A handmade marble is a thing of beauty, a technical feat of glassworking, and a work of art. While these marbles were made using the “mass production” techniques of the time, in reality each handmade marble is individually crafted by a person. This cannot be said for machine-made marbles. Each handmade marble carries with it the individual stamp of the craftsman who created it. This is in the twist of the marble and in the design and the colors. The appeal of handmade marbles lies in their individuality. No two canes were the same, and no two marbles off the same cane are exactly the same. You cannot say that about most machine-made marbles.
By definition, a handmade marble is a marble that was individually made by a craftsman. Non-glass handmade marbles have existed for almost as long as there have been children. During primitive and medieval times, these were rounded stone or clay marbles. This technique continued through the 1800s. Stone and clay marbles do not command a high price today. They lack eye appeal and come in a very limited number of colors and styles, so the supply far outstrips demand. The handmade marbles sought after by today’s collectors were produced in Germany from 1850 until just before World War II. (Some handmade marbles were produced in the United States during the early 20th century, but these represented a very tiny segment of the market compared to German marbles. It has also been reported that some handmade marbles were produced in England, although scant evidence has emerged to support this contention).
The marble scissors were invented around 1846 by Elias Greiner in Lauscha. Initially, the scissors were used to produce glass spheres for doll’s eyes. However, around 1850 the first playing marbles were produced. Through the second half of the 19th Century, a number of marble works were opened in Lauscha by the Greiner, Muller and Kuhnert families. These include Dorfglashutte, Kuhnertshutte, Schlotfegerhutte, Schneidershutte and Seppenhutte. In addition, Eichornshutte was opened in Steinach and Marienhutte was opened in Haselbach.
German-made glass marbles represented the bulk of the marble market until the 1920s. The supremacy of German marbles on the playing field finally ended during the early 1900s due to a combination of several factors. These include the American invention of mechanized marble production, the cut-off of German imports into the U.S. during World War I and the Fordney‑McCumber Act tariffs of the early 1920s.
All handmade glass marbles have at least one pontil. This is the rough spot at the bottom pole of the marble where it was sheared off its glass cane or a punty.
Handmade marbles are generally classified as either cane-cut (sometimes called rod-cut) or as single-gather. Almost all handmade glass marbles are cane-cut type marbles. This type of marble starts as a cane of glass which contains the design of the marble. The end of the cane is rounded, and then the partially completed sphere is sheared off the end of the cane and rounding is completed. Single-gather marbles, on the other hand, are produced one at a time on the end of a punty. The pontils on cane-cut or single-gather marbles may be rough, fire-polished or ground. Handmade marbles can be further classified by the type and/or coloring of the design.
The production of handmade marbles (whether cane-cut or single-gather) was very labor-intensive. For example, the creation of a handmade swirl required between four and twelve separate manual steps. Single-gather marbles could require less steps, but only one marble was produced at a time, rather than a whole set of marbles off of one cane. Some of the first handmade marbles produced in Germany were single-gather slag type. These are categorized in the Transitional section. The production of handmade marbles was a fairly laborious task. As a result, far less handmade marbles exist than machine-made marbles, thereby increasing their value.
The earliest magazine and newspaper articles discussing marbles appeared in the 1940s. In the mid-1960s articles began describing marbles as collectibles. These articles all dealt with handmade marbles. Early marble collectors were only interested in handmade marbles. The earliest guide to marble collecting was Morrison and Terrison’s Marbles-Identification and Price Guide, published in 1968, followed by Baumann’s Collecting Antique Marbles, published in 1970. Both of these books classified handmade marbles, to almost the complete exclusion of machine-made marbles.
The past two decades has seen the handmade segment of the marble market mature. This side of the market is not experiencing the volatility in prices that we have seen in the machine-made side of the market. This does not mean that handmades do not go through price cycles. Different types of handmade marbles go in and out of favor with collectors as their tastes change, but the market has been much less volatile than the machine-made market. Recently, there has been a explosion of interest in modern handmade marbles. Twenty five years ago there were only a handful of artists and craftsmen making glass and china spheres. And there were only a few serious collectors. The number of makers and collectors has increased by orders of magnitude during the past two decades. Modern handmade marbles are displayed in the Contemporary section of this online guide.