Mention playing marbles and most people can recall stories of their childhood. The game has been around for hundreds of years and continues in popularity today.
I arrived at a local school today and to my delight the kids in the playground were playing marbles before school. The scene differed a little from my own school days in the 1950s, but the games purpose remained the same – to compete against a partner, trying to win your opponent’s marble rather than lose your own.
In the classroom I talked to the students about my own marble playing days and read the following passage from my 1950s school memoir book.
“Winter saw the emergence of marbles and knucklebones as favoured playtime and lunchtime activities. Marble season lasted a short time, the length possibly being dictated by teachers tolerance of arguments and upset players.
When marble season arrived I pleaded for pocket money and bought marbles from a toy shop in a corner of the Square. Mum made a little cloth drawstring bag to keep them in. I’d start the season with a selection of small cats eyes, clear glass marbles with a colourful piece of glass in the centre and larger more sought after marbles called biggies. It wasn’t often I managed to win a steely to add to my collection.
We played at the edge of the field, on dry mud surfaces or where the grass was short. My marble collection was precious and I hated losing even the most boring looking marble, so I chose my playing partners carefully. The aim was to hit another marble, thus winning it from it’s owner, I didn’t want to go home with an empty bag. Sometimes my luck was in and I’d win a biggie off another player. Or, when a player was down on their luck they’d offer to swap a biggie for two cats eyes, keeping them in play.
Those unlucky enough to have empty marble bags watched on. Player concentration demanded silence and the click of glass marbles hitting each other preceded a triumphant cry from the winner.”
The children fascinated me by showing me the range of marbles now available to them. The largest, called Titanics, were so big I couldn’t imagine their small hands manipulating them with ease.
We discussed the differences in their game and mine, the major being I played on grass while they played on the asphalt courtyard. In my day we gathered in small groups. These children lined up in rows, facing their opponent, but still taking turns.
One boy complained that no one wanted to play marbles with him, as he is considered one of the best players and the others didn’t want to lose their marbles to him. So, some things haven’t changed.
Did you play marbles as a child? What are your memories of the rules of the game? What were the marbles like you played with? Take a trip down memory lane and tell us about your own marble playing experiences.