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The rarest marble in the world? November 13, 2013

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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?

JABO: Recreated? March 29, 2012

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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.

                                 —Steve Sturtz

                                     March 27, 2012

Why are JABO marbles so famous? July 9, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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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.

‘Nuff said?

Return from Rolley Hole. October 14, 2010

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Our friend Ben was relaxing with a mug of hard cider at a corner table in the back room of the local Colonial tavern, The Eagle Arms, trying to see his marble solitaire board in the flickering candle- and firelight. The goal of the game is to remove every marble but one from the board by hopscotching them over each other, then removing the jumped-over marbles. Sounds simple, but trust me, it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Suddenly, the sound of rapidly approaching hoofbeats, followed by a thunderous outcry, broke our friend Ben’s concentration and brought all conversation in the tavern to an abrupt halt. It could only be the stentorian voice of Ben’s friend and marble buddy, Paul Revere,* newly returned from his adventures at the Rolley Hole marble festival and competition.

“Ben! BEN!!! Wait until I tell you what happened in Tennessee,” Paul shouted, even before dismounting from his noble but exhausted (and at least partially deafened) steed. “You have to come next year, Ben. I’m telling you, it’s the best time you will ever have! It is THE marble event of them all!”

“Have a seat and a tankard, Paul, and tell us all about it,” said our friend Ben, as a serving wench plunked a foaming pewter tankard of ale in front of the marble-loving silversmith, and a group of marble enthusiasts pulled their chairs closer (but not too close, everyone was familiar with Paul’s ringing tones) to hear more. “You’d been gone so long, we were starting to think you’d moved there!”

“Or at least snuck back to Boston without stopping by to say hello,” added Duffy, another marble friend of Paul’s, puffing on a long-stemmed clay pipe from his seat by the fire.

“Not me!” Paul bellowed, waking up Motley, the tavern dog, who’d fallen asleep while keeping vigil under our friend Ben’s chair, hoping for a few scraps of bread and cheese or at least some spilled cider.

“OwOOOO!!!” Motley protested, paws over ears.

“What’s that you say, Ben?” Paul paused, swilling the ale as fast as his throat would allow. “Got to get all that road dust out of my throat before I can tell the story. Say, is this that firebrand Sam Adams’s brew? I tell you, he’s the best brewer and worst businessman in Boston! Just can’t keep his mind on anything but stirring up revolt. Drives his cousin John Adams crazy! Now, what was I saying?”

“About what kept you down Tennessee way so long we all thought you weren’t coming back?”

“Right. Well, I wanted to stay, but I had to come back to tell everybody to reserve the time in September next year,” Paul said, draining his tankard, then examining it with a metalsmith’s practiced eye. “Hmpf,” he muttered. “A three-eyed cow could do better work than this. But at least it doesn’t leak,” he added, brightening.

“More ale, please, miss!” Paul hailed a passing tavern wench, who was immediately overwhelmed with cries of “More ale!” “More grog!” “More cider!” “More beer!” and “More whiskey!” from the multitude. Everyone knew that listening to one of Paul’s tales was thirsty work.

Once the rowdy group had their hands wrapped around fresh glasses, mugs, and tankards, Paul continued. “I’m telling you, Ben, I met so many great people who welcomed me with open arms. And as we all know, that’s not always the case when you’re not part of the group. You know how sometimes we get a yokel who wants to ride his horse in our race or throw his marbles in our ring? People can be pretty hard on newcomers sometimes, especially when they don’t know what they’re doing but think they know it all and have every right to play with the pros instead of taking the time to work their way up through the ranks and learn a little something along the way.”

“A little courtesy and humility is always appreciated, too,” our friend Ben added.

“How would you know, Ben?” several voices put in.

“Well, these folks weren’t like that,” Paul hastily continued before Ben could start a brawl. “They want to perpetuate their game, and so they welcome anyone who’s brave enough to try it. And you know me, I’m game for anything.”

Heads nodded; everyone knew Paul.

“The day after I got there, I rode over to the Super Dome Marble Yard in Tompkinsville, Kentucky,” Paul continued. “Took me almost a full day to get there on horseback, but it was worth the trip. I walked through the entrance and was greeted by the onlookers… Say, Ben,” Paul broke off, eyeing the heaping platter of warm, fragrant bread and cheese beside our friend Ben’s marble board. “I don’t suppose you’re done with that, are you? I’m famished after riding all the way up here. And how about another round of ale? I’m sure I’ll need at least a pitcher to wash down all of this food!”

Suppressing a groan, our friend Ben pushed the platter across to Paul, just managing to snatch a hot buttered corn pone and a hunk of Cheddar before the starving silversmith pulled the rest of his repast out of reach. “Oh, is that an apple I see?” Paul quickly added it to his plate as Ben looked on in dismay. “Where was I? Ummm… this cheese is excellent! Too bad you didn’t eat that piece you took before the dog got it.”

A horrified Ben looked down just in time to see that Motley had roused himself and snatched the piece of Cheddar while he was distracted, and was gulping the last of the corn pone even as our friend Ben watched. Motley’s tail beat the floor as he smiled ingratiatingly before subsiding with a contented snore.

“The silent hog gets the slops,” Duffy observed.

“Silent, you say?” our friend Ben stared meaningfully at Paul, who was purposefully working his way through the remains of the bread and cheese and had long since eaten the apple, core and all.

“Mmpf… but to get back to Kentucky,” Paul resumed, smacking his lips as he licked the last buttery crumbs from his fingers. “The players were already on the marble yard when I got there, so I sat down to watch. Man, could those boys shoot! Ben, I have never seen so many men over 40 get down on their hands and knees to shoot. I met Rondell Bigerstaff, and Chris King, who won the National Rolley Hole title last year with his partner. They invited me to play. Well, I just hopped right in there and was Chris’s partner. Even though we were soundly beaten, I had fun and learned a lot.”

“But Paul, how could you just get out there and play a game you’d never played before?”

“You’ve got a point, Ben, but those fellas taught me. Told me what to shoot next and how to shoot.” Paul grinned. “Boy, it was fun. The yard was made of a golden clay so the marbles don’t bounce. And I tell you, Ben, these men are in great shape. A 70-year-old-man was down on his knees, and he jumped to a standing position without using his hands.”

Curses, crashing chairs, and falling tankards interrupted Paul’s narrative as a number of men attempted to duplicate this feat, ending up groaning on the floor to general laughter. Ben, Paul, Duffy, and Motley, roused from his post-prandial stupor by the noise, exchanged glances. Duffy summed up the general consensus: “Waste of good liquor.”

“Looks like a considerable amount was wasted already,” our friend Ben added, noting the downed men still struggling to regain their feet as they slipped on spilled ale and tripped over tankards and assorted plates and cutlery. Motley, ever the opportunist, lost no time heading over to help with the cleanup efforts.

Paul waited for some vestige of order to be restored before continuing. “After the game, I rode back to Tennessee and Standing Stone State Park where I was staying, thanks to Shawn Hughes, who organizes the tournament. When I got there, I saw that there was a marble game in progress at the marble yard, so tired as I was, I joined in. Paul Davis, the renowned flint marble-maker, was playing, along with Russell Collins and Larry Denton. I’m telling you, boys, these guys welcome strangers like they were family. We could all learn some hospitality from these folks.”

A few of the locals at The Eagle Arms took exception to this apparent slur on their manners, but most just nodded their heads in agreement. “There was a fella there who introduced himself as Bud Garrett,” Paul laughed, “but I knew better, because I’d read Darren Shell’s book A Stone’s Throw. Turns out it was Jack Tinsley, one of the Sharpshooters who went to England in 1993 and won the World Championship. Boy, they showed everyone over there how marbles were really played.”

“Whupped those Redcoats again, eh, Paul?” A few mildly inebriated patriots launched into a wobbly rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” punctuated by Motley’s howls of protest.

“So why were you so long in coming back, Paul?” Ben shouted over the din.

“I tell you, Ben, those folks in Tennessee and Kentucky are so humorous and friendly, I had a hard time dragging myself away,” Paul said, smiling at the memory. “But the real piece de resistance was the way these guys shot. Man, from 20 feet away they would let loose and, without the marble ever touching the ground, it would knock their opponent’s marble clear across the yard. In fact, that’s where mine usually ended up. They shot with back spins, side spins, and top spins. They all made their marbles dance!”

“Huzzah!” Many tankards were raised to toast the skill of these outstanding American shootists.

“But I’ve saved the best for last,” Paul announced mysteriously, hauling his saddlebag onto the table as the group crowded closer. Even Duffy’s curiosity was roused, and he ambled over to see what Paul was up to.

“Just look at these marbles!” Paul extracted a bag of flint marbles from the saddlebag and tossed it onto the table. “Malcolm Strong, who they say runs the best marble yard, gave me this one.” Paul held it up so everyone could get a good look. “When he shoots, he usually has his pipe dangling from his mouth to help his concentration.” Duffy, pipe in teeth, nodded.

“I got these from Paul Moore,” Paul continued, holding up a big handful. “Aren’t they beauties? They’re big like that for playing Tennessee Square, or, in their lingo, Big Marbles. This one’s from Paul Davis. I named it “The Domer” because it glows gold in the light. This Bud Garrett marble is a gift from Jack Tinsley. And Junior B. Strong spent a whole day rounding this marble just so he could give it to me.”

Everyone who was still mobile inched closer to admire the flint marbles in the guttering candlelight. Murmurs of appreciation and incredulity filled the room at the ingenuity of the marble-makers of Tennessee and Kentucky.

A coughing noise brought Paul’s attention back to our friend Ben, who was eyeing the flint marbles the way a miser would look at the last gold coin ever minted. “Tell you what, Ben: If you actually win that solitaire game, I’ll give you one.”

Derisive snorts followed this comment, at least on the part of those patrons still standing. Our friend Ben’s best-ever game had still left three of the 36 marbles on the board, and usually he only managed to get down to five. “Motley would have a better chance of winning,” someone pointed out.

The outcome was never determined, however, because just as our friend Ben was about to return his attention to the solitaire board, horse’s hooves could be heard pounding up to the front door of The Eagle Arms. “Paul Revere! Paul Revere!” a voice shouted, “I have word for you!” As everyone rushed for the front room, the table Ben and Paul had been occupying was upended, sending the solitaire game crashing to the floor.

“Chris King and Michael Ledbetter won the First Annual Kent Atchley Rolley Hole Invitational, just after you pulled out and headed for home,” the breathless messenger announced, his accent revealing his Tennessee roots.

“Hurrah!” shouted Paul. A general chorus of cheers arose, and one overexcited patron fired off his pistol, causing a number of other customers to dive behind the bar for safety.

“Wait,” the stranger continued. “It gets better! Jim Storsberg is organizing the Tennessee Marble Club for shooters and collectors. He’s also starting a youngsters’ shooting league, and champions like Jeff Kimmel, Chris King, Molly Kimmel, and Melissa Bowman Pickett have agreed to coach. He wanted you to know that, thanks to all of your work, it looks like marble shooting is here to stay.”

“I must leave for Boston at once to spread the good news!” Paul bellowed, scattering patrons right and left as he rushed for the door. “To horse! To horse! There’s not a moment to lose!”

The last our friend Ben saw or heard of Paul Revere was a rapidly retreating cloud of dust, from which emerged a final shout: “See you all at the Rolley Hole Tournament next year!”

* In keeping with our blog’s Colonial theme, the marble expert otherwise known as Dr. JABO prefers to be known here only as his alter-ego, Paul Revere. You can read more of our friend Ben’s adventures with Paul by searching for “A Rolley Hole revival” and “The JABOs are coming!” in our search bar at upper right.

A Rolley Hole revival. August 12, 2010

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Our friend Ben was in the back room of the local tavern, The Eagle Arms, honing my marble-shooting skills. I had just knocked my opponent’s marble out of the ring when I heard, above the clanks of pewter tankards, shouts of “More ale!”, and curses of my opponent and his evil faction, the hearty (but always hoarse; town crying is not for the faint-hearted) voice of my old marble buddy, Paul Revere.* 

“Well done, Ben!” Paul bellowed, drowning out even the most fervent pleas for hard cider, grog and the like and waking up Motley, the tavern dog, who managed to bite our friend Ben’s unfortunate opponent in the confusion before curling up and passing out. (OFB made a point of giving Motley a few scraps of bread and cheese before departing, but of course, this reflects on our friend Ben’s generous, animal-loving nature and had absolutely nothing to do with the aforementioned biting episode.)

Once the resulting hubbub and sundry threats of revenge had finally died down, Paul continued: “You’ll be heading down with me in September for the Rolley Hole marble tournament, won’t you, Ben?”

“The Rolley Hole tournament? Isn’t that held in my own native Tennessee?”

“Indeed it is,” replied Paul, draining his tankard and thumping it loudly on the table in the hope of attracting a serving wench for a refill. “It’s in Overton County, about 100 miles east of Nashville.”

Our friend Ben sighed; it would be great to revisit my native Nashville, and East Tennessee—Smokey Mountain country—is simply stunning. “I’m afraid you’re on your own, Paul,” I said, reluctantly. “September’s the start of the rainy season here, and I have a little experiment I’d like to try with a kite and key. But bring me back some flint from the Cumberland River, would you? I hear it makes really great marbles.”

“Well, I’ll leave tonight if you’re not coming with me,” Paul said, abandoning hope of a refill and heading to the front room to pay his tab. “It’ll take me a few days’ hard riding to get there, and I have some skulking—I mean, important work—to do in the weeks leading up to the tournament.”

Laughter followed Paul from the room: All the marble enthusiasts knew he was really planning to spend the pre-tournament time checking out the competition.

“Good luck, Paul!” our friend Ben shouted after him, cheerfully appropriating the foaming tankard the tavern wench had just brought for the erstwhile silversmith. “Just add it to his tab,” I added, indicating the rapidly retreating form. A faint shout from the street (surely I only thought I heard “You’ll pay for this, Ben!”) was followed by departing hoofbeats. I knew Paul was on his way, and Tennessee would never be the same.

Later that month, Paul and his exhausted steed rode into the Standing Stone Park in Hilham, Tennessee,** just in time to see the locals playing at sunset. Here is the dispatch he sent our friend Ben from the road.

From the quill of Paul Revere, written this night by the flickering candle flame in a small but jovial inn near Hilham:

All the farmers and hunters had left the fields and forests and were gathered around the rectangular playing field, where play would continue until dark. I was awed by what they were doing: This wasn’t the usual game of Ringers we were used to in New England. And boy, were they good!

I stood next to a younger man named Shawn Hughes. “What are they playing?” I asked Shawn.

“Rolley Hole,” he replied, with a grin as friendly as his voice.

“This sure isn’t the way we play marbles up in Boston,” I told him, hoping to hear more about the game.

“Well, that’s funny,” said Shawn, who, it turns out, is the park ranger. “Billy’s great-grandaddy, who was the Rolley Hole champion eight years in a row, said that his grandaddy told him this game had come here by way of the English. But Junior over there swears it came from the Cherokee.”

Shawn and I broke off our conversation as a roar came from the playing field. We edged closer for a better view. From what I could see, Rolley Hole is a team sport: two teams, two players per team. The goal is to shoot a marble into a series of three holes. No sweat, you’re thinking? Well, try this: The goal is to shoot a marble repeatedly into three holes, in a specific order, and the holes are spaced 10 feet apart on a dirt rectangle 40 feet long by 25 feet wide. And all the while, your opponents are doing their damndest to blast your marble from the field. Are you impressed now? Here’s how it works:

Shawn and I watched as one team, Corey and Austin, shot their marble into the fourth hole in succession during the first round. (Yes, I know I said there were three holes, but remember, you’re repeating your shots in a given order.) Two more rounds of sinking the marble into the middle hole, the top hole, the middle hole, and the bottom hole would see this new, untried team proclaimed the champions. Tension rumbled through the crowd.

But the other team wasn’t done yet. “Here comes George,” Shawn whispered.

“George Washington?!” I exclaimed, forgetting to whisper. I hadn’t heard that the General was a marble aficionado.

“No, no, George the local Rolley Hole whiz. And keep it down, would you, Paul? We don’t want to distract the players when they’re trying to aim.”

“Sorry, Shawn.”

“George is a member of the Tennessee Marble Collectors’ Club,” Shawn added quietly. “It was founded by Jim Storsberg and Gerald Witcher. Jim and Gerald are over in the cabin signing up new members now. You should join the club while you’re down here. But first, watch what George does now.”

The man in question, from 6 feet away, put a reverse spin on his marble and blasted Corey’s marble clear out of the field. With the extra turn he got for that move, George spanned his marble right in the hole, then shot the marble close to the other hole. If all turns out according to George’s plan, his next turn should get him right into that hole.

I looked around at the crowd. “There’s shooters and spectators here come from all over our continent,” Shawn pointed out.

Leaving the Rolley Holers (as opposed to Holy Rollers) to their work, I decided to stroll around and take in the rest of the festivities. To bring in folks from far and wide, there had to be a wide range of activities for all ages. Under a big tree, there were marble lessons for the youngsters, though I saw an older man crouched among them learning, too. There were games and hunts for the younger crowd to keep them happily occupied during the serious shoot-outs.

Live music filled the air, while two men made flint marbles like the ones used in the tournament. I smiled when I found out they were both named Paul like your humble servant. Paul Davis and Paul Moore agreed to give me the upper hand in the tournament by making me some custom-made flint marbles. (Eat your heart out, Ben. I told you to come! Maybe I’ll bring back a flint marble for you if you promise to pay for all the ale I can drink next time I stop by, to make amends for that regrettable incident with the tab. Don’t think I’ve forgotten!)

Farther down the lane, I came upon a group of men playing Tennessee Square. I stopped beside Malcolm, who was engrossed in watching the play. “My thumbs are shot,” Malcolm confided companionably. “I was a Rolley Hole player a few years back. But Tennessee Square is a lot easier on the knees. Don’t have to walk as much, and you get to talk more. Since I quit work and I quit hunting, I’ve started back to marbles. I sure love playing.”

I could hear my name being called through the woods. It was my turn up for a Rolley Hole game. As I arrived at the playing field, I confess that my courage failed for a heartbeat when I saw one of my opponents, Cathy Runyon, the renowned marble shooter from Kansas, take her place on the field. But hey, I’m not Paul Revere for nothing! I knew I was ready to take on any and all comers and no one, not even The Marble Lady herself, was going to beat me, especially with marble-maker Paul Moore himself as my partner!

“This should be interesting” was my last thought as I strode into the ring. Resting in my pocket was my secret training marble, given to me by my shooting coach, Michael Cohill of the Akron Toy Museum. I rubbed it for good luck as I knelt down in the dirt.

Please give my best regards to Silence Dogood, your good lady, and allow me to remain,

                   Yours etc.etc.,

                                  Paul Revere

Drat that Paul! Wouldn’t you know he’d leave us hanging! I guess now our friend Ben will have to wait for his return or a future dispatch to see how things turned out. But win or lose, I’m sure he’ll come up with another good story!

* Readers may recall an earlier appearance by Paul Revere here at Poor Richard’s Almanac in a post called “The JABOs are coming!” In keeping with our blog’s Colonial theme, the noted JABO marble historian, aka Dr. JABO, prefers to appear on-blog in the guise of his Colonial alter-ego. But our friend Ben is sure marble aficionados will see through his disguise.

** The National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship & Festival, billed as “The World’s Most Challenging Marble Tournament,”  is a real, annual affair, slated for Saturday September 11, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,  in 2010. For information and photos, check out these websites: http://www.tn.gov/environment/parks/StandingStone/ (for more on the park and tournament); http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/imagegallery.php?EntryID=R053 and http://www.grit.com/Community/A-Game-of-Rolley-Hole-Anyone.aspx (for an explanation, history, and rules of the game); and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCqkkG-37HA (to watch past tournaments live).

Breaking news for JABO lovers! April 8, 2010

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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—“

“WHAT?!!!”

“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.”

“GRRRRRR… “

“Ben!!!”

“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.

Pretty enough to be a JABO. March 31, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,
4 comments

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!

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