The rarest marble in the world? November 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, Dave McCullough, David McCullough, Dr. Franklin marble, JABO, machine-made marbles, marble collecting, marbles, Poor Richard's Alamanac, Sammy's Mountain Marbles, Steve Sturtz
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Our friend Ben isn’t talking about the marble that is used to make kitchen countertops, palaces, and sculptures here, but about the round glass marbles, the so-called “toy” marbles, revered and collected by folks like me.
On my computer desk is a “Dr. Franklin” marble, named after our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin. It was created in a marble run sponsored by Steve Sturtz, “Dr. JABO,” produced at the JABO plant in Marietta, Ohio, one of the last marble producers in the U.S. (with the iconic Marble King), and created by the preeminent machine marble-maker of all time, the legendary Dave McCullough. (Check out Sammy’s Mountain Marbles for his latest amazing creations.)
“Dr. Franklin” is a beautiful, complex creation, with brilliant opaque orange, opaque pink, and glittery black aventurine suspended in a clear matrix. It’s spectacular. But it’s also rare. There are probably fewer than 50 Dr. Franklin marbles in existence, certainly fewer than 100. They are one of the most beautiful marbles our friend Ben, a rabid marble collector, has ever seen. I love marbles, I have many jars and boxes of marbles, but the Dr. Franklin is the only marble I showcase.
Thank you Dr. Franklin, thank you Steve, thank you Dave, and thank you to the crew at JABO that made these marvelous marbles. As the Marines’ motto goes, the few, the proud. The rarest marble in the world?
What has become of the Marble Master? February 3, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Beri Fox, Berry Pink, collecting marbles, Dave McCullough, David McCullough, Eddie Seese, JABO, JABO marbles, machine-made marbles, marble collecting, Marble King, MarbleFest, marbles, Marbles: Ancient Art and Modern Play DVD, modern handmade marbles, Steve Davis
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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.
JABO: Recreated? March 29, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Dave McCullough, Dave McCullough marbles, David McCullough, JABO, JABO closing, JABO marbles, JABO reopening, marble collecting, marbles, Steve Sturtz
Sad news for marble lovers (like our friend Ben) everywhere: JABO, the world’s premier creator of machine-made marbles, is losing the creative geniuses who made these exceptional marbles possible. Find the details in today’s guest post, contributed by our marble buddy and JABO authority Steve Sturtz:
JABO is closed and will be reopening in the near future with a new glass maker. No longer will the three glass makers who made JABO famous be there: Richard, Ronnie, and David are gone.
I think of all the wonderful things that have happened… the wonderful marbles that have been made by David McCullough in the last 20 years and particularly the last five or six years with the Experimentals. I have documented the beginnings of these marbles in “David’s JABO Renaissance” and in “2008 JABO Classics: The Experimentals.” The rest of his great body of work will be documented in the near future. I believe the standards of excellence he has set in machine-made marble making will stand the test of time.
JABO no longer has a proven think tank so they begin anew with high hopes, great expectations, and a very curious marble-buying community. There are huge shoes to be filled and there will be many questions about their ability to do so.
That said, whoever is lucky enough to run JABO Classics in the near future has a huge advantage. They will have the advantage of using the tank that David McCullough has designed, a tank that reflects his latest advancements in marble-making. So over the short-term, anyone who makes marbles in that tank should get reasonable West Virginia swirls. The only disadvantage for the new team at JABO is that they do not have 40 years of experience, 40 years of their blood, sweat and tears and 40 years of the McCullough magic.
I wish the new unproven team at JABO well, but they will be a new JABO. They will be using a tank that David McCullough designed with almost forty years of experience. It is a tank that can and should make great West Virginia swirls and flames. I hope the new group can make the tank sing the sweet music that David has built into its fiery core. The first run they make will be interesting and fun, but the real test of their mastery will come when they will eventually have to build their own tank. Their excellence can only begin to show when marbles are created out of a new JABO tank with a new JABO palette.
The contract runs are supposed to continue according to a statement by JABO’s accountant. These runs provided a way for JABO to generate incremental income to (reportedly) move from losses to becoming a profitable business again.
One thing is very clear. Any marbles made in the future will not be the same. They will not be McCullough JABOs. In the past, all of the Experimentals that were made were JABO contract runs. They were contracted with JABO on the condition that David McCullough makes those marbles, not because of JABO, or the JABO name, but because of the art and skill of David McCullough. Anyone who comes in behind David is going to have a very steep learning curve. The new crew will also have to make improvements to what has already been made before them. I am not aware of anyone who has that much experience or such a strong supporting cast. So any marble that is made in the future will not be the same as those made in the past. They may be better. They may be worse. I wish anyone who makes marbles at JABO well. They are keeping one of the last marble companies still operating open.
No matter what happens, David McCullough is retired and JABO enters a new era. David will be missed for his kindness, knowledge, and beautiful marbles.
Good luck to the new and very different JABO.
March 27, 2012
Why are JABO marbles so famous? July 9, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Dave McCullough, David McCullough, JABO, JABO marbles, marble collecting, marbles, Steve Sturtz
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Our friend Ben thought this reader query was funny at first, but then I realized that it was no laughing matter. People didn’t realize why JABO marbles weren’t like other marbles. People needed to know.
All righty, then. JABO marbles are, first of all, so famous because of the genius of their creator, David McCullough, and his talented crew. No machine-made marbles, not even the revered Akro, Peltier, and etc., marbles, have ever approached JABOs for their colorful complexity.
JABO marbles are, secondly, so famous because Dave McCullough and company had the brilliant idea of producing limited runs of marbles for private investors, using different materials to make sure each run was different and giving them all catchy names. This made them exclusive, interesting, limited, and extremely collectible.
Finally, JABO marbles are so famous because of the efforts of marble historians like Steve Sturtz, aka Dr. JABO, whose books and articles chronicle the history and thinking behind these marvelous marbles. It’s exciting to live in a time when marble history is being simultaneously made and documented for posterity.
Breaking news for JABO lovers! April 8, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Dave McCullough, David McCullough, JABO, JABO marbles, marble collecting, marbles, Steve Sturtz
Attention, marble lovers and collectors everywhere: Here’s a scoop on today’s hottest machine-made marbles, JABOs. Remember, you read it here first!
Around midnight last night, a shadowy figure who, in keeping with our blog’s Colonial tone, prefers to be known only as Paul Revere,* rode up to Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben’s and Silence Dogood’s cottage home, swinging his lantern and shouting “The JABOs are coming! The JABOs are coming!!!”
Lurching groggily to the door, our friend Ben opened it to be hit with a faceful of dust from the rapidly advancing hooves of the noted silversmith’s horse as he reined to a halt and swung off his steed. Once sight was restored, OFB, still coughing slightly, invited Paul inside.
“Silence! It’s Paul Revere! Would you bring us some ale, please? I’ll be starting up the fire in the living room.” No slouch, Silence was at the living room door with two brimming mugs of ale before you could say “Lexington and Concord.”
“Paul, what’s going on? Don’t tell me the British are at it again!”
Turns out, it was even more momentous news, at least as far as marble-lovers are concerned. Here’s what Paul told us:
“While I was resting over a tankard in Marietta, I overheard Joe, the postal worker from Wells Fargo, tell a wonderfully exciting story of a JABO marble run that is about to take place. The story was told to him by a generally unreliable old cur of a hound, but for once he had some of the facts.
“I edged closer to hear the full scoop. It appears that the JABO Tributes were given the chance to do a 1″ run at JABO.** He said that this will be the first and maybe the only 1″ run in 3 years. Everyone at his table shouted ‘No!’ and ‘Impossible!’, so I didn’t hear what he said next, but as the table quieted down, I heard him say something about how huge the costs would be. The base glass will be custom-batched, with some extra glass added for another group to run smaller marbles.
“The whole table was in an uproar by this time, so I left the inn with the idea that even though Joe had some of the specifics, there was more to this story… “
“Speaking of leaving the inn, Paul, I see that your mug is empty. Care for a refill?”
“Thank’ee, Silence, don’t mind if I do. Riding these dusty backroads every midnight shouting the news is mighty thirsty work. Now, where was I? Oh, yes…
“I walked around the town and talked to the usual supporters in the area. Still, the information was sketchy at best, so I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Did you say something, Ben?”
“Me? Not a word, Paul. Please go on!”
“Hmpf. Well, I raced to the blacksmith shop where my horse was tethered for the night and I galloped the 7 miles to Reno, Ohio. My steed was tired and I, excited. I spoke with David McCullough himself,*** and he completed the story.
“According to David, the amount of base glass per marble will be 2 1/2 times that used to make a 3/4″ marble, because the surface area of a 1″ marble is 2 1/4 times that of a 3/4″ marble.”
“Then why won’t the amount of base glass be 2 1/4 times as much instead of 2 1/2 times?”
“Ben, I’m a silversmith, not a marble-maker! You’ll have to ask David that question yourself. But if he said it, I’m sure it’s true.”
“I agree with you there, Paul! David is as great a marble-maker as you were, ah, are a silversmith, for sure. Maybe there’s some evaporation involved or something.”
“Slept through chemistry class, eh, Ben?”
“Shut up, Silence. Paul, you were saying?”
“According to David, the gold aventurine will cost about $15,000—”
“Ben, did you think making premium marbles was cheap? Think about it: Between the cost of materials, the cost of buying, maintaining, and running the equipment, and the priceless expertise involved in creating these masterworks, maybe you can see why collectors invest thousands of dollars in their collections. It’s not like we’re talking about, say, scribbling away on a computer.”
“Uh, sorry, Silence, Paul. Just clearing a little road dust out of my throat. Paul, you were saying?”
“Right. The gold aventurine will cost about $15,000, and then the gold Lutz rod will be about $500 per kilo, and many kilos will be used. The total cost of this run will be 2 to 3 times more than any 3/4″ run to date. Apparently, the Tributes have gathered most of the money and are planning on a mid- to late-May run. The name they have chosen for this unique run is ‘What a Tribute!’ It sure looks like David McCullough will have all the materials he wants to set still another standard of excellence in marble-making.”
“So what does David think about the run, Paul?”
“The rumor is that David is very excited about this run and was overheard to say with a huge smile and a wink, ‘We’ll make you some real pretty marbles.’
“Will JABO collectors like us be able to watch the marbles being made, Paul?”
“You betcha, Ben. Tributes from the four corners of the continent will assemble at the JABO factory in Reno, Ohio, to watch these beautiful marbles being made. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of marble history, just like I became part of American history.
“So, Ben and Silence, I hope you’re as excited about this development as I am. I will keep watch over the proceedings and inform you of any new developments. So au revoir for now! I must take to horse and return to Marietta to keep an eye on things.”
Leaping onto his long-suffering—I mean, trusty—steed, the last we saw of Paul Revere was his retreating form, trailed by a cloud of dust and the echo of “The JABOs are coming!”
* The modest personage wishing to be known simply as Paul Revere, and bearing no resemblance whatever to the “generally unreliable old cur of a hound” of his story, might nonetheless be known to the cognoscenti by his alter-ego, JABO’s principal historian, aka Dr. JABO.
** For those new to the wide and wild world of marble collecting, three explanations are due here. First, marbles are made in numerous sizes, but machine-made marbles are typically made in 1/2, 3/4, and 1-inch sizes. Second, marble production typically occurs in “runs,” so-called because the machines are fired up, the glass and other materials are shoveled in, and the marbles are produced in a single stretch of time and at full tilt, with everyone running to complete that batch of marbles until the raw materials run out. And third, if you’re wondering why these particular collectors are referred to by Paul Revere as “Tributes,” it’s because they collect and finance the Tribute runs that David McCullough has produced for JABO.
*** David McCullough is not only the presiding genius responsible for the creation of JABO marbles, arguably the hottest collectibles in the marble field today, but is almost certainly the greatest creator of machine-made marbles who ever lived.
JABO’s on a roll. August 4, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Dave McCullough, JABO, marble collecting, marbles
Our friend Ben is a marble enthusiast. No, not marbles as in marble countertops, marbles as in those intricate, colorful spheres that were once used as street toys by Depression-era boys and now are cherished by collectors, including yours truly. I love the old, handmade German marbles of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I love the homely clay marbles that have been made from Ancient Egypt through the Civil War, and beyond. I love the impressive array of machine-made marbles that emerged when America became the marble-making capital of the world at the turn of the twentieth century, and great names like M.F. Christensen, Christensen Agate, Akro, Peltier, Alley, Champion, and Marble King worked their wizardry in glass. I love the fabulous handmade artisanal marbles being made today by artists in studios across the country and the world.
But as dedicated readers will recall from previous posts (“JABO: A Classic” and “Pretty enough to be a JABO”), one of my greatest marble love affairs is with JABO Inc. JABO is a comparatively modern marble factory, coming into existence in the late 1980s after Mexico had already made a bid for marble supremacy through its Vacor marble factory. JABO’s industrial marble production withstood the threat of Vacor, even diversifying into what are called “gems,” the flat glass disks that crafters use in vases and aquariums. But ultimately, JABO’s profitabililty was dealt an apparent death blow by the rise of China as a source of industrial and cheap play marbles.
By the time JABO rose to prominence, almost all the American marble titans had fallen like dominoes, first to Japan’s cheap, innovative post-WWII cat’s-eye marbles, then to Mexico’s cheap labor, and finally to the death of marbles as a hugely popular kids’ game. Marbles was one of the preeminent kids’ games in the 1930s, but by the 1960s, TV, air conditioning, and faceless suburbs had supplanted neighborhoods where parents socialized on front porches and kids played in the dusty streets. Marbles went the way of Pogo, Buster Brown, and Flappers: into the quaint archives of social history. The great American marble industry, which had thrived through the Depression as more august businesses withered, could not withstand the isolation and alienation that characterized 20th-century suburban living.
Still, two American marble companies managed to hang on: Marble King, the last of the old-time marble companies, and JABO, the new kid on the block. Marble King has survived by doing what it always did, promoting the sale of play marbles to kids as affordably as possible. JABO has survived because of its visionary leader, marble-maker extraordinaire David McCullough, his talented staff, and marble enthusiasts who can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next.
In 2009, when the marble world was watching JABO with bated breath, wondering when it would breathe its last, the company has been going forward, breaking new ground in machine-made marble history, if anything revitalized by the threat to its existence. It’s a real testament to the faith and vision of Dave McCullough & co., to the support of patrons who appreciate JABO’s contributions to machine-made marble history, and to the ongoing interest in beautiful marbles among collectors.
Marbles are made in “runs,” when scrap glass, called cullet, is shoveled into a fiery furnace and the molten glass pours out through a series of mechanisms to form the familiar orbs. They’re called “runs” because, once you’ve heated the furnace and started shovelling the glass, you don’t stop until you’ve run out of the cullet and there’s nothing more to put in the fire. (To watch this process in action, check out the video Joe Street made of a JABO Tribute run at http://www.vidler.com/explore/joemarbles/videos/1/.)
The process sounds simple, right? Heat the furnace, dump in scrap glass, make marbles. Not quite. The genius of great marble-makers is knowing exactly what kinds of glass cullet to add, in what quantity and order, at what heat, to get what results. They say that God is in the details, and that’s never more true than in marble-making, where results depend on the weather, the available materials, the marble-maker’s vision and knowledge, and simple dumb luck as much as anything else. That’s why JABO’s 2009 runs, including the Tribute to Friendship run, in which our friend Ben was honored to participate, as well as March Madness, JOKER II, the fabulous Ultra run, and numerous others, have been such an extraordinary testament to the skill of Dave McCullough and such a fantastic legacy for American marble-making.
If you love marbles but haven’t really thought about them in a while, make sure you check out what JABO’s been up to and get some of these extraordinary marbles for yourself (eBay’s a great source). If you’re already a JABO fanatic, don’t miss Dave’s latest and greatest.
And if you simply love the nostalgia of a simpler time, when Lincoln Logs, marbles, Monopoly, and other real, touchable games reigned supreme and you faced your opponents—usually good friends—in real life, rather than in cyberspace, you might want to start a collection of marbles from the last great American marble company. Our friend Ben knows one thing: You won’t regret it.
Pretty enough to be a JABO. March 31, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: collectible marbles, Dave McCullough, JABO marbles, Steve Sturtz
Like most marble collectors, our friend Ben is an eBay addict. Yes, you might stumble on a nice jar of old marbles at a flea market or antiques mall, or, as I once did, a couple of bargain cigar boxes in a beatup old garage. But mostly, if you want marbles, you want to see what’s up on eBay.
Recently, our friend Ben scored what I thought was a huge coup on eBay, a group of hand-selected old marbles that looked just fantastic for basically pocket change. (Thank you, marble gods!) In due time, the marbles arrived and looked even better in person than they did on eBay.
I was thrilled. As I gently poured each bag out into my palm, I recognized that I was holding prime examples of the great creators of marble history: Akro Agate, MF Christensen, Christensen Agate, Alley, Peltier, Marble King, Vitro. Oh, wow, these were wonderful marbles. There were even some fantastic multicolored clays and Benningtons. I was beyond excited.
Then came the moment of truth. I had poured one of the bags into my hand and was admiring my latest treasure, when I found myself looking at one of the marbles and muttering, “Why, that’s almost pretty enough to be a JABO.” Whoa, what was I saying?!
JABOs are the newbies on the American marble scene. Disdained by serious marble collectors for years, in 2008 they finally came into their own. By the time of this writing, late March 2009, not only do the world’s great marble collectors recognize that JABOs rank at the forefront of machine-made marbles, most of these collectors have financed their own special runs of JABOs. Which is to say, they’ve put their money where they think the history of marbles will be.
On a much more modest scale, I’ve done this, too. My love affair with JABOs turned into a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in a JABO special run at the factory earlier this month, thanks to the generosity of official JABO historian Steve Sturtz, aka Dr. JABO, and the endless kindness of JABO marble-making genius Dave McCullough. (Steve even invited me to contribute an essay to his latest book, 2008 JABO Classics: The Experimentals.) Woo-hoo! Does this make me a JABO expert?!
Uh, no. Does it make me even more excited about the amazing marbles Dave and JABO have been putting out over the last couple of years, full of gold lutz, silver mica, green and blue aventurine, red, pink, blue, and purple oxblood, and designs and colors like you wouldn’t believe? You betcha.
I know, I know, that JABO’s marbles are as good or better than any machine-made marbles the world has ever seen. But even knowing, I was surprised to catch myself spilling this batch of primo marbles into my hand and thinking, “Why, this one’s almost pretty enough to be a JABO!”
Damn right. Time to shake myself and confront the truth: JABOs are beautiful. JABOs are more than beautiful. JABOs are the most beautiful. Any other machine-made marble can consider itself lucky to be compared to a JABO and be found almost worthy. Pretty enough to be a JABO? Not likely. But pretty enough to rate the comparison? Okay!