The Encyclopedia of Modern Marbles, Spheres, & Orbs
by Mark P. Block
Bucky for Beginners Synergetic Geometry
by Mary Laycock
Puncture Ladies, Egg Harbors, Mississippi Marbles, and Other Curious Words and Phrases of North America
by Jeffrey Kacirk
Milky Way Marbles Set
America Lost Its Marbles
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1995 All rights reserved.
I used to carry a small canvas bag with me everywhere I went. Inside that bag was my prized shooter, an oversized aggie with distinctive caramel-colored swirls, and an assortment of smaller clearies, puries, clays and jaspers.
We played for keeps on the playground of my youth, circles scratched in the dirt, knuckles drawn, shooters poised. I can still hear the loud CRACK! of a successful shot and remember the agony of watching helplessly as some 10-year-old sharpshooter cleared the ring of my last target marble.
The size of my marble bag reflected my fortunes. Some days it bulged with booty; other times I had only my shooter.
I no longer measure my worth in rounded bits of glass. It's been a long time since I was on my knees in the dirt taking aim at a purple-tinted brandie. But it saddens me that no one has taken my place at the ring and that few schoolchildren these days have any interest in the game.
America has nearly lost its marbles. The last I played was in the 1960s, but interest was flagging even then. The game's golden age was during the Depression years before television, Nintendo and iPod.
Actually, gaming with marbles dates back to the Middle Ages, or even earlier. Little orbs of stone and clay have been found in the ruins of many ancient civilizations.
German glassmakers introduced glass marbles in the 1840s and dominated the market until 1915 when World War I interrupted exports and American marble makers started mechanizing. By the end of the war, the U.S. dominated the production of milkies, moonies, clearies and puries. Companies like Akro Agate, Master Marble and Marble King were as familiar to schoolkids as Disney, Sony and Apple.
But after nearly forty years of market dominance, America's marble companies let a newcomer take aim and clear the ring. From post-War Japan came a sensuously beautiful clear glass marble split by intersecting veins of brilliant color. The "cat's eye," as we called it, quickly consumed the marble business.
It took American marble companies nearly five years to introduce their own cat's eye. By then, most were out of business.
Imports like the cat's eye marble will exploit an unfulfilled demand, whether it's a cool-looking piece of glass or a well-built hybrid car. But the foreign producer rarely spends much time at product promotion or development in the countries buying its import. The decline of American marble making was matched by a decline in advertising, tournaments and schoolyard games.
In their complacency the local producers let an out-of-town player shoot first. The new kid cleared the ring and went home, leaving the rest of us less interested in the game.
That's how America lost its marbles.