Playing marbles was popular decades ago and almost every kid had a set. The game was introduced by the Dutch in the late 1500s–early 1600s and the first marbles were made out of carved stone or clay. During the 1800s, Germans began to make marbles from glass. Akron, Ohio, became home of the first American machine-made marbles and it was not long before Japan and Mexico were also making them. Old marbles are not too difficult to identify. The hard part is finding out if they are valuable or not.
Feel the surface of the marble. Marbles with one or two rough spots are old and handmade. Those with no rough spots are machine-made. Early glass marbles were made by producing a 20- to 50-foot clear glass cane. Inside the canes were thin rods of colored glass. The canes were heated, twisted and cut with special scissors leaving a rough area where the cut was made. The scissors used were developed in Germany in 1846 and consisted of a cup that made the marble perfectly round. The result of this method was a clear marble with colored corkscrews inside.
Look at the spiral inside. If the marble is dirty or dusty, keep a soft cloth and small spray bottle of water on hand. Spray the marble and wipe it off so that the spiral can be clearly seen. The colored spirals in old marbles will merge together and meet at each end. The spirals just keep going and never meet in newer marbles.
Inspect the colors of the marble. Ones made prior to World War II have very vibrant colors and the glass is of high quality. After the war, the process for adding color was different and glass of lower quality was used. Color was infused in the glass in old marbles. Newer ones had color applied to a clear base on the outside of the marble. Oftentimes a marble identification book will help in identifying older marbles by the patterns and styles.
Find another collector or group to help you identify old marbles. This is an art that can be learned hands-on with instruction from a pro. Some machine-made marbles are considered old or collectible and are considered valuable.
Watch for reproductions of old marbles. They will probably not have the rough spots and the colors will either be too bright or not vibrant enough.