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1883-04-17 -- Marbles And Where They Come From


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Marbles and Where They Come From

Is there a wide-awake boy, a boy who goes to school, and knows how to enjoy himself during play-time as well as how to study hard during study hours, that does not know all about "fen dubs," "fen h'isting," "fen bunching"? If there is such a boy, he has missed a great deal of fun in never having learned and used these mystical sayings; and when perhaps he becomes a father or a grandfather he will lose much pleasure in not being able to take a hand in with the youngsters, and tell how he played marbles when he was a boy.

Although it is many and many years since I wore the skin off my knuckles and my trousers out at the knees, and flattered myself that I knew all about marbles, it was not until recently, when talking with the wholesale dealer in marbles, that I had to acknowledge that there was still very much to be learned on the subject that is interesting and new.

I was told that in ancient times, away back before the Christian era, games were played with marbles, not the beautiful round, smooth, and polished ones of the present day, but with round sea-worn stones and pebbles; also that marbles are frequently met with in the ruins of old cities, and among the other wonderful relics found in the buried city of Pompeii.

As to which particular nation or people first manufactured stone and glass marbles nothing is known. About the first mention we have of them is that they were introduced into England from Holland as early as 1620. This being the case, the boys have our early Dutch settlers to thank for the first introduction of marbles to this country, as it is not at all probably that the stern Pilgrims would encourage the playing of games with round stones.

All the dealers in marbles--and I have talked with very many of them--tell me that the entire stock of marbles for the American market comes from Germany, and that the prices paid for manufacturing them are so low that no American laborer would or could live on such wages. A great deal of the work, such as moulding and painting, is performed by poor little children.

I shall never again watch a lot of happy, intelligent, bright, well-fed, and well-clothed American boys playing at marbles but I shall think of the poorly clad German children munching away on a piece of black bread (for that is all they get to eat) as they work on their weary tasks for a few cents a week. Poor little things! it is no wonder they love America, and wish they were human marbles and could roll over here.

The common gray marble is made of hard stone found near Coburg, in Saxony. This stone is first broken with a hammer into small square fragments. From 100 to 200 of these are ground at one time in a mill which resembles a flour mill. The lower stone remains at rest, and is provided with several concentric circular grooves or furrows. The upper stone is of the same size as the lower, but revolves by means of water-power. The pressure of the "runner" (the upper stone) on the pieces rolls them over in all directions, until in about a quarter of an hour they are reduced to nearly perfect spheres.

An establishment of three such mills can turn out over sixty thousand marbles a week. This operation is for the coarser kinds of stone marbles. In making the finer grades they are afterward place in revolving wooden casks in which are cylinders of hard stone, and the marbles, by constantly rubbing against one another and against the stone cylinders, become very smooth. To give them a high polish the dust formed in the last operation is taken out of the cask, which is then charged with fine emery powder. The very highest and last grade of polish is effected with "putty powder." Marbles thus produced are known to the trade as "polished gray marbles." They also are stained different colors, and are then known as "colored marbles," and are sold by the New York wholesale dealers at from seventy to eighty cents per thousand.

What the maker receives for them I leave you to imagine, for the German wholesale dealer must obtain his profit, then comes the cost of sending them to this country, and the Custom-house duty, and a profit for the American dealer who disposes of them at eighty cents per thousand. As there are twenty to twenty-five lines or varieties of German marbles, it is not to be wondered at that they hold their own against even the labor and time saving machinery of America.

After the small gray marbles come the largest-sized marbles, or bowlers, now known as "bosses" by the New York boys. These are one and a quarter inches in diameter, and cost from $6 to $7 per thousand. The next grade of marbles includes the "china alleys," "burnt agates," "glass agates," and "jaspers," though with the trade these are all called marbles. China alleys are painted in fine circles of various colors, or in small broad rings, in which case they are known as "bull's-eyes." Some of these are pressed in wooden moulds, after which they are painted and baked. These cost from 50 cents to $7.50 per thousand, according to the size. The better and more highly finished alleys are made of china, carefully moulded, painted, and fire-glazed. These cost from $2.75 to $15 per thousand, the largest being an inch and a half in diameter. Our illustrations in every case show the marbles full size.

Next come the jaspers, or, as the boys call them, "Croton alleys," consisting of glazed and unglazed white china handsomely marbled with blue. The "burnt agates" are also china and highly glazed; in color they are a mixture of dark and light brown with splashes of white; when green is introduced with the above colors they are known as "moss agates"; by the dealers they are known as "imitation agates." The prices of these range from $2 75 to $7 50 per thousand. Then comes a very large and beautiful class of alleys known as "glass marbles." These range in size from two inches in diameter down to the small "peawees," and are of every conceivable combination of colored glass. Some contain figures of animals and birds, and are known as "glass figure marbles." These are pressed in polished metal moulds the parts of which fit so closely together that not the slightest trace of them is to be seen on the alleys, which is not the case with most of the pressed china alleys, for if one looks over a number of them sharply he will detect a small ridge encircling some of them. The "opals," "glimmers," "blood," "ruby," "spangled," "figured," and imitation carnelian all come in this class, and are all very beautiful.

Now come the most beautiful and expensive of all marbles -- the true agates and true carnelians. These are gems, and are quoted as high as $45 per gross wholesale for the largest sizes. They are of the most exquisite combinations of colors in grays and reds, and are all highly polished by hand on lapidaries' wheels. Last and least in size are the "peawees" or "pony" alleys and marbles. They are comical little chaps no larger than a good-sized marrowfat pea. Of late years gilded and silvered marbles have been introduced, also a style speckled with various colored paints, which are called "birds' eggs."

When playing marbles it is well to provide one's self with a pad on which to kneel, thereby avoiding all soiling and wearing out of the knees of one's pants. A rest for the hand when "knuckling down," consisting of a piece of the fur of any animal, will be found very convenient when playing on coarse sandy soils.

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Here are the captions for the illustrations. Might as well transcribe those into searchable text while I'm at it. There are 8 drawings on the scan. Here are their labels. (The parenthetical notes are mine.)

  • burnt agate (bennington)
  • snow-flake (mica)
  • fancy glass agate (latticinio)
  • croton, or jasper
  • bull's-eye
  • glass figure agate (sulphide, of course)
  • carnelian agate
  • bird's egg (multi-colored clay)

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  • 1 year later...
  • 12 years later...

Had to clean this thread up.  The original graphics that I linked to were gone.   I used the Google Books source.   I broke page 380 into three images in order to be able to screenshot it widely enough to be what I hope is easily readable.  So, in case you're saving my images, realize that the middle page is a multiparter.  

It would be handy to extract pages 379 to 381 in PDF form from the longer PDF document, but I don't currently have the software for that. 

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20 hours ago, Steph said:

Had to clean this thread up.  The original graphics that I linked to were gone.   I used the Google Books source.   I broke page 380 into three images in order to be able to screenshot it widely enough to be what I hope is easily readable.  So, in case you're saving my images, realize that the middle page is a multiparter.  

It would be handy to extract pages 379 to 381 in PDF form from the longer PDF document, but I don't currently have the software for that. 

Here's the PDF excerpt. My Windows 10 PC has a "Save to PDF" option so I just saved that page range.

1883-04-17 Harper's Young People pages 386-388.pdf

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I am at work now so I haven't checked it out on my home computer, but I finally realized I do have that capacity.

When I try to print something, I am offered the option of saving to PDF.  And I'm able to choose the page range for printing. So, yeah,  I could have gotten it myself.  I just never thought to "print" it.  

 

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19 minutes ago, Steph said:

I am at work now so I haven't checked it out on my home computer, but I finally realized I do have that capacity.

When I try to print something, I am offered the option of saving to PDF.  And I'm able to choose the page range for printing. So, yeah,  I could have gotten it myself.  I just never thought to "print" it.  

 

Just pay attention to what DPI it wants to print at. I keep mine to 600 for print, so lots of detail, although that may be overkill depending on the source.

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