Sandburg's Hometown

May 18, 2015

A Game of Knucks


by Barbara Schock

A marble is a small round toy whose size varies from half an inch to over three inches in diameter. It has been made of clay, stone, pottery, glass and steel. In ancient times rounded rocks and nuts were used to play games. In the 18th century, they were actually made of marble chips.

The object of the game is to roll, throw, drop or knuckle marbles against an opponent's marbles to knock them out of a defined area; usually a circle although it may be a square. The winner keeps all the marbles.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Germany began manufacturing handmade ceramic marbles. As better machinery was invented, mass production of marbles helped spread the use of the playthings. By the 1890s, several companies had been established in Akron, Ohio, to mass produce glass marbles. The game of marbles spread across the country and many boys learned to play the game. They also collected marbles with a variety of colors and sizes. They traded with their pals to get special colors or styles for their collections.

Many expressions developed with the playing of marbles. “Knuckle down” was the term for the beginning position to set a marble rolling toward an opponent's sphere. “Keepsies” meant the winner kept all the marbles. There is a well-known painting by Norman Rockwell showing a girl winning all the marbles from two boys. The anguish on the faces of the boys is quite obvious.

Taw” was used to describe a larger marble used for shooting at smaller marbles. The smaller marbles were called “ducks.” In Carl Sandburg's autobiography, Always the Young Strangers, he describes playing “Ducks on a Rock” with sticks and stones. The boys used the same words in their game.

It is not known if Carl Sandburg played with marbles. Although the little spheres were relatively inexpensive, buying more than a limited number of them would have been a strain on his limited resources. If he did play knuckle down, he soon learned the word “snudge.” It referred to the actions of the shooter in allowing his hand to “accidentally slip” inside the playing area giving him a small advantage in hitting an opponent's marbles.

After the turn of the century improved machinery allowed the combining of different colors of glass to make marbles. Collecting and playing games with marbles became a nationwide pastime. Chinese checkers, played with marbles on a board, is still enjoyed by many families today.

Mexico manufactures ninety percent of glass marbles today. Artists around the world create beautiful marbles up to three inches in diameter for collectors. Descriptions of the various colors and designs require photographs to distinguish the many kinds. Each one has its own descriptive name.

The game of marbles is still played around the world. At Tinsley Green, England, the world championship is held each year. The American Toy Marble Museum in located in Akron, Ohio. It would surely be an interesting place to visit, even for those who have never knuckled down.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
May 18, 2015 Marbles
May 11, 2015 Pawnee County, Kansas
May 4, 2015 Detective Stories and the Real Thing
April 27, 2015 Professor Isaac A. Parker
April 20, 2015 Celluloid Collars
April 13, 2015 Asparagus
April 6, 2015  Mayor John C. Stewart 
March 30, 2015 Basket Ball
March 23, 2015 The Courthouse of Knox County, IL
March 16, 2015

“Trifles make perfection...”

March 9, 2015 Uncle Tom's Cabin
March 2, 2015 Martha Sandburg Goldstone
February 23, 2015 Devotion
February 16, 2015  Gumbiner's Pawn Shop 
February 9, 2015 White Bread
February 2, 2015 The Monarch Club
January 26, 2015 The Silver Dollar
January 19, 2015 The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway
January 12, 2015 The Four Corners
December 22, 2014 Swedish Christmas
December 8, 2014 Christmas 1878
December 1, 2014 Bunker Boots & Shoes
November 24, 2014 Galesburg, Illinois
November 17, 2014 It was Buffalo Bill's Day
November 10, 2014 The Election of 1896 (A follow-up story)
November 3, 2014 The Election of 1896 (continued)
October 27, 2014 The Election of 1896
October  24, 2014 The Rissywarn
October 20, 2014 The Parlor Stove
October 13, 2014 Ashes to Ashes
October 6, 2014 Jesse James
Sept. 29, 2014 Lester T. Stone, Public Servant
Sept. 22, 2014 It's Who You Know
Sept 15, 2014 Mother of the Illinois Flag
Sept 8, 2014 The Scissors Grinder
Sept 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014 4  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013 Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013 Lace Curtains
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity