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What has become of the Marble Master? February 3, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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As longtime readers know, our friend Ben is an avid marble collector. So I was thrilled to find a DVD at Land of Marbles (http://www.LandofMarbles.com) called “Marbles: Ancient Art and Modern Play.” It arrived yesterday and I couldn’t wait to watch it.

Unfortunately, the first half of the DVD was devoted to the National Marbles Tournament in Wildwood, New Jersey. This is a tournament for boys and girls ages 7-14, and has been a yearly event since it was launched by Berry Pink in 1922. It was fun to hear the action narrated by Beri Fox, whose father founded Marble King—one of just two companies still making marbles in the U.S. and only three in all North America—with Berry Pink (for whom she is named). Marble King still sponsors the annual event.

So why was this unfortunate? If you collect marbles, the only games you’re prepared to play with them are solitaire and Chinese checkers, which don’t harm the marbles. Games like “ringer” (the one played in the tournament) involve shooting marbles out of a ring by hitting them with other marbles. Ouch! This can result in chips, cracks and scuffs to the marbles. Since even the finest antique handmade marbles and the rarest, most coveted machine-made marbles were all intended for rough children’s play, all collectors have known the heartbreak of seeing masterpieces of the marble-maker’s craft defaced by play. It hurts to even think about it, much less watch it.

After the tournament segment, the cameras rolled on an event that would make any self-respecting marble collector drool: The annual MarbleFest in Cairo (pronounced like Karo syrup rather than the city of the pharaohs), West Virginia, where marbles are bought and sold and displayed for purely educational purposes. Here, in tray after tray, was the cream of the marble crop, a collector’s heaven. Our friend Ben has never been lucky enough to attend a marble show, but having been to shell and coin shows (and to bead shows with Silence Dogood), I know what to expect. Imagine an antiques show where all the booths were full of marbles! It sure makes my heart beat faster.

Next came a segment in which the cameras followed Beri Fox, now the owner of Marble King, back to the plant, where we got to see machine-made marbles being made, and got a history lesson on marble production as well. (I believe she said that Marble King produces a million marbles a day!)

Seeing the machines in action reminded our friend Ben of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I had several years ago to go to JABO Inc., to see the great master of machine-made marbles, Dave McCullough, do a special run of marbles on JABO’s machines. It was a privilege and a thrill, both an extremely educational and an awe-inspiring experience. (Thank you, Steve Sturtz, for making that possible!)

The DVD ended with profiles of modern art-glass masters Steve Davis and Eddie Seese, visiting their studios and watching them produce intricate hand-made marbles. (This was especially fun since I own marbles made by both artists.) It was fascinating to me to see how different the two artists’ techniques were, and how incredibly time-consuming the process of marble-making is when done by hand.

Given how long it takes to make a single marble, and how many intricate steps are involved, and how easy it would be to screw everything up, I’m now more grateful to own these beautiful works than ever, and simply wonder how they could possibly be affordable. Thanks be to all who put their time and creativity into making beautiful marbles!

But after watching the DVD, I couldn’t help but wonder why the producers hadn’t visited that other great bastion of American marble-making, JABO, and interviewed the greatest maker of machine-made marbles who ever lived, the Man, David McCullough. (Not that I don’t love M.F. Christensen and the fabulous Christensen Agate and Akro Agate, Peltier, Marble King, and all the others, but you just have to look at Dave’s special runs and the competition is over.) I was disappointed not to see the master at work and hear his thoughts on marble-making, not to mention some of his more recent work.

In a blow to marble collectors everywhere, Dave retired from JABO a few years ago; his last special marble run, to the best of my knowledge, was in 2010. There was excitement in the marble community in 2012 when a rumor flew around that Dave and some of his most talented colleagues were planning to open a marble production facility of their own. Our friend Ben couldn’t wait to see what Dave and company would come up with next! But sadly, I’ve heard nothing further on this, and can find nothing on the internet.

Those of you who are more tied into the marble community than our friend Ben, if you have any updates, please let me know! Fingers crossed that the plans are still in progress. In the meantime, thank you, Beri, for keeping a great tradition alive. Long live the (Marble) King! And long live the Marble Master.

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1. nddomer - July 18, 2013

Hello Ben!

There is still lots going on in the marble world.

Ralph Lucht wrote a wonderful book entitled “Arnold Fiedler, Glass Maker Par Excellence” which shared some new information and has led some of us to start trying to learn more about Henry Helmers who replaced Fiedler at Akro. Helmers graduated from Michigan as an engineer and his first job was glass superintendent at Akro. Our understanding of Helmers is totally changing our knowledge of the glass makers and who did what.There is an on going conversation about rewriting and expanding his work.

Lawrence E. Alley III started a family genealogy, but with a little prodding has moved it toward a book about his grandfather and his career in the glass world.It turns out that Lawrence E. Alley was not only a marble maker, but a community father in the best sense of the word.

Cross referencing LEA’s work with Helmers’ work is opening some doors.

Gerald Witcher is writing a book about MK. It is already outstanding. As we learn more the project slows, but improves. Can’t wait to see it done and in hand.

It looks as if the National Marble tournament has its origins with SC Dyke…more to follow.

Next year is the 25th anniversary of Marlow Peterson and Larry Castle’s book on machine made marbles.It was the first book written entirely on machine mades. I use it as a mark of the beginning of machine made marble collecting as a formal hobby.

Paul Baumann sold his collection, but is still active in the background. His fourth edition will not be republished.

David McCullough is alive and well. He is making marbles at Sammy’s Mountain Marbles. The first couple of runs were nothing special compared to his standards. BUT, he now has his new machine singing his beautiful music. He is making better mibs than ever.The runs are very small and infrequent…retirement you know.

David’s passion for excellence continues to grow.

I am working on a bibliography of books about how to play marbles.It looks like a book from the seventies is still the best. We shall see.

I sure miss seeing Ben stop from a gallop and taking time to chat.

Thanks, Steve! Bless your heart for this update! Sounds like I’ll have to clear some shelf space for new books! As for Ben, I’m sure he and Paul Revere and the gang will soon be visiting a tavern near you!


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