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Stone Marbles

Calcareous Stone Marbles

The very earliest marbles were made of stone. Stone was used for marbles by the Roman and Greek civilizations as well as even earlier cultures. Alabaster and marble spheres were used in England from around the fifteenth century. Small stone spheres were first produced in large quantity in Germany with the aid of water mills as early as the seventeenth century. Most of the mills were located in the mountain streams of the Alps, particularly near Berchtesgaden, using marble from local quarries to produce a moderatequantity. It wasn't until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that great quantities of marbles were produced by larger mills. The largest concentration of these mills was in Saxony, Germany. An important marble-producing town was the city of Coburg.

The workers broke the calcareous stone into 1" suqare blocks with small hammers, 100-200 of which were then placed in a mill to be ground. A stationary flat stone slab with concentric grooves cut into it was used to placed the stone blocks onto. Above the slab was a large round sectioon of oak the same diameter as the slab, partially resting upon it. Water ran between the two blocks, and the oak block rotated. In about fifteen minutes, the marbles would be ground and ready for public sale. About 60,000 marbles could be turned out by one mill in a week.

Along the mountain streams in the south Thuringer woods, handmade glass marbles were produced. Near the end of the nineteenth century, this province became famous as the leading producer of handmade glass marbles in the world. Prior to that, limestone marbles were produced in Thuringer. The Deutchess Spiel zeugmuseum (German Toy Museum) at Sonneberg, Thuringen,has information about the production of these marbles in the Sonneberg area, and in it's collection it has an old mill from Almbachklamm in the vicinity of Berchtesgaden.

The marble industry was practiced in the Sonneberg area probably since the Thirty Years' War, and reached its first heyday around 1740 when a small group of emigrants from Salzburg perfected the technique of marble production. A second time of peak production was the period after the mid-nineteenth century when German exporting rose appreciably. In the 1870's the toy industry burgeoned, most of the marble miners of Thuringen turned to this healthier industry, the mines falling into disrepair.

Song: "Aladdin"