5 Things You May Not Know About Marbles

It is in the single digits here in the Chemung Valley as I write this, but inside the Museum the glass furnaces are fired up like always. Life may slow down a bit during the winter months, but people still need ways to entertain themselves. That’s one reason February is a good time for the Museum’s annual celebration of all things glassy and round, Marvelous Marble Day.

This year we are celebrating virtually with special guests including the reigning Miss New York, Sydney Park, expert marble maker Miles Parker, and the Chairman of the National Marble Tournament, Doug Watson. Miles will demonstrate how handmade glass marbles are made. Sydney and Doug will join me to discuss marbles from a sports angle.

You may already know that marbles are one of the oldest toys in history, but to really get marbles on your mind, we wanted to share five things about them that may surprise you:

#5. The Egyptian boy pharaoh, King Tutankhamen, enjoyed playing with them over 3000 years ago. They were found buried along with him in his tomb.

#4. Marbles got their name because earlier versions were made of pieces of marble and other stones, not glass.

#3. There was a time when playing marbles could get you in trouble with the law. In colonial New York, it was illegal to play marbles on Sundays. Several European towns in the 1500s passed laws that could fine anyone caught playing marbles in church or on church grounds.

#2. Marbles weren’t always used as toys. Pottery makers who sold marbles for games also sold them to people who used them as bottle stoppers instead of corks and as rifle shot.

#1. By the mid-1800s around 30,000,000 marbles were being made in Germany without the help of machinery. The first glass marble factory in the US wouldn’t come along until 1905. The M. F. Christenson & Son Company in Akron, Ohio, produced machine-made marbles.

Miss New York, Sydney Park.

For a bonus fact, our special guest Sydney Park, the reigning Miss New York, filled us in on the fascinating legacy connecting marbles to the Miss America dynasty.

“In 1921, our very first Miss America, Margaret Gorman, was informed that she had been selected to compete in the inaugural competition while she was playing a game of marbles in the dirt,” Sydney says. “So the birth of the historic Miss America legacy began with marbles. As a state representative of this organization, and an advocate for the importance of inclusive and accessible youth sports, I have found that marbles are more than just beautiful balls of glass, they symbolize a game that anyone can play and enjoy, from kids to Miss America’s. I am so excited to be joining The Corning Museum of Glass for Marvelous Marble Day to celebrate this sport and its importance.”

That’s just some of the reasons why we think marbles are pretty cool. If you have an interesting fact or story to tell about marbles, write to us in the comments!

Visit our website to find out how you can join in the fun. If you’re visiting the Museum on Sunday, February 20, why not try our special marble-themed gallery hunt to find all manner of marble-shaped glass in our collection. Plus, be sure to pick up a marvelous marble gift for kids in the admissions lobby so you can take the fun home with you (quantities limited to 100).

Or join us virtually, from 11 am – 12 pm on Sunday, February 20, for a discussion with me, Troy Smythe, manager of interpretation strategy and education projects, and all of our special guests. Visit our website to register for this free event.

Miles Parker demonstrates marble making in the Museum’s Amphitheater Hot Shop in 2020.

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