People in ancient Egypt and pre-Christian Rome played marbles and the game has been played in England for at least four hundred years. From the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th, Germany was the centre of the world marbles trade. Originally, as their name suggests, they were made from chips of marble, later, cheaper versions were made from baked clay or glass.
Names given to marbles vary considerably from town to town and country to country. English children talk of taws (the actual marbles) and the varieties, commoneys, stoneys, potteys and the best marbles, allies, which were made from alabaster. American children know their marbles as kabolas, steelies, jumbos, milkies, and peewees in descending order of size.
There are three basic types of outdoor marble games: circle games, chase games and hole games. In a circle game, marbles are knocked out of a circle or some other space in which the boundaries have been set. In a hole game the goal is to shoot marbles into some sort of opening. In a chase game, players have alternate turns shooting at their opponents’ marbles. The skilful marbles’ player must have a steady hand, accurate aim and plenty of practice. To propel a marble it should be balanced in the recess of a bent forefinger, the thumb is put behind the forefinger. The player then holds his hand on or close to the ground, takes aim, and flicks his thumb sharply forward to shoot the marble at its target. The player may squat, or kneel on one or both knees to obtain the best aiming position. Any forward movement of the hand while shooting the marble is forbidden.
The British and World Championship is held at Easter every year at the Greyhound pub in Tinsley Green in Sussex. Only one particular game is played which is a variation on the circle game.