Vintage Marble Ads in Early 20th Century Toy Catalogs

Vintage Marble AdThanks to the toy catalogs page over at, marble collectors can enjoy some real gems of vintage marble advertising.

These catalogs date as far back as 1879, but the first marble ad I could find was on page 160 of the spring 1905 Butler Bros. salesman catalog just below the toy whips. “Marbles of Every Good Sort” begins the section, first with a modest showing of American marbles—common clay and dyed clay marbles—followed by a delicious assortment of German import marbles. These include National Color Marbles (peppermint swirls), Jaspers, Fancy Figured Glass Marbles (sulphides), and other handcrafted delights that sold for pennies. As one expects, in subsequent years the American products grow as marble-making pioneers like M.F. Christensen and Akro Agate begin competing with the imports. Also, don’t miss out on this page from the same year.

Fast forward to 1912, and page 98 of the Butler Bros. catalog proves that American marble manufacturing has been busy. “Commie” clays still lead the pack, followed by American Onyx (slags or transitionals), and M.F. Christensen Persian Turquoise, along with steelies, which I had assumed were made much later. Also expanding is the imported marble list, which is unfortunately cut off on the right edge, but one can make out Genuine Cornelians (agates) and Fancy Gold Band (lutz), among other marbles that today can fetch hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars each.

Come 1918, we see on page 278 of the Butler Bros. catalog that the imports have vanished as temporary casualties of that horrific “Great War” World War I. Here the American marbles reign, and we see an early Akro Agate box, along with a gorgeous cherry-stained, partitioned display case that I think I will try to build when I retire.

Page 176 of the 1924 Butler Bros. catalog shows us the imports are back, with Mexican Cornelians (agates) competing with German ones. Notice the price on a box of 25 German Cornelians is a whopping $4.00. Compare that to the amazing Counter Tray of Marbles which featured 5,300 fine assorted marbles for only $6.25! On this page we also see two Akro Agate boxes. Be sure to also see this 1927 Butler Bros. catalog page showing a similar assortment. This page from the same year mentions imported “Imitation Agates–also called crockers,” what we today call Benningtons.

In this 1928 Butler Bros. catalog page we see no distinction between American and imported marbles. The first marble listed is the Onyx which is described as “Sparkling rainbow colors produced by fusing metal and glass…”

I end this with a final catalog listing from 1931 during The Great Depression, a time in which the Akro Agate Company was masterfully producing works of toy art to thrill and delight both children then and marble collectors today. This full page Akro Agate ad from the Supple-Biddle Hardware Company catalog is a treat and a testimony to the hard work, science and talent that made Akro Agate a lasting success.

Along with searching out other marble ads among these catalogs, I encourage everyone to look at the many intriguing, fun (and sometimes offensive and dangerous) toys of yesteryear. I feel myself tempted to start collecting other toys now…

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Marble Trivia

According to a late 19th-century American newspaper ad, you could buy a 'flint' marble for 5 cents, a glass agate for 1 cent, a dozen Chinas for 5 cents, or two-dozen 'commons' for 5 cents.