Did you know that the “Game of Marbles” has been popular for many cultures for thousands of years throughout the world?
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.
That big marble pictured above, it’s my favorite shooter and it’s getting pretty old now.
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