The Game of Marbles

Did you know that the “Game of Marbles” has been popular for many cultures for thousands of years throughout the world?

1-Ring-Game of Marbles copyright.

This game with colored glass marbles mentioned in 15th  century German literature were probably made by glass blowers for their children. But, by the 19th century shears made the production quicker and more economical, thus becoming more popular in Europe and America creating intricate patterns. And not all of those marbles over the years were machine-made, but some were hand-made from clay, stone, wood and metal. Even Shakespeare in the 1600’s wrote about a game he called “cherry pit” when stones were tossed in a hole in the ground.

When I was a kid playing the game in the United States, we called it “Ringer.” I loved to play this game with the machine-made glass marbles. Some of them even had cat’s eyes inside them.  I spent many days outdoors competing against my four brothers. The youngest was allowed to start the game and ended up with the oldest brother playing last. Since I’m the sandwich in the family and always been the only girl, my turn was always  in the middle. Whoever had the most wins at the” end of the summer” was declared “the champion” and got to keep all of our marbles until we played again the next summer. I, soon, became known as “Marble Girl”  because I learned how to really “knuckle down” when playing this game and made champion many times.


  • First we would draw a circle about 10 feet in diameter with a stick in the dirt.
  • Then, we placed  all of our marbles inside the circle and each selected our “shooter.”
  • The shots took place by kneeling on the ground and knucking down aiming with our shooter.
  •  This was done by putting our fist with our thumb outside the ring.
  • Any marbles we shot outside the ring now belonged to who shot them outside the ring.
  • The game continued, taking turns until the ring was empty of marbles.
  • The winner of each game was the player with the most marbles at the end.

Some Names of Marbles and What They Mean:

  • Aggies: This means marble, in general, and usually made from the hard stone, agate.
  • Alleys or Allies: Their name comes from some made from alabaster,
  • Cat’s Eyes: Clear marbles with a colored vein inside.
  • Cherries: The clear glass ones that sometimes have a tint of blue or green.
  • Corkscrews: The ones with spiral designs with two colors or more.
  • Steelies: Made from ball bearings, however, metal cannot be used in tournament play.
  • Swirls. Those that have swirls of colors inside them.

Best Marber shooter copyright copy

That big marble pictured above, it’s my favorite shooter and it’s getting pretty old now.


5- My Favorite Marbles-the Ones I won

When I was a kid, if I had known about the National Marbles Tournament,  I think I might have entered and won.

 What’s this game called in your country and how do you play it?

Written and Photographed by Mary Gilmartin, April 11, 2013



Filed under Writing

18 responses to “The Game of Marbles

  1. I had quite a marble collection but since most of the neighborhood kids were boys I didn’t play much with them because I didn’t want to lose all those precious marbles that I had wheedled my parents to buy for me. My most interesting marble experience came in the 90’s when I started a vegetable garden behind a century-old house in Evanston, IL. As I tilled the soil, all kinds of things came up, notably a lot of chunks of old bricks. But also several marbles, which I put in a little wooden “treasure chest” box and still keep on display. There were several aggies of different sizes, cat’s-eyes and swirls, and what we called “peeries” instead of “cherries”. Thanks for refreshing all those old memories.

  2. In college, I worked weekends at the Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City. They had a beautiful marble collection there along with many ways the game was played world-wide. It was my favorite section to look at (so pretty), but my least favorite to dust (so many little marbles!)

    • Wow, it looks like this museum houses the Marble Games and Gallery Room, filled with approximately one million marbles as their website states. If I”m ever in Kansas City, I want to tour this museum you worked in. Lucky girl to see all these things, even though cleaning is something that has to be done, whether we like it or not.

  3. I played with such marbels when I was a child in Germany. Later we moved to Sweden and there these marbels were unknown. I still have one glas marbel on my writing from those childhood times.
    How we played it:
    First we threw a black clay-marble, then it was important to get with your glas-marble as near as possible to that black marble. It was actually played like Boule in France. The one who won got all the glass marbels. The game was very popular in my childhood and it was called “Pickheuer” in the Rhineland where I was born. “Pickheuer” was the name of the game as well as the name of the marbels.
    Thanks for this blog.
    Greeting from coast of North Norfolk
    Klausbernd and his happy Bookfayries Siri and Selma.

  4. It’s interesting, thanks for posting! It might be some of the oldest games and it’s still children who play with these.

  5. I had forgotten about the steelies which we thought the most prized and polished until they reflected the world – some were quite large so presumably made for heavy machinery. Thanks for reminding me,

  6. In Italy it is called BIGLIE or BILIE and I forever STILL get confused because marble is MARBLE ( preferably from Carrara for making statues) in Italy. The balls themselves are called le biglie in the plural and la biglia in the singular. When somebody show little common sense
    they ask him or her if there are some biglie in his head… in English instead people “lose their marbles…”
    The Glass Bead Game (German: Das Glasperlenspiel) is the last full-length novel of the German author Hermann Hesse, for which Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. It was begun in 1931 and published in Switzerland in 1943 after being rejected for publication in Germany due to Hesse’s anti-Fascist views.

  7. … memories. I think marbles have been around for ever – and the glass ones are lovely.

    • I like the glass ones too with all their different colors. Some of the most unusual ones are from my collection of clay ones but I couldn’t find them. Guess I stored them away somewhere in a safe place, I hope.

  8. I loved your post! It brought back my childhood memories. The rules had become a blur and I was sure yours were not the same ones but was pleasantly surprised to remember them all through your words! Now, I can pass it on to my kids 🙂 I grew up in France for a while and they called it “le jeu de bille”. I was known as a good shooter so as you can imagine, I loved the game.
    Thanks for a refreshing post!

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