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JABO’s on a roll. August 4, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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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.



1. elephant's eye - August 5, 2009

I love marbles. They turn up in the garden as relics of little boys long ago.

How fun! I love archaeology as well, so you’re combining three of my passions in one: gardening, archaeology, and marbles. YES!!!! There’s nothing like finding treasures in the ground, even if they’re little treasures like marbles (or radishes).

2. Steve - August 19, 2009


There are people, myself included, who would refer to you as a “JABO puke”! Congratulations!

The path to discovery is winding as you, the author, know. It is the path that is the fun. ..like the chickens in the back yard. I just got off the phone from calls to David M and WV Ron. We were talking about how “common” 4, 5, 6, 7, and yes 8 color marbles are for JABO…even from the early days. Many of these will be on display at the Texas Marble Club show on October 17 in Fort Worth.

Wait until people start learning about these. They will find…”almost pretty enough to be a JABO”…as one of the, if not the most important clause ever said about these marbles.

Sure do enjoy your blog on a regular basis. I say this because I have missed for the last couple of weeks and Mark Block asked me about this piece so here I am. Thanks.

Hi Steve! Uh, thanks… I think… though I must say, the word “puke” brings to mind the cats throwing up hairballs, so I dunno…

Anyway, I just hope I got all (or at least most of) the facts right here! If not, jump back in with corrections, please! I think JABO’s legacy will rewrite marble history, just as it’s revitalized marble collecting. But as the person who’s done more than anyone to chronicle and promote this wonderful company, you don’t need me to tell you that!

3. Edna Eaton - August 19, 2009

Hi Ben,

I too love JABO. I also love vintage machine mades and contemporary hand mades. I don’t think the experimental JABO’s, the classics or any other will “kill” the vintage market as many people think. If anything, the prices for the JABO’s will attract new collectors to the hobby. They are beautiful, very colorful, some even sparkly….. very pleasing to the eye. And they are affordable. Even kids can collect them. Glad you wrote another piece on JABO. Thanks! Edna

Hi Edna! What a great point! I’m frankly shocked that anyone could think such a thing. Far from killing the vintage market, JABOs are an entry point for beginning collectors as well as an area of specialization for knowledgeable enthusiasts. As beginners gain appreciation and knowledge through their JABOs, through reading, and by attending shows, their interests will doubtless expand to include vintage marbles as well. It would be like saying that interest in collecting Fiestaware destroyed the market for Sevres and Imari! They’re all beautiful and have wide appeal, but we can all collect Fiestaware, while not everyone can afford or display high-end porcelain. However, it certainly retains its fascination to those who can appreciate and afford it. Let’s hope this misapprehension is laid to rest once and for all!

4. Edna Eaton - August 19, 2009

The Texas Marble Collector’s Club has a show in Ft. Worth, Texas October 15th – 17th. Steve Sturtz, Bill McCaleb, and Ron Shepherd will be there with huge displays of West Virginia swirls and will be holding some classes to teach us how to identify which company made the swirls. There will also be large displays of JABO – some not for sale and some for sale. If you’re reading this and have always wanted to know more about the West Virginia swirls, this is the show for you. Of course we’ll also have plenty of vintage and contemps. Fred Wilganoski, our own Texas marble maker will be there with plenty of eye candy. Joe Lovell, marble maker may also be there. Thanks again for your JABO writings. Edna

Thanks, Edna, and listen up, all you Texans and anyone who’d enjoy an opportunity to learn more about marbles and soak up the beauty of a fabulous state during a great month to be there!!!

5. Joe Street - August 27, 2009

Great JABO article! Dave and his crew at JABO and the Patrons of the Tribute Run were extremly nice to me when I was there. All in all a great bunch of people that made some super marbles. Also thank you for mentioning the video in your article, that was very much appreciated.

Thanks again,
Joe Street


Thanks for making the video and making it available, Joe! Marble-lovers everywhere will really appreciate it and learn so much from watching it!

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