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Playing for ‘Keeps’


Marbles was a favorite past-time of the older generations, and now it’s making a local comeback with the first annual Des Moines Marble Show.

Marbles was a favorite past-time of the older generations, and now it’s making a local comeback with the first annual Des Moines Marble Show.

It’s a little known fact that Iowa is actually home to one of the largest and longest-running antique marble shows in the United States. For the past 36 years, the show has been held in the Amana Colonies/Coralville area under the name Amana/Iowa Marble Meet.

“The first show was actually held in the back of a bail bondsman’s office, I believe, somewhere around the Iowa City area in the late 1970s,” said Chad Cline, Des Moines Marble Show promoter.

The reasoning behind a marble show is simple and sweet: nostalgia. It was a popular and entertaining pasttime for children in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. The Des Moines Marble Show stems now from a lingering desire to relive those happy childhood memories. These days, many of these folks who once so loved rolling around in the dirt with the marbles now guard them as a cherished collection of treasures on display, some of which are worth tens of thousands of dollars, according to Cline.

“I guess you could say that it is comparable to people from the 1980s buying back all of their old ‘Star Wars,’ ‘He-Man’ and ‘ThunderCats’ action figures — except that He-Man isn’t quite worth a thousand bucks… yet,” Cline said.

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This weekend marks the first of many years to come for the Des Moines Marble Show. Though it’s the inaugural event of its kind in the metro, the 2014 show has already been scheduled. The Des Moines Marble Show is for everyone, from the old-school pro players to people whose only familiarity with a marble is having accidently swallowed the one from the Mouse Trap board game as a child. This event will not only be a marble showcase, but players will compete in the ring, just like the old days. Cline and others will be on hand teaching novice participants how to play.

One game that can be played with marbles begins with simply drawing a ring or circle in the dirt, and then opponents try to knock each other’s marbles out of the ring.

“Some marble games were played for fun and some were played for ‘keeps,’ where you would actually lose your marbles to the opposing player if you lost the game,” explained Cline.

There are also many different ways to shoot a marble. Early on, most children would “knuckle down” (put one finger of the shooting hand in contact with the ground) and shoot by hand. Later, companies manufactured handheld marble shooters and claimed the technique was the best way to increase accuracy.

The goal, Cline said, is to teach people how to play the game of marbles in hopes each person will go on to teach someone else how to play — to bestow the hands-on challenge of the game and the skill it requires upon a digital generation.

The marble show is also a great place to pick up a new, wholesome hobby. Collectors will educate people on how to extensively examine marbles.

“Whether you are a long-time collector or maybe someone who is completely new to the hobby, there will literally be something for everyone at the Des Moines Marble Show,” Cline said.” CV               

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.


The First Annual Des Moines Marble Show will be held at the Airport Holiday Inn, 6111 Fleur Drive, on Thursday, Sept. 26, and runs through Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. In-room buying/selling/trading will start on Wednesday evening, so guests should arrive early. Admission is free.


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