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Handmade Glass Marbles

German Spirals or Candy Stripes

It is believed that the first glass marbles were made in Venice by the old Venician glassblower, which were the marbles called monstrosities by the early English. It is believed that the English had a low opinion of them because glass marbles were not sturdy enough to be useful in any of their games. The first records of glass marble production occurs in, the province of Thuringen, the principal towns of production being Lauscha and Sonneberg. The small factories were known as glass cottages, and they began producing glass marbles after a Lauscha glass cottage worker invented a new work tool in 1846 known as "Marbelschere" or marble scissors. This tool made rapid production of marbles of uniform quality possible, established the prodution of marbles for sale to the public. This created a demand for the glass swirls so great that in 1852 a new glass cottage was built mainly for the production of glass marbles, which are still being made today. Production methods have changed since World War I.

Glass marbles were made from glass rods or canes made with a blowpipe 26 cm or 10" thick to roll a clear glass mass approximately six inches long. Hot glass rods of various colors were placed in the grooves of a 6"-long iron sheet. The clear glass bar would then be rolled over the sheet, picking up the colored rods in the grooves. Rods placed in consecutive grooves on the sheet produced a solid column in the marble. Rods separated from each other by one or two grooves produced an open swirl effect. Then the bar would be covered with clear glass and if another ring of colored rods was desired in the marble, the process would be repeated. When the desired pattern was achieved, the bar was pulled and twisted to a diamter of 1 1/2" to 2 1/2" and a length of approximately 6 1/2 feet. Bars would be prepared in advance and eight to twelve bars would be stored in an oven until the glassblower was ready to cut marbles. The rods might be reheated, pulled and twisted to make marbles of smaller diameter, or they might be used as they were for larger marbles.

Then marbles would be cut off the glass rods by the marble scissors, which were hand crafted consisting mainly of a strip of iron in the shape of a "U," resembling a pair of tongs. A round bottom cup was on the right hand end and and a knife-like blade on the left The marble bowl or cup was attached only with a screw which allowed cups of different sizes to be attached. The glassblower would press the hot end of the glass bar into the cup with enough pressure to round the end, close the blade while twisting the bar slowly. Once the spheres became somehwat hardened, they would beplaced in a churn-shaped wooden barrel which was kept in continuous rotation by the marble maker helping to shape the glass pieces into marbles. Then the marbles were picked up with an iron spoon, placed in an annealing oven in lots of ten to twenty to cool. Several marbles could be cut from a cane before the glass bar had cooled to the point where it required reheating. Once the marbles were cooled, they were polished.

Several methods were used to polish the marbles, one method consisting of fire polishing the marbles, or reheating them until the glass became soft again. An acid polish might be used, where the polish would be produced by dipping the marbles into an acid solution. A dull polish could be obtained by tumbling the marbles in large rotating metal drums containing a mixture of water and a polishing compound, which is used today for polishing small gem stones.

It is believed by some that the first major production of handmade glass marbles took place in the Netherlands before the Thuringen region began production. Just after World War I, marbles production by a half-automatic machine began. The machines were invented in America during World War I, forcing handmade marble companies out of business following the war.
Photo credits for this section: Michael Love,

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Early American Glass Marbles

The Iowa City Flint Glass Manufacturing Company was founded on April 30, 1880, by J.H. Leighton, and was only in operation for fifteen to twenty months, failing in 1882. There is one marble in the Iowa City Historical Museum which can be described as having a diameter of about 1 1/2 times that of a silver dollar, with four swirling bands alternating red, white, green, and white. Sulphides with figures of animals and birds are said to have beenproduced. Mr. Leighton was also involved in other glass companies prior to and following theexistence of the Iowa City factory, making it possible for marbles of this type to be produced by other companies.

The Navarre Glass Marble Company of Navarre, Ohio, operated by Emil Converse, supposedly produced both spiral and sulphide types like those made in Germany. The Boston and Sandwich Company in Massachusetts also produced glass marbles. Old factoy sites have been excavated uncovering a considerable number of the marbles in a broken or imperfect condition. Though it is belived by some that these marbles may have been imported, evidence proves that is it highly unlikely. It is, however, more likely that the the colored canes from which the marbles were made were imported.

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