AskDefine | Define marbles

Dictionary Definition



1 a children's game played with little balls made of a hard substance (as glass)
2 the basic human power of intelligent thought and perception; "he used his wits to get ahead"; "I was scared out of my wits"; "he still had all his marbles and was in full possession of a lively mind" [syn: wits]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of marble
  2. Any of several children's games played with small glass balls.



Extensive Definition

A marble is a small spherical toy usually made from glass, clay, or agate. These balls vary in size. Most commonly, they are about ½ inch (1.25 cm) across, but they may range from less than ¼ inch (0.635 cm) to over 3 inches (7.75 cm), while some art glass marbles for display purposes are over 12 inches (30 cm) wide. Marbles can be used for a class of children's games, and are often collected, both for nostalgia and for their aesthetic colors.


Marbles are often mentioned in Roman literature, and there are many examples of marbles from ancient Egypt. They were commonly made of clay, stone or glass.
Ceramic marbles entered inexpensive mass production in the 1870s.
Glass marbles were invented around 1848 in Germany, and entered mass production in the early 20th century when World War I cut off their importation from Europe, causing American industry to be applied to the task, producing a mechanized method of glass marble production which became the most common system in the world. Glass marbles, too, became the most popular variety, and have remained so to this day.
In some developing countries, children use steel, minerals or large rocks as a less pricey marble substitute.


One version of the game involves drawing a circle in sand, and players will take turns knocking other players' marbles out of the circle with their own marble. This game is called ringer. Other versions involve shooting marbles at target marbles or into holes in the ground. A larger-scale game of marbles might involve taking turns trying to hit an opponent's marble to win. A useful strategy is to throw a marble so that it lands in a protected, or difficult location if it should miss the target. As with many children's games, new rules are devised all the time, and each group is likely to have its own version, often customized to the environment.
One such specialized game is called gaipar, popular in Bengal. Each player contributes four marbles, which are positioned on the edge of a rectangle. One special marble (the gai) is placed in the center. Players take turns to hit the marbles on the rectangle with a bigger marble (often called a boulder or matris). The marbles hit by the matris must be propelled out of the rectangle. If they are hit but remain within the rectangle, the player plays one more marble as a forfeit which is placed within the rectangle. The aim of the game is to hit the central gai and take it out of the rectangle. This is not easy when there are marbles on the periphery. If a player can take out the gai, he wins all the marbles. However, other players then get a chance to hit the gai-taker's boulder and, if successful, all the marbles change ownership.
Yet another specialized version of the game (as played in Taiwan) involves a five-holed course and can be played by two to six players. This version is typically played on a flat hard-packed clay surface. Five divots, approximately 2 cm deep and 4 to 5 cm wide, are excavated in the four corners of a 1.5m by 1.5m square. The fifth divot is excavated in the center of the square where the square's diagonals intersect. The players each begin with one marble and a series of games of "rock-paper-scissors" determines the starting order of the players. The beginning player starts at one of the holes in the corner of the square and this hole becomes the designated "home" hole for the remainder of the game. The first player shoots for the center hole. If he or she successfully shoots his or her marble into the center hole (namely the marble comes to rest in the hole without bouncing out), then he or she gets to shoot for the hole to the right. In the event of a miss, the next player in line gets to start and he or she also can proceed until a shot misses a hole. The idea is to shoot the marble from the home hole to center, from center to right, right back to center, center to left, left back to center, center to top, top back to center, and finally from center back to home. The first player to complete this course becomes the "ghost" and is at liberty to shoot at the other players' marbles as they attempt to complete the course. If the ghost successfully hits another player's marble, the ghost then wins that marble and the losing party removes the marble from play and surrenders the marble to the ghost immediately. Although the ghost wins the match immediately upon completing the course, the game is not over until all players have either completed the course or had their marbles removed from play by the ghost.
In Eastern Europe, where children play more with marbles and less with expensive technological toys, there is often a value system for the most commonly circulated marbles. The most common type is completely transparent, with two colored streaks running through the glass. A marble with three streaks, or with artful thin streaks, is worth two "plain" ones. A white non-transparent marble called "bonja" in Croatian (pronounced bo-nya, origin unknown) is also worth two. A black bonja is usually worth between three and four plain ones, although they are more often traded for more valuable marbles, not less. A green non-transparent marble is among the rarest, and can fetch up to ten "plain" marbles but again most kids would use such a valuable asset to purchase something more luxurious-seeming than a large number of "plains." The most valuable marbles are "sunny" marbles. They are semi-transparent, of colored glass, most often red or brown, although green, blue and gray are also seen from time to time. They have tiny air bubbles embedded into the glass, and a widespread myth suggests that one can observe a solar eclipse through such a marble without suffering eye damage, hence the name.
As for the rules, most games in this part of the world will involve two holes 5-6 meters apart, and a triangle of marbles close to one of the holes. The triangle is used because the most common number of players is three. The base of the triangle is usually close to the hole, with the tip pointing to a side. Each player contributes one marble to a tip of the triangle. Then the players stand at the hole and take turns tossing their marbles towards the other hole, without the triangle. There are many allowed and proscribed techniques to do this - "from the knee", "from the air", "from the hand" and so on. Those who manage to land their marbles into the hole without them popping out again enter the next round, tossing the marbles back towards the first hole (the one with the triangle.) The first player who manages to do this gets a chance to hit one of the marbles in the triangle. If he scores a hit, he pockets the "won" marble and continues playing with his original marble. This goes on until all the marbles from the triangle are gone. If he misses, he loses his turn. The trick is to always play (second round) first, in which case the other players theoretically might not even get a chance to play the second round. However there is no universally accepted way to determine who will go first. It often happens that negotiations about this last far longer than the game itself. One way to ensure a degree of fairness is to insist beforehand that the winner must agree to a re-match.
Attempting to pocket the original marble and using the "won" marble to play with, is one of the most common rule-breaking actions. This is done because the original marble is almost always in an inferior position with regard to the other marbles in the triangle. This again depends on the technique used for the "money shot", out of the original hole. One common set of rules stipulates that one hand must be held at the bottom of the hole, with the hand throwing the marble directly above but touching the other hand. Again many players will attempt to cheat by spreading their hands apart slightly to give themselves more options with the marbles in the triangle. Hand position of the player taking the "money shot" is often under strict scrutiny of the other players, who are about to lose their marbles (literally) to him.
Another way of playing is over small drains in the ground, rules vary depending on the type of drain (or manhole cover) but the most common game consists of 2 players and a water drain. The rules are fairly simple, each player takes turns to flick their marble across the drain trying to get it to stop on the same "bar" as the other players marble, if a player succeeds then he/she has won. Almost inevitably this game ends up with someone's marble falling through the drain.
In Canada, the game is played using a hole. Two or three people can play this way, either solo, or in teams of two. You simply make a shallow or deep hole using the heel of your foot. Everyone then takes turns in no particular order to see who can get closer. The closest person gets to go first at flicking the marbles into the hole using the tip of the middle finger or the side of the pointer finger. In some games, feet are used to play the game. A player's two feet would create an upside down uppercase L shape, with the back foot pointing straight ahead and it's toes touching or near the toes of the second foot, which was turned completely sideways, pointing either left (if the right foot was in front) or right (if the left foot was in front. The marble would be placed on the outside of the front foot, near the pinky toe. The back foot would then lightly tap the front foot, which would hit the marble in the desired direction. If the first person misses, the person who was second closest will then go. This will go on until all marbles are knocked in. Oddly, the person to knock in the last marble in the hole wins the marbles. No matter what, you play for keeps unless you say so at the beginning of the game. if you say "clearsies", then you take out all of the marbles and keep them safe so you cannot knock them out of the hole. if you say "doctor", then you can get someone else to make the shot for you, but just one shot. if you are playing with "knockies", then you both play the same way, but the person to get closest does not go first--the person who gets furthest goes first. but they must take their turn to move his marble back a little and the first person will try to flick the further marble to the closer one to try and knock it in the hole. after there is one marble left, you will play the last one normally.
A curious version of marbles which used the feet, rather than the hands, to shoot was played in Derry, New Hampshire in the late 1970's. Players first made a target hole, by pivoting on a heel in the dirt. Paired opponents would take turns to see who would get their marble into the hole first, starting from a distance of up to about ten feet. The marble was aimed and propelled (in the case of a right-footed person) by the left foot being placed touching the marble so that the marble was at the outside, widest part of the foot forward of the arch. Then, with that left foot planted, and requiring a bit of a knock-kneed stance, the right foot kicks the inside of the left foot (directly opposite the marble). This kick dislodges the left foot into the marble, hitting it into the direction of the hole. The basic strategy was that the first one to sink their marble into the hole won the game, and kept the opponent's marble. A distinct advantage was gained by geting to shoot first. Marbles had a defined value system based on size and style, with very large marbles (termed "Elephant Eggs") being the most valuable, and requiring an equally-valued assortment of marbles to be included in the wager if play was to commence. Due to the two-player nature of the game, and the many players, schoolgrounds sprouted hundreds of holes, with many simultaneous games during recess. Marbles also became a distraction in the classroom, where they often spilled onto the floor from pockets or from slippery admiring hands.
In Australia, during the 1950's and 1960's, a very popular and varied game was "Bunny Hole". The winner of this game was he who was first able to hit the other player's marble four times, but this had to be achieved via certain requirements. A hole was dug by pivoting the heel of the foot in the sand or dirt. A line was then marked out some 20 feet [6 metres] away, and players took turns by pitching their marble from the line to see who could rest his marble nearest the bunny hole. The person whose marble came to rest nearest the hole would go first. This player would then attempt to 'fire' his marble into the hole. No hits on other marbles were counted until the player's marble making the shot had successfully been to the bunny hole first. "Firing" a marble meant that a player had to flick his marble from a stationary position of his hand. No part of the hand firing the marble was permitted to be in front of the position where the marble had been resting on the ground. Using that hand he would flick or fire the marble from his hand, usually with the knuckle on the back of his hand resting on the ground, and usually using the thumb of that hand to do so. All shots of the game were conducted in this manner throughout except the very initial pitch towards the bunny hole that commenced the game. Once a player was able to rest his marble within the hole, he would immediately then fire his marble at his opponents' marbles. However, if any player hit another player's marble before his own marble had been to 'visit' the bunny hole, the act would be referred to as "a kiss"; the game would be over, and all players would have to retreat back to the starting line to re-commence the game, without result. This, of course, could be quite frustrating if a player had already built up quite a few hits on another player's marble! So, most skilled players did not resort to this kind of tactic. The aim was to hit a particular marble 3 times after getting to the hole, then you had to "run away", before the final contact shot was allowed to be played - which was called "the kill". Once a player made a kill on another marble, if the game was 'for keeps', he would then get to keep the marble [bunny] he had 'killed'. The format of playing this game was that each time you successfully hit another player's marble, you were immediately allowed to have another shot - even if it was not the marble you originally intended to hit. Of course, the ploy was to hit the particular opponent marble 3 times, and then 'run away' to the bunny hole, because once you rested the marble into the hole, you immediately had your shot again, thus leaving no opportunity at all for your opponent to retreat his marble before "the Kill" was made on it.


  • "Krunche" is the term used in north India to refer to both a game played with marbles, and the marbles themselves.
  • "Goli Gundu" is a Tamil term used to refer to both a game played with marbles, and the marbles themselves.
  • "Keepsies" (or "for keeps") is a variation in which players win the marbles used by their opponent.
  • "Knuckle down", the position adopted at the start line at the beginning of a match.You begin with your knuckle against the ground.
  • Marbles are also called by their color.
  • Quitsies: Allows any opponent to stop the game without consequence. You can either have "quitsies" (able to quit) or "no quitsies" (unable to quit).
  • A taw or shooter is used to shoot with, and ducks are marbles to be shot at
  • Various names refer to the marbles' size. Any marble larger than the majority may be termed a boulder, masher, popper, shooter, taw, bumbo, bumboozer, bowler, tonk, tronk, godfather, tom bowler, giant. A marble smaller than the majority is a peawee or mini. A grandfather is the largest marble, the size of a pool table ball or tennis ball.
  • Various names for different marble types (regional playground talk ): Marleys (Marbles), Prit (white marble), Kong (large marble), King Kong (larger than a Bosser), Steely (Metal Ball-bearing). Names can be combined eg Prit-Kong (Large white marble). There are many more such names as discussed in the next section.

Types of marbles

  • Alley or real - made of marble or alabaster (alley is short for alabaster), streaked with wavy or other patterns with exotic names like corkscrew, spiral, snake, ribbon, onyx, swirl, bumblebee, butterfly, and...
    • Toothpaste - wavy streaks usually with red, blue, black, white, orange
    • Turtle - wavy streaks containing green and yellow
    • Ade - strands of opaque white and color, making lemon-ade, lime-ade, orange-ade, etc.
    • Oxblood - a streaky patch resembling blood
    • Lutz - a type of swirl, taken from the skating term
    • Onionskin - swirled and layered like an onion
    • Clambroth - equally spaced opaque lines on a usually opaque base
    • Cat's Eye or catseye - central eye-shaped colored inserts or cores (injected inside the marble)
      • Devil's Eye - red with yellow eye
      • Beachball - three colors and six vanes
    • Viagra - a blue strand of liquid
  • Aggie - made of agate (aggie is short for agate) or glass resembling agate, with various patterns like in the alley
  • Mica - glassy to translucent with streaks or patches of mica, ranging from clear to misty
  • Sulphide - clear with an object inside
  • China - glazed porcelain, with various patterns like in the alley
    • Plaster - a form of china that is unglazed
  • Indian - dark and opaque, usually black?
  • Commie or common - made of clay
    • Bennington - clay fired in a kiln with salt glaze
  • Steely - made of steel
  • Croton alley or Jasper - glazed and unglazed china marbled with blue
  • Crystal or clearie or purie - any clear colored glass - including "opals," "glimmers," "bloods," "rubies," etc. These can have any number of descriptive names such as "deep blue sea".
    • Princess - a tinted crystal
    • Galaxy - lots of dots inserted like a sky of stars

Marble collecting

Marble collecting is a hobby enjoyed by thousands of people around the world including the respected Larry Farry whose collection, as documented in the Daily Bruin, spans over 1500 unique marbles. As with any collecting hobby a great deal of specialization occurs.
Marbles are categorized by many factors including condition, size, type, manufacturer/artisan, age, style, materials, scarcity, and the existence of original packaging (which is further rated in terms of condition). Each of these ratings is used to calculate the marble's worth, with the final value influenced by overall demand. Ugly, but rare marbles may be valued as much as those of very fine quality.
As with any collectible toy, the value seems to first peak when the collectors with the fondest memories enjoy recalling their childhoods through their acquisitions .
Due to a large market, there are many related side businesses that have sprung up such as numerous books and guides, web sites dedicated to live auctions of marbles only, and collector conventions. Additionally, many glass artisans produce marbles for the collectors' market only, with some selling for hundreds of dollars .


Marbles are made using many techniques. They can be categorized into two general types: hand-made and machine-made.
Marbles were originally made by hand. Stone or ivory marbles can be fashioned by grinding. Clay, pottery, ceramic, or porcelain marbles can be made by rolling the material into a ball, and then letting dry, or firing, and then can be left natural, painted, or glazed. Glass marbles can be fashioned through the production of glass rods which are stacked together to form the desired pattern, cutting the rod into marble-sized pieces using marble scissors, and rounding the still-malleable glass.
One mechanical technique is dropping globules of molten glass into a groove made by two interlocking parallel screws. As the screws rotate, the marble travels along them, gradually being shaped into a sphere as it cools. Color is added to the main batch glass and/or to additional glass streams that are combined with the main stream in a variety of ways. For example, in the "cat's-eye" style, colored glass vanes are injected into a transparent main stream. Applying more expensive colored glass to the surface of cheaper transparent or white glass is also a common technique.

Manufacturing locations

There were numerous businesses that made marbles in Akron, Ohio. One major marble manufacturing company is Marble King located in Paden City, West Virginia which was featured in the television shows "Made in America" and "Some Assembly Required".

Marbles in culture

Video Games:
Other Games:
  • He's a Bully, Charlie Brown has Charlie Brown playing marble champion and summer camp bully, Joe Agate, for marbles that Agate tricked out of another camper.

External links


marbles in Bulgarian: Игра на топчета
marbles in Czech: Kuličky
marbles in German: Murmelspiel
marbles in Spanish: Canica
marbles in Italian: Biglia
marbles in Esperanto: Rulglobeto
marbles in French: Jeu de bille
marbles in Hebrew: גולות
marbles in Luxembourgish: Jickespill
marbles in Malayalam: ഗോലി
marbles in Dutch: Knikker
marbles in Japanese: ビー玉
marbles in Norwegian: Klinkekule
marbles in Polish: Marmurki
marbles in Portuguese: Berlinde
marbles in Slovenian: Frnikola
marbles in Swedish: Stenkulor
marbles in Vietnamese: Đánh bi
marbles in Contenese: 波子
marbles in Chinese: 彈珠
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