Marbles, small and colored transparent balls shaped out of the metamorphic type of limestone, have been used since the ancient times, chiefly for recreational purposes. Historians and archaeologists are of the opinion that Egyptians were the first to use different forms of marbles chiseled out of glass, stone, and clay. However, other historians attribute their first time use to Aztecs and Romans.
The popularity of marble games has steadily waned with the advent of the digital age as people are increasingly hooked to their smartphones for the better part of the day. Nevertheless, these petite and cute balls continue to remain popular as collectibles and professional collectors, as well as dealers, are willing to pay a good price for the vintage or antique pieces. Talking about rare marbles, these began to be produced out of ceramic on a mass basis from the 1870s.
With the passage of time, the manufacturing process underwent rapid evolution. Europeans in the 1800s started making clay marbles utilizing ceramic techniques and were nicknamed “commies” since they were mainly used by kids. Rare antique marbles that are highly prized by collectors were first made by German glassmakers using glass blowing technique in the early 19th cent.
If you’re thinking about collecting old marbles and rare antique marbles or already happen to be a passionate collector, then you should be able to tell between an antique and newer marble. If you cannot make out between the very old and newer versions of marbles, you could be easily taken for a ride by the seller and duped. In the 20th century, innumerable marbles were mass-produced that nearly resembled old and rare marbles.
There are a few considerations that you should bear in mind while reviewing old marbles. For instance, you should’ve a fair idea about the item’s history, its exclusive characteristics, and the category it belongs to and so on.
Understand the distinctions on the basis of this 7-point checklist
You can easily tell whether a piece of marble is older or newer by its appearance. Antique pieces tend to be appealing and brighter-however this is not always a telltale sign. However, the design or pattern of the item could throw light on its rarity.
But then again, almost infinite patterns exist and it is not possible for even the most experienced of collectors to be aware of all the designs. Nevertheless, if you conduct an online search for a specific pattern or design, you could be successful in finding out the time period when the piece was created and in which country. Rare antique marbles were normally crafted by hand and created using better quality materials.
The mechanism used for manufacturing the piece is also a significant indicator. First off, determine whether the marble was handcrafted or carved out using a machine. But then, though a majority of the pieces were handmade, many were also produced using machines.
A pontil mark is a clear cut sign that the marble is indeed remarkably old and hence rare. The handblowing process was extensively used for crafting vintage marbles. According to this process, the marble becomes tethered to a stick as a result of hand blowing.
The stick is snapped off once the marble is formed. Now, only a small ragged bump remains at the point where the marble was originally appended. This indentation patch is referred to as the pontil. There’ll invariably be a pontil mark on the marble piece and even the most skilled artisan or craftsman could’ve done away with the bump.
Interestingly enough, the rarest of rare marbles were imperfect. Or in other words, these pieces had flaws in their structure or design. Since such marbles were made using the handblowing technique, it was practically impossible for the glassblowers to create perfect pieces. So, imperfection in this case is a marked indicator of the marble’s antiquity.
On the other hand, advanced editions of marbles, produced using machines were more rounded and devoid of bubbles. However, you cannot pass off broken or damaged pieces as imperfectly created ones, and hence vintage stuff. Going by rule of thumb, the marbles that appear perfect tend to be newer versions while those that look flawless ought to be rare marbles.
The vast majority of marbles that you usually come across are produced using glass. Old marbles were mostly made keeping functionality in mind instead of aesthetics and therefore, premium quality glass was used. This toughened glass effectively withstood the rough handing by the kids and were highly resistant to breaking or cracking. Collecting marbles as a hobby in the early 20th century and 19 century was unheard of.
Nowadays, individuals are more interested to collect marbles for their antique value rather than play games. If the marbles you have in your collection tend to shatter or break after you roll them on the surface repeatedly, they’re most likely to be imitations or copies of the rare marbles.
The production process and material used (both these aspects are interconnected) for making the marbles can help establish their age as well as provenance that is the region where they were manufactured. For instance if you spot a pontil mark, the piece is most likely to be handmade and produced in Germany during 1850-1900. On the other hand, if pontil indentation is missing and the surface is smooth throughout, then the piece was machine made in US or Japan in between 1910 to 1950.
The seller’s or dealer’s age is also a significant pointer to the age of the rare marbles. The likelihood of the marbles being old and consequently vintage or antique is extremely high if the seller happens to be aged. A good proportion of these sellers amassed their stock during their youth for playing games.
As they grew old, they put away the marbles in a strongbox or coffer for safekeeping.
The provenance or place of origin is definitely the most convincing yardstick of a marble’s antiquity. Rare antique marbles were originally made by German glassblowers in the 19th century. Commonly known as swirl marbles, they either had a yellowish or whitish core. Marbles made from 1850-70 in Victorian England with a diameter exceeding 2 inches are also antique pieces.