Children compare their marbles

Children compare their marbles.

I lost all my marbles long ago in a neighborhood game.

To afford marbles, I would canvas the neighborhood for pop or beer bottles I could return in my red wagon to the gas station a couple blocks away.

(We used the lesser player cards coupled with a clothes pin on the fork of our bikes to create a motorcycle-like sound from the spokes beating the card, which lasted about one time around the block).

Little did we know that our weekend and summer fun playing marbles may well have roots in ancient times.

Marbles were found in the ashes of Pompeii, in the tombs of ancient Egyptians and played by Native American tribes.

Akron, Ohio, was the marble capital after finding ways to mass produce clay marbles in 1884 and glass ones in 1915.

Rationing during World War II put a dent in the sport’s popularity, which slowly became popular again after the war by boomer children like me.

I would use pennies earned to purchase marbles or baseball cards

There seemed like an endless supply of players in my Catholic neighborhood, but there was one nearby girl that I wanted to beat.

We played a game now called “ringer,” where you attempt to knock marbles out of a circle normally about three feet in diameter.

At the start, you have to decide on rules like the size of the circle, were we going to play for keepsies (keep marbles knocked out of the circle) or play fair (marbles are returned after a game) and what to use for a shooter.

Shooters are bigger than the marbles placed in the circle.

Word got around about the girl, who was a mibster or serious player. She racked up victory after victory using a “steely,” or what most probably was a large ball bearing, as her shooter.

You want a big marble for a shooter so it can easily knock smaller marbles out of the cirlce.

Her steely sent marbles flying away, often nicking a chunk of glass off of them.

How many marbles initially would go into the center of a circle would be debated, too. This had more to do with how many marbles you would be willing to lose.

The game I remember that turned to me away from marbles and to baseball cards only started with me showing up with a leather pouch (similar to what you might keep tobacco in) to play the neighborhood champ.

She arrived with what looked like a small treasure chest.

When the lid was lifted I was dazzled by several hundred won marbles including some really desirable ones like steelies and doughboys (ceramics).

You wold lag to decide who went first - shooting towards a line with the person getting closest going first.

When shooting, rules call for one or more knuckles to be on the ground, hence the expression “knuckle down.”

Most keep the index finger down.

She took care of me in a matter minutes.

Sure, I didn’t put my rarest marbles into the middle, but cleaning up so fast caught me a bit off guard.

I tried again, same outcome. She was very accurate.

When you shoot, if a marble is knocked out of the circle, it is yours and you keep shooting until no marble exits or you miss.

Another rule you should decide is if your shooter ends a turn inside the circle. Is it fair game to shoot it out and claim it?

That might sound odd, but imagine if you could knock a steely out of the circle? You would gain a shooter that could later win you a lot of marbles or points.

Normally if you shoot an opponents shooter out of the circle, they must skip a turn.

You can have some fun by placing marbles at the start in a pattern, like an X.

Some of the slang with the game includes aggie, which looks like it’s agate; alley, which is made out of marble; and mibs, which is a target marble in a game that could also be called a kimmie.

The origin of the phrase “losing your marbles” can’t be definitively traced to the game of marbles.

But I suspect if you played a game of “keepsies” with this champion girl and lost all of your marbles, you might go a bit crazy as kid, too.

I never lost my marbles again, except in an occasional game of parcheesi.

If you socked away some of those marbles, the rarest ones have gone for more than $25,000 t auction.

Baseball cards, the really rare ones, go for triple digits.

Al Camp is the sports editor at The Chronicle. Email him at

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