Marble Collecting

Collecting marbles has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in recent years. Interest in the collectible side of marbles has spread to all ages and many parts of the world. What used to be the simplest of playthings are now sometimes highly sought-after works of art that fetch incredible sums.

The collecting of marbles is more than just a matter of dealing with the value of old marbles. It is also about the nostalgia that these toys invoke in the collectors and the people they share their passion with. Every weekend of the year, there is a marble show going on somewhere, and collectors often hunt for treasures at auctions, flea markets and antique shows.

The art of finding collector marbles is relatively new. It is only in the last twenty years or so that it has turned from a game into a collectible. In the beginning there were just a handful of collectors; now there are literally thousands.

Generally speaking, collectors marbles fall into three main categories: machine made, hand made and contemporary. Hand made marbles are obviously those made by an individual craftsman. While these marbles have existed for hundreds of years, they were originally made of clay or stone and aren't very collectible today. The hand made marbles that are of interest to serious collectors are the glass marbles that were created in Germany in the last half of the 19th and first part of the 20th century. Without a doubt, hand made marbles are impressive for both their technical and artistic features. Each one of them contains the unique skill and art of the craftsman who made them. Working with glass is a challenge under any circumstances; to create something with the beautiful colors, design and balance of the best hand made marbles is another thing altogether.

Although the hand made marbles have traditionally been the most collectible, in recent years machine made marbles have gained some popularity among collectors. In the mid-1980s, there was a sharp increase in the number of people getting involved with marble collecting, and prices for many hand made marbles increased dramatically. Collectors sought out other kinds of marbles to buy and realized that they could purchase a number of impressive-looking machine made marbles for the price of one hand made. For much of the 20th century, machine made marbles were almost exclusively made in the United States, while the hand made marbles were usually a product of Germany. The market for machine marbles has been much less stable than that of the hand made.

The value of marbles is determined by several factors. Here are four of the most significant ones.
The most important factor is rarity of type, It’s important to realize, though, that just because something is rare that doesn’t mean that it is in demand and therefore valuable. Something can be so rare that it is basically unknown and not at the top of anyone’s list of collectible marbles.
Condition is the second factor. Grading the condition is not an exact science and is subject to the opinions of the collector. There have been some attempts to set up a standard way of describing condition, such as the Marble Collector’s Society of America's grading system of "Mint," "Near Mint," "Good," and "Collectible." Other classification systems have also been used. Whatever criteria is used, there is no doubt that any kind of damage or wear to the outer surface of a marble will reduce its value. This is true of both hand made and machine made marbles, but more so for machine made.
The size of a marble is the third factor that affects value. All marbles are measured by their diameter in inches. Machine made marbles are usually between 1/2" and 3/4" because regulations at most marble tournaments set the size of shooter and target marbles within that range. Hand made marbles usually do not exceed 1-1/2" because the weight of the glass would not allow the creation of any size bigger than that. It is difficult to make a general statement about the collectibility of one size versus another because rarity of size changes from one type of marble to another.
The fourth factor is simply the visual appeal of the marble. This is determined by the strength of the colors and the balanced symmetry of the design. Speaking in generalities, the brighter and more balanced the design, the more valuable the marble. This factor is even more subjective than condition, so it is hard to fit it neatly into any classification system.