American Toy Marble Museum

Special Announcement: This museum is currently not open. It expected to re-open at a new location at some point in time.


Excerpt from a past edition of OhioTraveler
by Robert Carpenter

Cleveland pays tribute to Rock and Roll, and Canton has enshrined the game of football, but it’s Akron that holds all the marbles—though hardly bullies of the playground.  They’re eager to share everything there is to know about the little spheres—the simplest of toys—that engender more wistfulness than any plaything in memory.

The history is chronicled at The American Toy Marble Museum which is inside the Akron History Museum at Lock 3 Park in downtown Akron.  It’s on the original site of the defunct company bearing the same name, started in 1891 by Sam and A.L. Dyke.  The Dyke philosophy was to put a handful of marbles in the possession of every kid who had a penny.  Certainly they had the capacity.  At it’s peak the company produced an incredible million marbles per day.  Considering their longevity there must be an enormous cache of marbles consigned to attic and basement storage boxes, because today there are relatively few rolling free.

The game is rarely played on school campuses anymore.   It requires a skill long since relegated to antiquity in favor of electronic gimmickry displaying images on Cathode-ray tubes.

At its height of popularity during WWII, the game played down in the dirt of every schoolyard was preferred over all others.  It was traditional, but economically prompted as well.  At a time when many items were either rationed or unavailable, marbles were still cheap and plentiful.

The best recollection of grade school is a scene of grassless level areas inscribed with circles of various diameters to accommodate all ranks of players.  Liberation from the classroom would spawn a dozen or more games at once creating an atmosphere of excitement that rivaled that of any latter-day sport.

It was a time when every boy who valued his worth arrived at school equipped for the game, and hoped to depart with the spoils of victory.

Marbles conferred status.  Some were fortunate enough to buy their initial supply, and others were thankful for prizes from breakfast cereal boxes to seed their entry into the competition.  From there on it was a zero-sum game. If you won, someone else lost, and the larger your collection, the greater your image.  Your accumulation was in constant flux, and carried in a sack—the size being indisputable evidence of your skill. Up to about the fourth grade, the worship bestowed upon the school marbles champ was commensurate to that of a football hero. Knee patches and dirt ground into sometimes-calloused knuckles were badges of honor.

A few girls had their troves as well, but they were rarely interested in playing, instead displaying their collection for aesthetic value.

Most arrived well versed in the game but a few were unfamiliar.  There were loose interpretations of some rules, and the more arbitrary were often settled in a scuffle. Others were adhered to strictly, and ignorance didn’t excuse enforcement.  Those undiscouraged found the competition spirited and initiation unavoidably quick. Some rules like “no hunching,” were never bent.  That meant your first shot couldn’t be from inside the circle. If you didn’t yell “dubs” when scattering more than one marble out of the ring, you couldn’t keep them all. “Knuckle down bony tight” was an admonishment often shouted. No one quite understood the “bony tight” part of the rebuke, but that didn’t prevent liberal use in every game.  And then, of course there was “snatty grabs.”  Everyone quickly learned the meaning of that decree. It was the point at which the game became a contact sport.  When the school bell rang before the game ended, someone yelled the command making it legal to dive into the pot, elbows flying and heads butting, to grab as many of the remaining marbles as you could get away with.

Some marbles were especially attractive, and collections were envied as much for quality as quantity. There were glass marbles, those made of clay, china, porcelain, and rare ones carved from stone. “Cats eyes,” were desirable as were the rich-looking colors and designs that were called “beauties.” The larger sizes were referred to as “boulders,” and the small ones “peawees.” The most valuable were the heavier than normal marbles deemed “shooters.”  Their weight imparted a force that could thrust others from the ring with authority.  Only the most inept left their shooters inside the ring as fair game for the next player.

Although initiated in the 1920’s, national marbles tournaments didn’t flourish until immediately after WWII.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars sponsored the tournaments, culminating with the national championship in Atlantic City.

Like most things appealing to youth, the wartime generation eventually put away early pursuits in support of more adult adventures.  But, it was assumed the marbles game would retain its momentum through endless cycles.  However, in the 1970’s interest on a large scale ceased—corresponding with the ushering in of the age of electronics. Sixty years ago no one suspected technology would nearly obliterate a respected pastime of centuries.

In retrospect one thing is clear. Marbles were the most economical and indestructible toys ever invented. The game was character building. It taught fair play and competitiveness at a formative age.  It’s questionable whether any game of the electronic age can claim the same.  One might ask too, if any of the techno-wizards have a clue as to where expressions such as “taking all the marbles,” or  “losing your marbles” came from. It’s doubtful.

By Robert Carpenter
Robert Carpenter was born and raised in the New Philadelphia, Ohio area. He’s a freelance writer presently living in Florida.

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