Making Marbles described in 1877

These vintage marbles are the types described in this article.Another fascinating bit of marble history, this time from page 293 of the 1877 edition of the children’s magazine St. Nicholas, describing how marbles are made. If you know your vintage marbles, the descriptions are unmistakable. They are also surprisingly detailed.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think how even though 132 years has passed since it was written, here we are still entranced by marbles. We can even hold what might be some of the very same ones the young readers of this article collected and played with.

“These porcelain marbles are made in a number of different sizes, and in a number of shades of blue, white, and brown. Some look like the brown tea-pots used to steep tea on the stove. Others have a beautiful pearly glaze, like the best china teacups; some are painted in bright colors on a dull surface; and some have the colors burned in, just as the gold bands and pictures are burned into dinner-plates. You can readily tell the china marbles by looking at them closely, and there you will find three little marks or blemishes showing where the soft marble stood on its little iron tripod in the oven. The glass marbles are made either of clear glass or of the colored glass the glass-blowers use. The clear glass marbles are made by dipping an iron rod in the melted glass, and taking up a little bunch of the white, hot, sticky, paste. By dropping this into an iron mold, or by whirling the rod round in his hand, the glass-man makes little globes of glass that, after they have been hardened or annealed in a furnace, make the big marbles boys so delight to use. Sometimes the glass-man puts a glass figure of a dog, or other animal on the end of his iron rod, and then the hot glass flows all round it, and when it is done there is the dog locked up in the marble. To make the colored glass marbles the glass-maker puts a number of glass rods of different colors together in a bundle, and then holds die ends in a hot fire, and they melt and run together. Then, with a quick twist, he turns the end into a round ball, or drops it into a mold, and the pretty marble, marked with bands and ribbons of color, is finished. You can always tell which are the glass marbles by the little mark on one side where the ball was broken from the rod when it was finished. The agates,—the most valuable of all marbles,—are made of real agate. Workmen pick up bits of the rough stone and hold them against a grindstone. By moving them quickly about on the stone, the piece of agate is gradually filed down into a nearly perfect ball. If you hold an agate between the eye and the light you can see the little facets, or marks made by the grindstone dotted all over the marble.”

You can read the entire Making Marbles article here on Google Books.

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Marble Trivia

A 'clambroth' marble is made of milk glass (hence its brothy appearance) with many thin swirl lines on the surface of various colors.