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Millions of Marbles: The History of Marble Art

Marbles have been made for several thousand years and have an incredible backstory. The concept even dates back to primitive times! Made of glass or stone, marbles were commonly used for simple games. Historians believe that the games played with marbles during this time eventually evolved into versions of billiards, pinball, and bowling.

Archeologists have found round objects that resemble different interpretations of the marble in countless ancient sites. It is believed that the first iteration of these objects were made from nuts, shaved and polished to be used for games. In Rome and Greece, children made balls of clay for this purpose. Marbles were even found in Egyptian tombs!

Ancient Egyptian Marbles; Courtesy Rob Koopman

These games were played for many centuries, and the majority of marbles were still made of clay at this time. In the 1600s, a water-powered stone mill in Germany started mass producing polished marbles made of materials like agate, limestone, brass, and gemstone. This particular mill got up to the production rate of about 800 marbles an HOUR, making Germany one of the primary manufacturers at this time.

Civil War Era Stone Marbles; Courtesy Ebay

It’s not entirely clear if the invention of glass marbles is credited to Venice, where glassblowing had been well established, or if they originally came to light in Germany. The revolutionary invention of “marbelschere,” (marble scissors) were invented in Germany in 1846: a tool used to efficiently shape molten glass into spheres. This invention is what leads historians to believe it was Germany to first experiment with glass marbles rather than Venice.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that production found its way to America. One of the two American Manufacturers, Akro Agate based in Ohio, became the top marble producer thanks to machine advancements in the 1920s. Unfortunately, children’s toys began to evolve and the demand for marbles decreased. Companies like Akro Agate that primarily made marbles began producing more industrial-grade glass like windshields, and basic marble production migrated to third world countries. Despite this, marbles are still produced in record numbers today, and the art marble world specifically has evolved beyond anything we could’ve expected.

Marbles by Akro Agate; Courtesy

It’s hard to pinpoint when independent glassblowers began putting their creative spin on this historic object. Today, artists like Masataka Joei from Japan bring a wildly unique spin on the art of marbles. Joei’s specialty is his “Kaleidoscope” marbles (seen below) which involve detailed, hand painted sandblasting that is magnified when looking through the marble. This creates a whole universe inside every marble, each of which he adorns differently. It’s a testament to how much glass art has evolved and how new techniques can be applied to old practices.

Seen below is another mind-blowingly intricate marble: a collaboration between Yoshi Norikondo and Eusheen. It features Norikondo's signature dotstacking, an iconic Eusheen flip design, two floating opals, and a lotus in the center. The sheer number of different techniques needed to pull of a piece like this is almost unfathomable. The amount of knowledge, patience, and accuracy in this type of work is what makes it so pleasing to enthusiasts.f

Yoshi Norikondo x Eusheen Collab Marble 2013; Courtesy The Depot

We’ve been watching the pipe making scene evolve over the past 50 years or so, and it’s had a direct effect on the art marble world. We are in such a phase of evolution within glass art, and it’s so inspiring to see artists post their art online, sharing techniques with artists that take those concepts and make them their own. The internet has allowed this community to grow exponentially, pushing the boundaries of what we’ve known for centuries, if not longer.

Thanks for reading about the history of marble making! Check out our entire collection of marbles on our site here!

As always, make it a great day, Depot Fam!

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