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Vitro Tri-lites


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There has been a lot of chatter about Vitro over on LOM so I thought I would also post over here as well.

Although some sources say that Vitro’s earliest marbles are some of the brushed patches, this, to the best of my knowledge, has never been confirmed with evidence. In my opinion this is another example of marble myth (like pre-Freese for Akro or Miller Swirl for Peltier) that gets repeated so many times that people take it as fact. It probably got started in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s when collectors first started looking at machinemades and probably saw some brushed patches in early looking mesh bags. The technique of the brushed patch was in response to WWII in an attempt to cut costs by using less of the more expensive colored glass. So yes, the brushed patches are some of the earlier marbles, but not the earliest. Vitro’s first marbles were the Tri-Lites. The name Tri-lites was unknown to the marble collecting world prior to 2003. The name surfaced in the “Vitro find” and appears on an illustrated brochure that shows boxes of marbles with captions that read “TRI-LITE MARBLES” and “CLEAR-LITE MARBLES”. It is important to note that although boxes like these had been known for some time, the boxes themselves are not labeled and thus it was not until the discovery of the brochure that the name Tri-Lite became known and became linked to specific marbles. We now know what Tri-Lites are. Clear-Lites are also shown in the brochure – they are Clearies. Du-Lites are not depicted on the brochure, but that name does appear on a non-illustrated Vitro price list in the possession of Chuck Brandstetter. They were available in bulk only and were cheaper than Tri-Lites. We can only speculate what the Du-Lites are, but it is reasonable to assume that they are like a Tri-Lite but with 2 colors instead of 3 (white is counted as a color but clear is not).

Early on, some of the marbles that we now know as Tri-Lites had been known as Mystery Patches. In a 2003 article in the West Virginia Club newsletter, Chris Carrington (Tankgirl on the boards) renamed them “Elites”. This was shortly before the info from the Vitro Find became widely known. “Elite” refers to the more colorful Tri-Lites. Thus, all Elites are Tri-Lites, but not all Tri-Lites are Elites. Colorful is no doubt in the eye of the beholder, but would certainly include Aquamarines, Buttermilks, Superiors and a variety of unnamed examples as well.

The name Tri-Lite refers to a family or line of marbles, not a type per se. They were made at the Vitro plant in Vienna, WV (1932-1945). They moved the plant to Parkersburg in 1945. It is not known if Tri-Lites were made there as well, but I personally doubt it.

There are three basic constructions, which I refer to as Type 1 (normal or non-helmet), Type 2 (helmet) and Type 3 (half-helmet). (see pic below). All three types are found in the boxes as well as mesh bags with header labels “Spinners”, “Buddies”, “Klicker”, and “Red Horse”. At first glance it appears that there is an infinite number of color combinations. I now have some 50 specific (and I believe intentional) color variations – no doubt there are more. As a general rule of thumb, if I have 5 examples, each from a different source, I count it as an intentional variation. I have many variations with less than five examples, but am always looking for more. That’s part of the fun.

It should be noted that all or nearly all examples of Tri-Lites in boxes or bags have a red (or variant of red) stripe. I believe that this is intentional and a defining feature of the Type 1 Tri-Lites much in the same way that it was Vitro’s intention for a Parrot to have 4 colors. Many believe (and I agree) that there is no such thing as a 3 color Parrot. Similarly, there is no such thing as Type 1 Tri-Lite without a red (or variant of red) stripe. Peltier collectors would never call a Spiderman a Superman minus yellow… Right????

Interestingly, there is some scant evidence that Vitro referred to their earliest marbles (but did not market them such) as “All Reds” and fits with the observation that all Type 1 Tri-Lites have red or variant of red. Some 30 years later, Vitro introduced the All Red (blackline and non-blackline) which are quite a bit different than Tri-Lites. They too, all have red. Art Fisher didn’t just have a thing for red – he was a genius in figuring out what kids wanted. Berry Pink figured this out as well by letting kids pick out some marbles he would pull out of his pocket. He noted that they choose those with red over all the other colors. Akro had a sense of this as well – their red slag, the Cardinal Red, was the only one that got its own name. Also Peltier and CAC with their Bloodies and CAC with their American Agates. Red was popular and Art Fisher knew it from the very beginning of Vitro.

Here are a few trends in Vitro’s use of color on the Type 1 Tri-Lites. (orient marble so that red is in the upper left quadrant).

1. There is almost always a red (or variant of red) stripe.

2. When green occurs with another opaque color, it is usually yellow.

3. When yellow occurs with another color, yellow is usually above the other color.

4. When the stripe is brown it is almost always wide.

5. When orange is used it is usually adjacent to the red stripe.

6. When the top pole is other than white it is almost always red or red and yellow.

7. If a color is present in the lower left quadrant, there will almost always be color on the upper right and or lower right quadrant. If not, then its probably an Akro with U-shaped seams.Slide1copy.jpg

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