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.
* 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
* 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 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.
What's it worth? Take a look at this Marbles price guide: sold listings for a value indication.