How to Collect Marbles

Home & Family, Kids, Odd Collections
on January 2, 2013
Moon Marble
Diane Guthrie Skyler Smitheran admires hand-made marbles displayed at Moon Marble Co. in Bonner Springs, Kan.

Marble collecting isn’t just for kids. The nostalgic toy can take adults back in time to childhood games. Their distinctive and colorful materials and styles also can help collectors of all ages explore the glittering world of contemporary glass art.

Two well-known marble experts offer helpful tips to get you started:

Collect what appeals to you, and you’ll enjoy your hobby all the more. For example, artisan Bruce Breslow, 60, who owns Moon Marble Co. in Bonner Springs, Kan., collects both historic and contemporary glass marbles, but he’s partial to history. “I like to hold something in my hand that somebody held long ago. I like to connect myself to the past physically,” he explains.

Limit your collection to a particular category. For instance, your collection may focus on a certain size of marbles such as peewees, or marbles made of certain materials such as clay, steel or agate. Some collections are rooted in historical eras (think Colonial Period or early 19th century). You might collect holiday marbles or marbles that use specific colors or designs such as oxbloods or corkscrews. Some people collect marbles fashioned by a particular glass artist. Others collect marble toys. Choose a category and go with it!

Know your marbles. Study marble history to get a feel for the evolution of marbles. Also, familiarize yourself with contemporary glass artists who specialize in spherical shapes. “Read all you can about the history of glass and the issues of glass,” advises Mark Matthews, 58, a glass artist in Archbold, Ohio. “The whole history of glass goes back 5,000 years.”

Develop an eye for details. Be alert to differences not readily apparent to the untrained eye. “The field has kind of exploded and there’s a lot of high-quality work going on,” Matthews says. If you’re making an investment, he suggests acquiring pieces in which the artist has completed experimental stages to resolve color, format and other esthetic issues. Expect to pay a premium for these, almost twice the regular price.

Study pricing. You might find marbles for free or pay as much as $10,000. With handmade marbles, prices can accelerate as the artist’s fame grows. Matthews recalls a black and white geometric marble that he made early in his career that he sold for $25; years later, it resold for $4,800. His highest selling creation was a marble purchased for $10,000 in 2006.

Type, size, scarcity and eye appeal—all factor into pricing. Condition of a marble makes a huge difference; any surface damage can cut its value in half. If there’s one verity in pricing, it’s the marketplace. “A marble is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” Breslow says.

Buy from a reputable dealer, particularly if you are paying big bucks. That said, you might discover inexpensive treasures at estate sales, auctions, flea markets and garage sales.

Visit local clubs and marble meetings. “A lot of old-timers like to get young people started,” says Breslow, adding that they might give away a marble or two.

Trade with friends. That’s part of the fun of the hobby.

Display for enjoyment. Don’t hide your treasures in a dark vault; flaunt them. Some people like to display marbles in large jars, but the disadvantage is that part of the collection gets buried in the center. “It’s better,” Matthews advises, “to have really nice shallow casework with LED lighting.”

Have fun. Breslow recommends collecting the kinds of marbles for which you have a natural affinity. “So many people start doing things because they are thinking it might be profitable,” he says. “That just takes the fun out of it.”