I Have a Secret: My Marbles are Old.

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One of my best kept secrets? I collect antique toys. My collection isn’t extensive at this point, nor is it all that valuable. Then again, I don’t collect to get rich. The things I collect make me smile or laugh. One of my most favorite items in my collection are 19th century marbles. They belonged to my great-grandfather, a notorious snake-oil salesman and confidence artist. The picture above show modern marbles, but the photo below are of a few that come from my collection.

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The marbles in this second picture are ceramic marbles, common to children living on the US prairie. They may also be called muddles and were made of ceramic material. They would have been fired in a kiln or dried in the sun. Notice that none of the old marbles are perfect spheres?

Technically, my grandfather  was adopted by a notorious flim-flam man as free farm labor. Though I never knew my great-grandfather, I don’t think he was all bad. He at least gave my grandfather toys (I have more of these old marbles, but they’re not pictured). He also kept my grandfather from being shipped to Colorado to work the tin mines. A common practice by Midwestern orphanages for children when they became twelve years-old.

Some types of early marbles were made from glass, but those came from Europe. I don’t think many glass marbles made it west, but I’ve seen pictures of collections from the U.S. eastern seaboard. Prairie children probably knew about glass marbles, but wouldn’t have owned many. The marbles in the picture below are double-glazed, unlike the three single-glazed in the picture above. The double-glazed are heavier and harder, probably used more as a shooter (a taw) than anything else.

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Here a few more marble terms from Connerpraire.org:

Bosted – thrown

Getting fat – losing all of your marbles so that you are out of the game.

Offing – the line from which marbles are shot.

Pound – circle or ring where marbles are placed.

Span – the length between a person’s thumb and smallest finber when the hand is spread apart.

Snop – hit an oppnents’ marble with one of your own.

Taw – shooter marble.

It seems that most children’s games today involve touching nothing more than a computer keyboard, smart phone, or game console. Once upon time, children used board games, sticks, and many other simple things.

Anyone of you have a favorite “non-electronic” game or toy?

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16 thoughts on “I Have a Secret: My Marbles are Old.

  1. Dominoes and board games. Actually, I made “blueprint” houses with dominoes laid flat, then used my brothers’ marbles to be people who lived in the houses.

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  2. I played dominoes too. I inherited my grandfather’s double-twelve set. My family used to play a lot of these games together, especially when it was raining or snowing.

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  3. Tim, I have a few ceramic marbles from my granddad (born in 1910). They are similar to the blue ceramic marble you showed above. My granddad called them doogies (soft ‘g’ as in’ j’). They’re not perfectly round and don’t always roll straight. For playing a game of marbles, I prefer my cat eyes from the ’50s.

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    • My great grandfather was born in the 1850’s and immigrated from Liverpool England. My ceramic ones are from before 1900, but I know they still made them up through the 1920’s.

      I’ve actually got my mom’s collection from the thirties and still have a few superboys and green dragons from when I played. In the 70’s we still played marbles at recess.

      Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Fascinating! I like to play washers. And I remember my mom teaching me to play jacks. It took serious skill.

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  5. My favorite is still the yo-yo.

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  6. Your marbles may be old, but at least you still have them. I’ve lost mine. ;o)

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  7. T.J., at recess my friends and I played jump rope with counting songs (Cinderella, dressed in yella, lol) to see how long you could go and those games where two people clapped hands together like some girls still play today. I get a kick out of my mom telling how they played mumbly peg with real knives at school recess in the 50’s! My son and I are working a puzzle because he’s grounded!

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    • Thank you for sharing. We also played mumbly peg with large screwdrivers too. It got banned from the playground. I love puzzles and still do. I lived with my grandfather for a little while and he had a card table setup with really hard puzzles. When it hailed, snowed hard, or rained. We would sit down and do puzzles.

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  8. I loved jump rope & the hand-clapping games, too. 🙂 Also, chinese jumprope was very popular both for the jumping game and to use for a hand-puzzle. I remember being able to buy a chinese jumprope for $1 on display right at the checkout line. But now they are almost impossible to find. The only reason I can think of is the name no longer being PC?

    Other games we played as kids, without electronics. We would line up all the dining room chairs and play train. Put books across the floor for stepping stones since the carpet was lava. Make up all sorts of plays to put on for my parents. Oh – sardines, four-square, kickball, tetherball – things that were a staple in playgrounds but are a little more uncommon now.

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    • Remember Red Rover? Duck Duck Goose? Here in Minnesota they don’t use the phrase “duck duck goose,” they say “duck duck gray duck.”

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    • Did y’all make designs with string like Jacob’s Ladder and cup and saucer. We loved that. I’m not familiar with Chinese jumprope.

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      • I never knew the names but I think that’s what we were doing – Jacob’s ladder, cat’s cradle, etc? Chinese jumprope was a long (very long) rubberband that two people would put around their ankles to form a large rectangle. Then the jumper would criss-cross the rubber band around their ankles and jump out to a counting song. “Inside, outside, side by side, on it, in it, out it” was the one I knew. Then the jumprope would be raised to midcalf and knee-high.

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