Marble Banner Clay | China
Glass | Stone

Stone Marbles

Calcareous Stone Marbles

The very earliest marbles were made of stone. Stone was used for marbles by the Roman and Greek civilizations as well as even earlier cultures. Alabaster and marble spheres were used in England from around the fifteenth century. Small stone spheres were first produced in large quantity in Germany with the aid of water mills as early as the seventeenth century. Most of the mills were located in the mountain streams of the Alps, particularly near Berchtesgaden, using marble from local quarries to produce a moderatequantity. It wasn't until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that great quantities of marbles were produced by larger mills. The largest concentration of these mills was in Saxony, Germany. An important marble-producing town was the city of Coburg.

The workers broke the calcareous stone into 1" suqare blocks with small hammers, 100-200 of which were then placed in a mill to be ground. A stationary flat stone slab with concentric grooves cut into it was used to placed the stone blocks onto. Above the slab was a large round sectioon of oak the same diameter as the slab, partially resting upon it. Water ran between the two blocks, and the oak block rotated. In about fifteen minutes, the marbles would be ground and ready for public sale. About 60,000 marbles could be turned out by one mill in a week.

Along the mountain streams in the south Thuringer woods, handmade glass marbles were produced. Near the end of the nineteenth century, this province became famous as the leading producer of handmade glass marbles in the world. Prior to that, limestone marbles were produced in Thuringer. The Deutchess Spiel zeugmuseum (German Toy Museum) at Sonneberg, Thuringen,has information about the production of these marbles in the Sonneberg area, and in it's collection it has an old mill from Almbachklamm in the vicinity of Berchtesgaden.

The marble industry was practiced in the Sonneberg area probably since the Thirty Years' War, and reached its first heyday around 1740 when a small group of emigrants from Salzburg perfected the technique of marble production. A second time of peak production was the period after the mid-nineteenth century when German exporting rose appreciably. In the 1870's the toy industry burgeoned, most of the marble miners of Thuringen turned to this healthier industry, the mines falling into disrepair.


Agates also came from Germany, where large agate millsand quarries could be found on the Nahe River at Oberstein. The smaller pieces of stone were put to good use by being made into marbles by skilled craftsmen, mainly for export to the American market. Workmen chipped the pieces nearly round with a hammer, then wore down the edges on the surface of a large grindstone. Production of marbles reached a peak between 1880 and 1890, when marbles were being ground in Idar-Oberstein and in Bundenbacj, a small town in the same area. Marbles were also quite popular in Africa at this time, a great portion being exported there.

Marbles produced in the greatest volume, and most important to the trade, were made of banded agate. However, the grinders in this region also produced marbles of rose quartz, tigereye, and other semiprecious stones. Marbles were used to decorate large hat pins, and merchants called marbles "klickers."

Agate marbles are still produced today in Idar-Oberstein. The agates come in many different colors, but most can be distinguished by the bands of different colors which circle the marbles. The bands usually alternate red and white or brown and white, although there is almost an infinite variety of shades which can be found. Bands may increase in width as they near the ends of the marble to form a white spot surrounded by a red band, which gives the marble the appearance of an eyeball.

Some agate marbles show a long narrow elliptical pattern, pointed at both ends, instead of a band, giving the marble the appearance of having a drawn-out toothy grin. Some bands are less well-defined, making the marbles more translucent. A good way to tell if a marble without distint markings is agate or imitation is to hold it up to the light. Most of the glass imitation agates are opaque. Also, the red and white markings on imitation agates aren't in regular bands, but irregular shaped swirls. Gray agate marbles also exist, but usually contain bands of white or lighter gray.

You may encounter a marble which appears to be agate but is some color which no espectable agate would be found in, as green. Agate is one of the semiprecious stones which can be colored either by dyeing or by heating, the finished product lovely looking with the green color penetrating through the entire marble. This green coloring actually replaces the natural color previously present. These marbles then have light green and dark green alternating bands, and as translucent as before.

Agate belongs to a type of quartz called cryptocrystalline, consisting of microscopic crystals. Regular quartz has large crystals. One big section of this group of quartz, known as chalcedony, contains agate, used for making marbles Agate has a banded or irregular, variegated appearance. Oxny is an agate with even parallel layers of black and white or brown and white; sardonyx of carnelian (red) and white.

Other Stone Marbles

Tigereye, golden quartz with inclusions of a type of asbestos which often has blue fibers, has also been used to make marbles in Germany. This stone is not mined in Germany itself, but comes from such unlikely places as Grinqualand West, South Africa. Tigereye marbles appear to be dark brown in color with bright golden bands circling them.

Rose quartz marbles were also made by the early German craftsmen, and are fairly easy to identify by their pink color. Most pieces of rose quartz of any size are fractured inside, since it is quite hard to get a piece of this material in its natural state which is perfect. Bloodstone, a form of green chalcedonywith red spots scattered through it resembling drops of blood, was occasionally used for marble-making. The green color of this stone is often quite dark being almost a blue-green in shade. With this background, the small specks of red contrast quite brightly. Very few of these marbles of those of rose quartz were produced, making both types quite rare.

Marbles have also been made of Petoskey stone, a type of fossilized coral, or to be more specific it is a calcite replaced coral of the genus Hexagonaria. The genus name Hexagonaria refers to the fact that the coral cells of this group are six sided. The fossil stones display a pattern of little hexagons one next to the other across the surface, visible within marbles made from this stone. The name petoskey comes from the city of Petoskey, Michigan, and these stones are only found along Lake Michigan from Petoskey to Charlevoix, with the exception of some similar types which are found in southern Iowa and southern Indiana.

Goldstone Marbles

Goldstone marbles are actually glass. Goldstone is actually gold aventurine, which is glass containing particles of copper. Green aventurine contains chromic oxide, and reddish aventurine contains ferric oxide. Aventurine can also refer to translucent quartz which is spangled throughout with scales of mica or some other mineral. The marbles, however, are the glass with the copper flecks.

Modern Stone Marbles

Agates are still produced today in Germany and sold in the U.S. There is no way to tell the modern agates from the antiques made a century ago. Take caution when buying agate marbles, especially if many in good condition are for sale. The grinding and polishing process of agate to make marbles is still time consuming and expensive making prices of the modern agates almost as high as the older ones.

Sphere machines which can form large marbles of different types of rocks are also becoming more popular among rock hounds. Most of these spheres are fairly large, certainly larger than normal agate marbles. Today, large alabaster spheres in a variety of pretty colors made abroad are sold in the gift sections of many U. S. stores. These have little value as a collector's item, rather as a home decoration. Rose quartz marbles are fairly new to the marble market.

Clay/Crockery Marbles | China Marbles | Glass Marbles

Created July 15, 1997 by EMC ~ Updated 1/27/2007.
© Copyright 1997-2007 Refiner of Gold Creations