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Marbles

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Some marbles.

Marbles, also known as 'alleys', 'taws', 'merps' and 'dobblers', are small hard balls made from clay, stone, wood, glass, steel or any other suitable material. They have been made for thousands of years and games with marbles are popular in countries all around the world. Names can vary from town to town within each country. The best marbles are often known as 'alleys' and are prized for their accuracy. A marble being used by a player is often known as a 'taw' or a 'shooter'.

History and Development

The earliest marbles were made of flint, stone and baked clay. Marbles have been found at archaeological sites around the world, including both Egypt and Rome. Some of these can be found at the British Museum.

Glass marbles were not mass produced until the invention of marbles scissors (later known as shears) in 1846 by a German glassblower when glass marbles became increasingly popular throughout Europe and America. A variety of colours were used in the production of marbles with intricate designs being created within the glass.

The bulk production of clay marbles began from around 1870 on both sides of the Atlantic and in the 1890s the first machines for the manufacture of glass marbles were introduced. When the First World War cut off supplies of marbles to America, it stimulated production of glass marbles in the USA.

Hand-made glass marbles are now a rarity, although they are still produced. These days glass marbles are by far the most popular type as glass lends itself to machine production and the finished product is appealing to the eye and the touch.

Glass marbles are produced by melting the glass in a furnace and pouring it out. Different coloured glasses are injected into the flowing glass where required. The glass is cut into regular cylinders by shears. These pieces then drop into moving mechanical rollers, which round them off and leave them to cool.

Shooting

The most common method of shooting1 a marble along the ground is known as 'fulking'2. It goes like this:

  1. The knuckle of the forefinger is put on the ground and the marble balanced in the bent forefinger.

  2. The thumb is put behind the forefinger and then released with whatever force is required.

A second, more accurate method used by experts is 'knuckling down'. Here's how to do it:

  1. The marble is held above the first joint of the thumb by the tip of the forefinger.

  2. The top of the thumb is held by the middle finger.

  3. The hand is kept quite still with the knuckle on the ground.

  4. The thumb is released with the required force and great accuracy may be obtained with this method.

When aiming, the target should be steadily looked at and its exact position should be thoroughly taken in by the eye while the marble is held in the hand. The eye directs the brain which automatically directs the hand.

Games and How to Play Them

Please bear in mind that the rules can vary wildly from region to region and that it is not at all unusual to make the rules up on the spot.

Before starting a game of marbles, players should agree whether they are playing for 'keeps' or not. 'Keeps' means that a player who wins a marble may keep it. Generally you win an opponent's marble by striking it with your own. On occasion, players may agree to play for 'keeps' for certain types of marbles, but not for others, in which case, they may substitute other less valuable marbles for the one won.

Conqueror

This game can be played by any number of players and the marbles shot can be any size. An order of play is decided.

The first player throws forward a marble to a distance of their choice, usually the distance that he throws best at. The second player then shoots at this marble.

Hitting the marble means winning it, but if he misses, he will then throw a new marble to restart the game. If he misses it, however, this marble (the one just thrown) remains in the field. A third player may shoot at either marble, capturing it in the event of a hit, but leaving the marble in play if he misses. A marble shot with force which bounces off several marbles in the field will capture all those which are hit.

If a player chooses an expensive alley, he may have the advantage of accuracy, but may stand to lose it in the event of a miss.

Dobblers

This is a game for any small number of players. Each player gives one or more marbles to a straight line of marbles spaced so that there is room for two marbles to pass through the gaps.

Each player then shoots in turn and may keep any marbles he hits. The player's taw remains where it lies at the end of the turn and subsequent turns are played from there the taw lies. A player whose taw is hit by another taw must add one marble to the line.

Ring Taw

This is one of the best known and most popular of all marbles games for a group of players. Two circles are drawn on the ground. The inner circle should be about 1ft (30cms) in diameter and the outer should be about 7ft (2m) diameter.

The players each put an agreed number of marbles into the inner ring. The order of play is decided and the players take turns to shoot their taw from any point on the outer ring at the marbles in the centre.

Any marbles knocked out of the centre ring are pocketed by the shooter and he is entitled to shoot again from the spot where his taw lies. 'Sticking' or shooting all marbles out of the ring consecutively and winning the game without giving an opponent a turn is usually good for two days of playground bragging rights.

When a shot is unsuccessful, play passes to the next player and the taw remains on the ground where is lies, if that spot is within the outer ring. The next player may then shoot at the marbles in the centre or at any of the opponents' taws. If he strikes a taw, its owner has to pay him one marble and he takes another shot. The shooter may not strike the same opponent's taw twice in a row. The game continues until the ring is cleared.

Interesting Links

1Games of marbles are played by aiming a marble at another with the intention of hitting them. The action of aiming and throwing is known as 'shooting'.2In both 'fulking' and 'knuckling down' the palm of the hand is face upwards with the back of the hand on the ground.

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