Marbles are small, round, spherical objects made from glass, clay, steel, plastic, or agate.
They vary in size – most commonly, they are about 13 mm (1⁄2 in) in diameter, but they may range from less than 1 mm (1⁄30 in) to over 8 cm (3 in), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 30 cm (12 in) wide.
There is a variety of types of marbles, often named after the material from which they are made and the designs put into them. An alley is a marble made from alabaster or marble that is streaked with wavy or other patterns with such exotic names as corkscrew, spiral, snake, ribbon, onyx, swirl, bumblebee, cat’s eye, and butterfly. An aggie is made of agate or glass that resembles agate with various patterns like the alley. Steelies are made of steel.
Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all played with marbles made of stone or polished nuts.
The British Museum in London displays marbles of clay, stone and flint that date back to ancient Roman and Egyption civilizations.
In the early 20th century, small balls of stone from about 2500 BC, identified by archaeologists as marbles, were found by excavation near Mohenjo-daro, in a site associated with the Indus Valley civilization.
Glass marbles are thought to have been some of the many glass objects made in ninth century Venice, but it is not until the late middle ages that the playing of marbles games is again documented. It appears that by then marbles were known throughout Europe. A manustript from the fifteenth centruy refers to ‘little balls with which schoolboys played”. In 1503 the town council of Nurenberg, Germany, limited the playing of marble games to a meadow outside of town.
Shakespeare mentioned marbles in his play Twelfth Night.
Most of the marbles used in medieval and Elizabethan times were made from clay. Around 1600, water-powered stone mills in Germany began producing more polished versions from the marble and alabaster quarries nearby, especially in the regions near Coburg and Oberstein.
The earliest settlers brought them to America from Europe, and even a few founding fathers shot a skilled game!
A German glassblower invented marble scissors, a device for making marbles, in 1846. Ceramic marbles entered inexpensive mass production in the 1870s.
The first mass-produced toy marbles (clay) made in the US were made in Akron, Ohio, by S. C. Dyke, in the early 1890s.
Some of the first US-produced glass marbles were also made in Akron by James Harvey Leighton. In 1903, Martin Frederick Christensen—also of Akron—made the first machine-made glass marbles on his patented machine. His company, M. F. Christensen & Son Co., manufactured millions of toy and industrial glass marbles until they ceased operations in 1917. The next US company to enter the glass marble market was Akro Agate. This company was started by Akronites in 1911, but located in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Today, there are only two American-based toy marble manufacturers: Jabo Vitro in Reno, Ohio, and Marble King, in Paden City, West Virginia.
Marbles were really popular throughout the early part of the 20th century, but World War II rationing, plus the utter chaos of the European Theatre, put a damper on the sport. It enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1970s, and continues to be played today, but it has never been able to reclaim its title as a childhood institution.
Art marbles are high-quality collectible marbles arising out of the art glass movement. They are sometimes referred to as contemporary glass marbles to differentiate them from collectible antique marbles, and are spherical works of art glass.
Collectible contemporary marbles are made mostly in the United States by individual artists such as Josh Simpson.
Art marbles are usually around 50 millimetres (2.0 in) in diameter (a size also known as a “toe breaker”), but can vary, depending on the artist and the print.
The largest marble tournament was achieved by 876 participants at an event organised by Duncan Toys in coordination with the Boy Scouts of America (both USA) at Glen Helen Regional Park in Devore, California, USA, on 25 September 2010. Participants played the marble game WarStone.
The longest marble run measures 2,858.9 m (9,379 ft 7 in) and was achieved by Sensirion AG-The Sensor Company (Switzerland) in Flumserberg, Switzerland, on 1 September 2017.
The longest marble run on sand is 150 m (492 ft 2 in) in length and was achieved by Associazione Bibionese Albergatori ABA in Bibione, Italy, on 29 May 2010.
The record for the longest marbles playing marathon is 26 hours, achieved by Michael Gray and Jenna Gray (both Australia), who continuously played the street game at First Fleet Park, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia, from 11-12 February 2006.
The fastest time to sort 30 marbles is 21.94 seconds and was achieved by Vipin Peter (India) at WAFI, Dubai, UAE, on 15 November 2019.
The most marbles moved with chopsticks in one minute is 43 and was achieved by Silvio Sabba (Italy) in Pioltello, Italy, on 31 January 2014. This record was equalled by Mr. Cherry (Japan) in Glasgow, UK, on 26 November 2016.