Jump to content

California Agates -- Marble Mystery


Recommended Posts

There seems to be very little known about this company. Anything you know or find out in the future would be welcomed.

The first photo below shows the presumed head of the company R. W. Walker. The 2nd shows California Agate boxes. The 3rd shows what are thought to be California Agate seconds.

The glossary at americantoymarbles.com says the company was "located in Huntington Park, California (Los Angles area); they ground Mexican alabaster (a stone) into marbles by hand; operated from the mid to late 1920s." However, it does appear from the caption of the news photo that the company operated into the 1930's. Let me transcribe the caption in case anyone finds it difficult to read:

The Birth of a Marble

News photographer catches R. W. Walker, one of the few marble cutters in the United States, at his machine in Los Angeles onyx plant. Walker has saved out 3,000 choice agates for his son, Frankie, who claims world's finest collection. The onyx is mined in Mexico in four-ton blocks, each of which produces some 11,000 marbles. Blocks are cut into 7-8 inch cubes which are rounded by a rotary grinder. Plant turns out 6,000 marbles a day.

Jan 16th, 1932

(click pix to enlarge)

CaliforniaAgatesFactory_b-1.jpg

CaliforniaAgates002b-1.jpg

25OnyxMarbles_010b-1.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

WOW!! I've never heard of those!!! COOL!!!

There were some similar marbles that came in with reproduction fox & geese boards back in the 1990's?? They were small-ish in size and probably much cruder in quality... (They do appear hand rounded... Probably by little third world starving children...)

Before anyone starts searching these out, they should be aware of the new ones... The best way to know what's old, is to know what's not.... wink.gif

I have some, if we can do a comparison of pics, it may be good reference...

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here is another box which says "second" or "seconds" on the end, also thought to be California Agates. Seller said 3/4".

These do not appear to be polished. One theory is that they were rejected before the polishing stage. Another theory is that some might have been sold with a matte finish anyway. Some kids preferred that in a shooter, right?

CaliforniaAgates_blackjackmtntrader.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

Those look a lot more like the newer ones, Steph...

Mannnn, I had those kickin' around for so long. I hope I can find them, now that I have a reason!!! In one of my recent fits of trying to clean out junk, I may have tossed 'em to Goodwill... unsure.gif

I bought a board, cuz it was cheap and I liked it... It's very small and birdseye maple... Great for peewee display...

I'll try to find 'em....

Link to post
Share on other sites

I had a hunch they might look closer. Tricky, huh. This seems like a case where most of the value would be in the box.

quick note on sizes: the 15, 17 and 19 on the boxes above is the diameter in mm.

Kinda odd, hmm -- millimeters being used in California in the 1920's or 30's.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

What a tease!

I found a California Agate Company reference in the 1928-29 Who's Who in California.

It gives the fella's address, tells me what club he belongs to, lets me know he was a realtor, and chops off his name!

(click to enlarge)

1929_WhatATease-1.jpg

That did give me some other leads though. Update may be coming soon.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh yes, the Calif. Agate Co. was one of many onyx factories or workshops in southern California. And there were other factories in other states.

Onyx "novelties" were very popular and I gather that the Mexican onyx was considered special at the time, maybe especially the pink. Onyx gear shift knobs amounted to a fad in the 20's.

There is a 1926 report that Calif. Agate donated a gear shift knob, a box of 25 agates and "a piece of rough onyx with one corner polished" to the U.S. National Museum. Does that mean they should be somewhere in the catacombs at the Smithsonian?

Other round novelties Calif. Agate appears to have made are door knobs. Maybe umbrella heads, but not sure.

In 1929, they had some sort of dispute with the treasury department in connection with rough onyx. Seems they lost their case. They protested. A rehearing was denied, but they apparently still lasted into the 30's.

R. W. Walker may not have been the first or primary person connected with the company. The leads I still have to follow seem likely to give me one or two other names.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually, I definitely have another name of someone making agate marbles in the U.S. at about the right time. I just have to wait to find out for sure if he's connected with the California Agate company.

I hate waiting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! icon_lmao.gifSad_headshake_tweetz.gifEvil_1.gifdoh.gifboggled.gifblush.giftongue.gif:rolleyes:

p.s., I also have an address for somebody else who sold agate marbles, this time in 1955, but I presume that was just a hobby type operation. Anyone heard of Deslie's in Palm Springs?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a little add-on - this was posted on Pete's Board back in August 2004:

California Marble Company produced cut and polished agate marbles. They were made from native stone. The company was in Huntington California and produced marbles in the mid to late 1920's. I hope this helps.

Rory Martin - coolspec4u

Link to post
Share on other sites

round rocks is what they look like to me.

When I was a kid I dont think I would have ever even wanted to play for one, much less spend my money to buy some of them.

Personally, I have never considered "ground rocks" as marbles.

They are not glass. They are not made by a machine intended as kids toys and they are certainly not an art glass marble made on a torch or in the off hand method.

ok, the boxes are printed as "marbles", but so do the boxes I make and they too are not marbles, just little pieces of glass.

Lots closer to being a marble than a polished rock imho.

just my opinion...

Link to post
Share on other sites

They were made for playing with. Kids liked them in the 20's.

Cat's eyes were hot in the 50's. Clearies were even popular enough at one time to constitute a fad. Southwestern onyx was considered cool in the 20's. The colors were fresh. Different from what everyone had grown accustomed to.

In 1923 in Lincoln Nebraska they were important enough for a "5c to 50c" store to advertise that they had just received a shipment. The next week their ad contained the price -- 20 cents.

1923_03_23_CalifAgates_inLincolnNeb.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's the article I most want to see, an LA times story from 1924:

BUY HOME-MADE AGATES, KIDS

German Monopoly of Stone Marbie Trade Heavily Cut Into by Local Concern, Which is Manufacturing Them from Onyx Supplied by Near-by Quarries

It's a pay article though and I reported my Visa card missing last week. I have to wait for the new card to arrive before I can access the article! I've never been good at waiting!

Here's the abstract:

Having done his bit on the battlefields of France in defeating Germany, G. D. Mitchell, a fighting Irishman, is now carrying on a little war of his own in the commercial field against that country. Los Angeles is the scene of his activities and all signs point to a com-...

That's the new name I have, G. D. Mitchell. I'm pretty sure he's not the realtor. A few society type articles about yachting come up with my more carefully targeted keyword searches. Don't know what to make of those.

Plus some business-oriented articles from 1923. My hope/guess is that is when the Calif. Agate Co. started or maybe expanded.

Did I mention how much I hate waiting! icon_lmao.gifSad_headshake_tweetz.gifEvil_1.gifdoh.gifboggled.gifblush.giftongue.gif:rolleyes:

Link to post
Share on other sites

So, is it too late to get the papers to print a retraction? cool.gif

Looks like something is off in the caption on the photo in the original post. No wonder I had no luck finding Frankie Walker anywhere.

This is the pic as it showed up in the Fresno Bee on Feb. 14, 1932:

(click to enlarge)

1932_02_14_FresnoBee_ErrorSomewh-1.jpg

This is a slightly different pic, but same setting. And there's Frankie Mitchell, digging in his aggies in Popular Science, April 1932

(click to enlarge)

1932_04_PopularScience_FrankieMi-1.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites

bit of advice for anyone who follows up on these or other LA Times leads: be flexible with keywords to make allowances for possible errors. The paper had several inconsistencies in details.

Here's what I learned today.

The California Agate Company was founded by three men. Their names may have been, G. D. Mitchell, T. D. Meagher and G. W. McElroy, as reported on December 7, 1924.

A July 27, 1924 article gives Mr. Meagher's initials as M. T.

Meagher was the president of the company in 1924. He may have been the driving force of the company in the beginning. The December article reports that Mitchell had moved his family to Los Angeles about 3 years before. He was recovering from being gassed in the war, and looking for a job. That's when he met Meagher, a travelling salesman. I assume Mitchell was already a marble cutter.

Meagher had seen how the shortage of German agates had affected kids during the war. He saw a demand they might supply.

Mitchell made a trip to Mexico where he assured himself of the quality and quantity of the stone they could use, and made arrangements to have it shipped by sea. It was often colorful, was in virtually unlimited supply, and was found relatively nearby. The latter was one advantage over Germany, who was said to be using agate imported from South America, and specifically Brazil. (The Brazilian agate seems to have been easier to color than German agate.)

McElroy was an inventor and helped set up the marble making machinery.

With little capital, their first "factory" was a shed in Los Angeles. They were successful from the start, perhaps with an international customer list. And in 1924 they moved to the somewhat larger factory in Huntington Park.

The July article said their new home would be a "sheet iron building", 34 x 100 (feet? yards?), built by H. A. Kembel at a cost of $1500. Their line is given as "marbles, beads and various agate and onyx novelties". They expect to employee about 15 people. They will get to work at full capacity as soon as possible because their orders are piling up.

In December Meagher says their output is 6000 marbles a day, and they are "the only firm in America competing with German for the toy-stone marble trade."

Their original Los Angeles address was given in the July article as 1511 Temple St. Their Huntington Park address was said to be 204 N. Regent St. Later sources said 304 N. Regent St.

N. Regent St. doesn't appear to exist anymore. There does appear to be a 1511 West Temple St. in LA

The realtor references in the LA Times may all have been coincidental, neighboring articles to stories about Calif. Agate. That is the case for at least one of the references. But there is still the reference to realty in the Who's Who article, so maybe there will still turn out to be another partner in a few years. Or maybe someone's name is misspelled in the articles I've found so far.

Link to post
Share on other sites

December 27, 1925 brings news of a good year in Huntington Park.

Calif. Agate has recently doubled their number of employees and added new machines.

Though retailers sell marbles mostly in the spring and summer, the factory is making them year round.

They find a growing demand for their products, which are now marbles, onyx radiator caps* and gear-shift balls -- marbles mostly east of the Mississippi, the other items mostly in Southern California.

*I think that would have been knobbed ornaments, not the actual radiator cap.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A few "last" notes on the company. By "last" I mean I don't anticipate making another post soon. If I find out any other little things, I'll edit this post.

Note 1: Early in 1930 and late in 1931 the LA Times and a Hayward CA paper referred to the business as California Onyx instead of California Agate. I don't know if that reflected a formal name change or if it was just what the locals called it.

They made the news both times because of thefts. The articles mention values of the marbles involved. The values are low compared with the 1923 sales figure in Nebraska. I don't know if that reflects a decline in retail prices, or if that was a wholesale figure. (update: I have a little more info on that. Some ads from the 1930's. I'll consider incorporating them here.)

(Another update: yes, in the 1930's and afterwards, the business was known as the California Onyx Company.)

Note #2: G. D. Mitchell was George Douglas Mitchell. Born in 1885 in Dublin Ireland. He died in Los Angeles in 1945. Frankie with the 3000 choice agates was Frank Doig Mitchell. Born March, 31 1920. He passed away on Sept. 11, 2001.

George Mitchell is NOT the man in the photo in the original post. The man in the photo is not Frankie's father. Perhaps he will turn out to be named R. W. Walker after all.

The biographical blurb about Mitchell in the December 1924 LA Times article about the history of the company isn't quite accurate. Might just be a matter of dates, but mostly it means that I wouldn't take the LA Times as the last word on any details.

Note #3: The mysterious realtor in Who's Who was Max J. Baehr, a retired diplomat. His position was "dir.", presumably "director", whatever a director would do.

About the meaning of "director". I remember from Cohill's MFC book that corporate titles were used differently in the past from how we use them now, so I really don't know what to think about the title "director" as used in the 1920's. Something else to look up.

Note #4: 'M T' was the right set of initials for the president of the company in 1924. He was Matthew Thomas Meagher, born in Mississippi in 1869. Census records give me the sense that his sales territory in 1920 might have been the Southwest in general. Perhaps between California and Texas. In 1910, Mathew T Meagher's occupation is given as "Merchant Retail Crockery". In 1920, it is "Supt. Wholesale China House". But in 1930 he is Tom M. Meagher and is occupation is recorded as "Salesman" for an "Onyx Works".

I still have some more records to check about Matt / Tom. I got sidetracked trying to figure out what happened to his family. His ex-wife Amelia gained some prominence as a health worker in Orange County. A son was mentioned in the 1910 census but not later.

Note #5: G. W. McElroy is still a mystery, and I'm not optimistic about finding more info. What would the job title of an "inventor" have been during the depression?

Note #6: I think there was a treasury action in 1929 or so against the company. Did I mention that already? It had something to do with rough onyx, but I don't yet know the particulars or whether it was serious, or more of a nuisance. Whatever happened, George Mitchell stayed with the company.

Note #7: I've found some newspaper ads which may be for Calif. Agate items. And then I have some ads which are definitely not for Calif. Agate items but rather for a "crystal-onyx" (glass) version of the real onyx items. The "crystal-onxy" name and its variations were supposedly nixed by the Federal Trade Commission in 1930 or so, but I think one of the crystal onyx ads may be from late 30's.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

A few people, such as myself are still making stone marbles by hand. Maybe I'm the only one? I don't much care for alabaster as it is so soft. Jasper and also glass are more interesting. Jasper can have some great patterns, and glass can't be beat for vibrant color.

I perfer to make marbles and spheres with grinding wheels not by a marble making machine. This means that the marbles and spheres are never the same size, and sometimes they have subtle variations in their shapes. I'm planning to exhibit my marbles and spheres at the Santa Clara Gem and Mineral Show April 17-19 in California. After that, I expect to finish my website offering stone marbles, spheres, and even eggs made of every kind of stone or slag glass I can get. I've even taken on commission work.

If anyone else is making marbles this way, please chime in.

Peter

post-2211-1235188557_thumb.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Peter.

Sorry no one chimed in. Might be good to start a new thread, but then again, it's such a unique practice anymore, you still might not get a response. (tho' I personally would love to hear more.)

I saw some reference to people making playing marbles this way in the 1940's and 1950's. Just a couple of them, only small individual operations. I might have seen something a little later than that, but nothing very recent.

Oh, I think I remember Brian Graham talking about them being available at some point in the last couple of years. I don't know what came of that. But he might be a good person to talk to anyway. His i.d. here is akronmarbles. Here's his site: http://akronmarbles.com/

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...