Murray’s Marbles by Terry Bain

Manufacture of Solid Glass Spheres

April Sixth

My grandfather taught me how to knuckle 
down. That is, he taught me how to play 
marbles, and when I spent time with him 
in my grandparents’ pink mobile home, 
I’d often ask to play. He’d haul out his old 
marbles from when he was a kid, and we’d 
get down on the floor. He taught me to aim, 
how to flick the marble out of my hand, just so. 
And of course he sometimes let me win.

U.S. Patent № 432,127: 
applied and granted in 1890: “Apparatus for 
Rounding Plastic Clay Slugs,” covers both a 
marble making device and a process, first 
put into use in 1884 for turning out mass-
produced toys. One person could manufacture
eight hundred marbles per hour.

These marbles were all the evidence I had
of his youth. They were clay and glass 
mostly, some chipped or cracked, but they 
were all my favorite, the deep blues, reds, 
greens and browns. They were childhood
for both of us.

U.S. Patent № 462,083: 
applied and granted in 1890: 
“Manufacture of Solid Glass Spheres” 
covers both a glass-maker’s hand tool and 
a manufacturing method of producing 
marbles. These were the first glass marbles 
made in the USA for commercial sale.

I played marbles with my friends, but it 
different, playing over long distances
on the school playground, playing for keeps, 
with very few rules. All we had to do was 
touch an opponent’s marble and it was ours.
I never played this game with my grandfather’s
marbles. I played with slag. With steelies and 
cat’s eyes purchased from the dime-store.

U.S. Patent № 802,495: 
applied in 1902 and granted in 1905,
“Machine For Making Spherical Bodies of Balls,” 
turned out the first machine-made glass marbles 
were the first mass-produced objects that were 
so spherical that reporters called it “The perfect 
glass ball machine.”

His name was Murray. I do not know how he 
survived childhood with that name, but it suited
him as a grandfather. He made being the father 
of my father seem almost childlike. As if this
relationship gives you a second chance to be that
kid you wanted to be with your own son, a kid 
living in your house looking for guidance
on how to be an adult, so you had to be an adult.
The grandchild already has this guidance, so Murray
finally had his chance to show me how to reverse
the spin on a deep green sphere. He taught me 

In 1910 the Marble Auger — the same machine used 
even now — is capable of turning out a million marbles 
every day.

When my grandfather died, I ended up with all his 
marbles. This is not joke, but he would laugh with me 
anyway. I still carry one in my pocket, as a reminder to 
play, to be the person my grandfather saw in me
on his floor, knuckle down, eye close to my shooter.

I miss him, and that’s all I wanted to say.

Terry Bain is the author of You Are a Dog and We Are the Cat ‡ TwitterInstagramLetterboxdTinyLetter
Copyright 2019 Terry Bain