Historical Archaeology Blog

Historic Toy Marbles

Historical archaeology connects places, things, and issues from the past or present using not only what is found during an excavation, but also written records and oral traditions that then help inform and contextualize cultural materials.

During the spring of 2021, Palomar College students in Professor Betsy Pain’s Anthropology 225 class created videos that can be used as comparative or reference collection guide, which are useful for educational and research purposes. This video series highlights different types of historic artifacts for which students compiled research. If you have any questions about these artifacts or topics, please email collections@sandiegoarchaeology.org.

Historic Toy Marbles
By Scottie Loyd, Palomar College student
Summary compiled by Collections Manager Jessica McPheters

American Toy Marbles in the 1920s-30s

The game of marbles is perhaps the most universal and oldest human pastime ever devised. This research covers American toy marbles primarily from the 1920-30s. The purpose of this research project is to give background information and specifically focus on the identification of marbles found in Southern California and San Diego, placing them within a historical context.

The 1920-30s represents a period of rapid change in both American history and toy marble popularity and production. The “roaring 20s” represents a rise of consumerism, paralleling technical advancements, innovative ideas, and mass advertising – and all these themes are represented in the marble industry during this period.

Marble production began in America with clay and stone-based materials used in the late nineteeth century. A shift occurred in new manufacturing processes at the turn of the twentieth century. By the 1920s, America dominated the market due to the rise of glass marble popularity and production. This gave way to overnight growth of toy marble companies developing hundreds of new marble types, styles, and designs. Despite the depression of the 1930s and World War II, glass marbles were cheap and easy to make so their production continued to thrive.

Toy Marbles in Southern California

The types of marbles found in San Diego Archaeological Center’s collections span from the transformative period of clay and stone-based marbles to glass marbles. This project reviews six non-glass and five glass basic marble types to help familiarize students and researchers with marbles found locally in Southern California.

Toys Mawanella Children Marbles Ceylon Sri Lanka

Identification begins with a brief tutorial on differentiating between industrial marbles and toy marbles, especially those that are found in Southern California, followed by the identification markers for clay, crockery, Bennington, stoneware, China, and stone marbles. Although the marble industry began in the East and eventually migrated to California, there was one brief attempt at early marble making by the California Agate Company of Los Angeles during the 1920-30s. One of these kinds of marbles cost 20 cents in 1922 and today recently listed on eBay for $375.

The glass marble types presented are the Slag, Swirl, Logo, Corkscrew, and Sunburst. This research delves into five key companies and their production, innovations, and advertising of marbles, which other companies continue to emulate in present day. Glass marble identification is best done by identifying their type, style, and manufacturer.

An extensive Resource guide follows to further help in identifying marble finds of any era, both glass and non-glass finds.

Toy Marbles in the SDAC Collections

Enjoy this informative video to learn more about toy marbles and their history. Come back next month to learn about historic butchery techniques!

Collections Research

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will identify, design, and conduct an original research project that uses the Center’s archaeological collections. The intern will formulate a plan for public dissemination of the project results as a journal publication, a museum exhibit, or a public class or lecture. During the course of the research and dissemination planning, the intern will receive training in research design, collections management, artifact analysis, and exhibit design and production as appropriate to the selected project.

Archaeology Lab Positions

Volunteers will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. Center staff will instruct the volunteer on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Volunteers work in the Center’s Research Library, cataloguing materials and organizing on a computer-based system.

Marketing and Administrative Volunteers assist the Development Office or Administration Office with data entry, updating marketing materials and clerical tasks. Computer experience is a plus.

Docents welcome visitors and answer general questions regarding the Center and exhibits. Docents staff the gift shop and help out with administrative and curatorial tasks.

Volunteers support event activities at the Center, such as the Annual BBQ, lectures, workshops, and fundraising events. Be a part of the party!

Volunteer provide support for K-12 programs offered at the Center. These are fun, hands-on programs that kids really enjoy. Teaching experience is a plus, but not required. Background checks are required.

Collections Management

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will prepare one or more archaeological collections for curation. During the course of the internship, the intern will learn to identify artifacts and ecofacts common to the San Diego region, including lithics, ceramics, historical objects, and faunal, botanical, and mineral specimens. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological laboratory procedures such as basic artifact analysis, manual and computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and preventative conservation. In addition, the intern will become familiar with historical trends in archaeological practice in the San Diego area and will be introduced to current legal and ethical issues in archaeological curation as well as the concerns and rights of culturally affiliated groups with regard to archaeological materials.

Development and Marketing

Under the direction of Center staff, the intern will support the department in various activities, including, but not limited to, fundraising and grant research; e-newsletter development; social media marketing; tour web app content creation, integration, and management; and website maintenance. This internship will give the intern valuable, real-world experience in non-profit fundraising and marketing.

Geographical Information Systems in Archaeology

Prospective Interns must have completed three courses: Introduction to GIS, GIS Database Management, and Intermediate/Advanced Methods in GIS. The intern will be assigned a project where they will create shapefiles and maps for curated archaeological collections, museum exhibits, and/or public outreach using ArcGIS 10.6. Center staff will instruct the intern on archaeological GIS laboratory procedures such as computer cataloguing, storage requirements, and database management.

Library Science

With the assistance of Center staff, the intern will arrange and catalog materials in the Center’s library. During the course of the internship, the intern will take a leading role in the cataloging, sorting and storing of research files and creating user guides for these collections. Center staff will instruct the intern on archival procedures, computer cataloging, storage requirements, and preventative conservation.

Public Archaeology

With the assistance of Center staff, interns will research, design, and produce a project that educates the public about archaeology or a related field using the Center’s archaeological collections. Interns may create virtual museum exhibits and related activities, develop curricula for K-12 programs in line with current content standards, or plan and present a public class or lecture. Per approval, special projects of the intern’s choosing are also available. During the course of the research and planning, the intern will receive guidance as appropriate to the selected project.