Where have all the marbles gone?

Today Ralph and I made one of our semi-regular Sunday morning expeditions to town to get the Sunday Oregonian and the Sunday NY Times, to pick up odds and ends of needed groceries, get some coffee that neither of us made, browse things that interest us, and so on. We do this while our spouses are sleeping in and are generally back in time to deliver morning papers with coffee.

We fooled around in town a bit extra today, because I am determined to find some marbles for my Aggravation game. If you’ve never played Aggravation, it’s a bit like Parcheesi on steroids. I have a wonderful handmade board that my grandfather made for me nearly 40 years ago.

Granddad discovered the game before it was being marketed, and made game boards of plywood with hand-marked and hand-drilled holes, finishing the whole thing up with several coats of shellac. He loved to play this game. He was very competitive. I have seen him “accidentally” upend the card table when he was losing and became too “aggravated” to deal with it.

I still have the board, but I long ago lost the marbles. Now the four of us want to play it, and there are no marbles to be had.

The board uses the same sort of marbles that Chinese Checkers uses–plain colored marbles with a smooth round feel, no flash, just distinctive colors for each player. But there don’t seem to be an regular marbles to be had.

I’ve been to assorted hardware, craft, and antique stores, even made a stop at Toys R Us on my Friday trip to Salem. The answers to my inquiries are similar: “We had some, but we’ve sold them all and don’t expect any more,” “We’ve never carried them. I have no idea why,” “There used to be some around here, but I think they’re gone.”

I fianlly called Pablo, a friend of mine who deals in antiques and collectibles to see if he had any. He has no idea (this is a very typical second-hand store operation). He said marbles were problematic because his 3-year-old daughter gloms onto them and they disappear. His wife was shouting from the background that she had some if she could only remember where. They’re going to see what they have and call me back. But I did score an old metal Chinese Checkers board with this call.

But this raises a very important question for me: Where have all the marbles gone? When I was a kid, I had a huge bag of marbles, including a whole variety of “shooters,” those oversized marbles that were used to fire your opponents’ marbles out of the playing ring. Every kid I knew had a similar collection. Now there seem to be none to had anywhere.

It isn’t just that there seem to be no new ones (except, of course for the decorative crystal type that you put in vases and fishbowls). But the old ones are nowhere to be found, either. Based on my experience, that means that there must be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tons of marbles in assorted landfills, never to deteriorate, but perhaps to be discovered by some future archeologist as the jewels of our culture.

Pablo noted that a few years ago marbles became highly collectible. Old marbles were very valuable, and anyone who owned any marbles at all seemed to think his retirement was assured. So he thinks many of them are being hoarded. What a shame, because we could play games with them and ultimately they’re not worth much for anything else.

But I have to say I no longer understand the concept of collectible. I want a few very nice things that I can enjoy using or looking at. That’s it.

In the meantime, it’s clear and cold tonight (already headed for frost). Cassiopeia, mother of Andromeda, hangs in the sky, the Pleiades are almost eclipsed by a waxing gibbous moon, both fires are going, and all is well with the world, at least in this space.

5 Responses to “Where have all the marbles gone?”

  1. Brent Says:

    Are you telling me you lost your marbles? 🙂

    BTW, my son has a Wii – he loves it!

    Try calling Rainy Day Games here in town; they might have some marbles. Or you could try Finigan’s (sp) downtown.

  2. Josh Bancroft Says:

    Perhaps the world, collectively, has lost its marbles. 🙂

  3. mklekacz Says:

    Hi, guys. Somehow I knew that I was leaving myself open for those remarks. But it’s a very strange thing to have such a ubiquitous item just disappear.

    Thanks for the suggestions, Brent, but I finally broke down and ordered some online. I don’t have any more hours to spend on this.

  4. Phil Ferris Says:

    One of my boyhood treasures I still have tucked away is my collection of 4 clay marbles from the 1800s.

  5. mklekacz Says:

    Phil, those are probably some of the truly collectibles Pablo was referring to. Hang on to them.

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