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A game in many varieties but normally involving the striking of one spherical glass (usu.) object with another.

There are two main versions. In the first the object is to knock the opponenents marbles out of a ring drawn on the ground (or in the dust) of size determined by custom and practice in a particular area. The object of the second is to hit the opponents marble three times in succession (or cumulatively - depending on the area).

In the first variation, the marbles knocked out of the circle belong to the one whose marble did the knocking. In the second variety the marbles used in the game belong to the first person to strike the others marble three times. The game became world famous after Lord and Lady Docker gave it social cache during the 1950's.

Individual marbles have been given a number of names depending on their type and quality: e.g these from New Zealand and the UK:

  • Naked Lady, n Similar to a catseye, but completely clear with no insert. Lead to amusing jokes when held under a running tap about "Naked lady in the shower".
  • Catseye, n. The most common form of glass marble in our games. Clear glass, sometimes tinted, with a cat's eye shaped swirl in the centre.
  • Giant, n. Oversize marble. Glass versions highly prized, the bigger the better. Plastic versions also appeared occasionally, up to 4cm diameter(!) (which in hindsight looked suspiciously like the ball from a roll-on deodorant bottle). Prized by some (and would probably not have been at the time if we had known where they were from).
  • Steely, n. Marble sized steel ball bearing (when) used for playing marbles. Highly prized.
  • China. n. A white marble with irregular coloured blobs on its surface.
  • Spider. n. Similar to a cat's eye, but with a multistranded tenticular insert.
  • Bulgarian. n. corrupted form of ball-bearing Ball bearings were highly desirable for use as marbles because of their weight and increased surface friction.

Using a ball bearing meant your "strike" was harder - which increased your chances of striking the other marbles out of the circle, whilst itself remaining inside the circle. Knocking a marble out of the circle, whilst you were remained inside, usually meant you got another turn. This continued until either all marbles were knocked out of the circle, or you failed, with one strike, to knock a marble out of the circle, In that case, your marble became one of those available for others to "win" by knocking out of the circle.

This from "Joe Murray" in the marbles games I played (1964-68'ish, Glasgow) we called 'Bools' or 'Stanks' ; Bools was an open game , one against one, first to hit the others Bool won, Stanks was a complicated game using the manhole covers on the small drains around the schoolyard in which you had to get your marbles into a certain pattern on the holes that were in the drain covers. A standard marble was a 'bool' a large one was a 'taw' (worth about three to four bools) and the steelmaking works in Glasgow meant there were lots of 'steelies', ball bearings that increased in worth according to their size.

This from "vanessa" in I can't believe how dopey we were in primary to actually believe that ball bearings (steelies) were marbles!! What a rip-off. I probably lost lots of nice marbles playing for ball bearings! I liked crystals myself - especially the large ones. Cats eyes were not highly valued; unless they were big ones. What is it about drains and marbles also? Our game was played along the length of the drain and it served as an excellent catchment for the marbles that others used to try to win the marble you had put up.

(ed: I think I need a section that specialises only in marbles! We *are* considering a separate "games" section but as yet haven't got round to it.)

Case in point being the following sent in by Mike Winship. It really had to included verbatim! "On the playground were marked a tennis court and a football pitch. Where the posts for the tennis net would be were holes and the overlapping markings created a rectangular area around it, with the hole being in the centre. Players would take turns to roll their marble towards the hole. Whoever got theirs in first would then immediately be given a chance to roll their opponent's marble. This would then alternate with the winner being whoever got the remaining marble in the hole.

There were various ridiculous rules and strategies that could be employed (like 'cagies', which allowed the non-rolling played to defend the hole with their hand) but ensuring you shouted 'nothing in the book except lines' before a match would put a stop to that ('Lines' meant that if a marble left the designated playing area it would be placed at the point where it left for the next turn, a bit like a football throw-in)

All marbles had values and if you were to play against a better marble, you would have to beat the owner the corresponding amount of times in successive matches.

Here is the marble heirachy:

  • Liggy (lowest - and smallest)
  • Cat's Eye
  • Chink
  • Oily
  • Steely
  • Piratey

The sizes ranged: Liggy, normal, Penka, Queeny, Kingy. Therefore to win a standard Penka with , say, a Cat's Eye you'd have to play 'Twosie-Onesies' and beat them twice. It got more complicated if it was a Penka Oily Vs a Queeny Steely, or whatever.

I was the undefeated champion for a while with a Kingy Piratey I won against the odds, until Karl Birchill beat me by cheating and swiftly pocketing the marble. I soon retired.

Also, this was a seasonal game, as the tennis posts would appear in the summer. And people rarely played when it rained and dark matter filled the hole.

Mike Tyler said he used to call marbles 'marlies' - though expects that's not all that rare. We also called the biggest marbles 'Em perors', since they were bigger than Kingys and Queenys.

See also: alley, alley bomper
Source: UK (NE)