marbles as they have holes in a glass base (these can be purchased for $5-$10 at antique markets). You could also make a wood box with individual departments, small zip loc bags, well there are quite a few creative ideas on how to display your marble collection.
Taking care of your marbles is not a hard task to do. You need to clean your marbles and while you could attack each marble with a toothbrush and water, but why not dunk a few at a time in a bowl with some toilet bowl cleaner, it will have the same effect. Make sure that you do not use anything abrasive that will harm the surface of your marble. Should you have any pitting in your marble, you can take it to a professional restorer.
Marble collecting can be a fun and rewarding hobby and definitely can be more than meets the eye.