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The earliest marbles were rolled out of clay, and therefore did not offer any technological insight for glass marble makers. In fact, it was a man with a background in metal ball-bearings who was able to contrive a machine to shape marbles. Martin Christensen, in 1902, patented his invention of belts and rotating wheels as the first automatic marble maker. The globs of heated glass were individually melted off the end of cylindrical canes by hand, and placed in the machine, so only part of the process was automated. These marbles didn't have pontils, the nubs left over from where the rod was severed from the glob, so they rolled straighter in the game of marbles.
The machine was an improvement upon shaping marbles entirely by hand over a heatsource. James Leighton's work provided an intermediary step in mechanization in 1891. He patented a tool resembling tongs with a spherical mold on its end, based on an earlier German toymaker's method. While not automated in any way, the process sped up production.
Increasing demand during the 1920s and 30s could be successfully met by mechanized marble companies. Children and adults alike were caught up in the marble craze, collecting fancy "shooters" and entering tournaments. The game of marbles relies on flicking marbles at other players' marbles, within a boundary, in order to take them out of play.
In modern machines, lots of glass melts at once in a furnace around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (815 degrees Celsius). Once the glass is freely flowing, it streams down a slide nicknamed the Gobfeeder, into the grooved mechanism. Swaths of colored glass can be added at this point. Each wheel's edge has a semicircular groove, and when matched up with another, the space between them is a sphere, just like Christenson's. The hot, bright orange gobs of glass are separated and rolled while they are malleable. When they have been rolled into perfect spheres and cooled sufficiently to maintain their shape, the machine pushes them out to a bin to be packaged and sold.
Marble-making is also alive among the fine arts community. Glass blowers and artisans still form marbles with tongs, a blow torch, a mold and a kiln, the way handmade glass beads are made. These talented people make stunning marbles with dragons or butterflies at their center in dazzling colors.
A really fun way to use marbles in jewelry is to fry them. This makes them crack on the inside, so they look more interesting.
It sounds dangerous, and kids shouldn't do it by themselves, but if you are careful it is quite safe and you end up with an interesting addition to your marble collection.
Use marbles that are solid, clear colors, without anything inside. Then, put them in a fry pan and heat them up on the stove. Alternately, you might want to put them in a very hot oven. Then, quickly put them into ice cold water. Voila, you have crackled marbles.
If you want to make them into pendants you'll either have to glue them to wire, or put them in a wire cage.
When I was a kid we used to go through different phases where something was collectible and everyone wanted it.
I guess now they collect cards, like Pokemon cards, but I remember when it was marbles.
They were so pretty and everyone wanted the most unusual ones. My favorites were the large glass marbles with a rainbow sheen.
I don't remember playing marbles all that much, though, I think we mostly just swapped for the ones we wanted. Maybe the boys played and the girls just swapped for them.
I sometimes wonder what happened to my old marble collection.
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