Playing Marbles

Playing Marbles

I’ve always loved marbles not necessary to play with, just to hold in my hand and look at. I remember when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade playing marbles was popular with the older boys. I say older, but the school only went to 8th grade.

During that time my big brother Steve acquired a whole collection of marbles. He had the regular sized ones and the big marbles that he called dough rollers. Steve was picky with his stuff and didn’t like Paul and me prowling through his things, but I took advantage of the times he wasn’t home to look at his marble collection and marvel at the pretty swirly colors.

Chatter and Chitter collected marbles for a while and even as an adult I was still mesmerized by their pretty colors. Once the girls decided they were too big for marbles they shot them all off the front porch with their sling shots. Now you can find marbles all over the place around our house. Whenever I find one I put it in my pocket and take it back to the porch.

Jack In The Bush Marble Game

Ed Ammons recently shared a marble game called Jack in the Bush with me-he wrote up the game as if Chatter and Chitter were playing it:

Jack in the Bush

A game for two players, played with marbles or pennies. To start each player takes an equal number of pieces and hide them from the other’s view. The first player takes out a number of pieces and holding them in her cupped hands says:

Chitter “Jack in the Bush!”

Chatter “Cut him down!”

Chitter “How many licks?”

Chatter “Shake ‘em up!”

Chitter then shakes the pieces inside her hands so that Chatter can hear them. Chatter listens to the pieces and guesses how many there are. If she gets it right, she gets all the pieces. If she guesses wrong she must give Chitter the difference between what she guesses and the actual count. If she guesses 5 and there are 8 then she must give up 3 pieces. Then Chatter takes her turn”

Chatter “Jack in the Bush!”

Chitter “Cut him down!”

Chatter “How many licks?”

Chitter  “Shake ‘em up!”

This goes on, back and forth, until one player has all the pieces and the other has “lost her marbles.”


You can go here to find out how to play marbles a whole bunch of different ways.

Did you ever play marbles or collect them?



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  • Reply
    Tim Ryan
    February 17, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    In southern Kentucky where I was raised rolley hole was the main marble game. It was played with flint or agate marbles ground to a sphere by hand with a bench grinder. The court was large ….. maybe 20×50′ I forget. Both old men and boys played together. They have a national tournament in a state park there.

  • Reply
    Darlene Debty Kimsey
    July 29, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I must have missed this post but I do have three things to say about it.
    First of all, my Granny played Jack in the Bush with marbles with me when I was in school at Martins Creek. I had forgotten all about it until now so thanks for that memory.
    Second, I still have my collection of marbles from playing at school.
    Third, your brother, Steve was VERY serious about his marble playing and didn’t like playing with anyone who wasn’t serious about it. And that cut me out most of the time because I wouldn’t play “for keeps”.
    I’m glad I accidentally found this old post. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Merry Collins Carter
    January 10, 2014 at 2:01 am

    I want you to know what a breath of fresh air your blog is. It feels like home. I was just searching trying to remember how to play Jack in the Bush- my grandmother taught it to us and played with us as kids and its been years. No one seemed to have ever heard of it except family and No one seemed to remember how to play. So I’m so glad yall’s blog popped up on my search. As it turns out that is exactly where Granny is from and the description here is just like we used to play. I’m going to see if I can find that old bag of marbles somewhere. Thank you for being here. You made my day!! God bless you.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I bought an old seashell at a thrift shop a few years back. While cleaning it at home, heard a rattle inside. Soaked the shell and out floated a beach glass looking old marble What made it really neat is that it is exactly like my Dad’s aggie that I inherited. Minus the frosty finish.

  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    April 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    That Jack in the Bush sounds like fun, doesn’t it.
    I remember playing marbles when we lived in the city. I remember playing Jacks too. But what I remember most was Hop Scotch which I liked playing on the city sidewalks very much. When we moved to the country, there were no sidewalks (heck, there wasn’t even a two lane dirt road, just a one lane cow track where the car tires went with wide spots where you could pull over if you met someone on the way so they could pass), so I stopped playing. I still remember how though, and Jacks too, but I don’t remember how to play marbles.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 24, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Howland: Valdese was populated in the early 20th century by immigrants from the mountainous regions of Northern Italy. The town is located in eastern Burke County in Western North Carolina right at the eastern edge of the Appalachians. It’s streets are named for it’s settlers such are Barus, Ribet, Refour, and Jacumin. Every year they close off Main Street and hold their “Waldensian Festival.” They have music and dancing in the street. Strangely, or maybe not, most of the music is Bluegrass and Southern Gospel. It seems they adopted most of our Appalachian customs while hanging on to the best Italian ones.
    The Old Rock School, part of the original school built in the early 20th century, has been preserved and is used for community events. A large portion of these events and Bluegrass concerts. Doyle Lawson has been there on several occasions.
    The town boasts an amphitheater wherein is produced the Waldensian drama “From This Day Forward” which reenacts the struggles of an immigrant population to establish a home in a new land. The town also has a replica of a village in Northern Italy where these Waldenses came from. Google it! Read about it. It is interesting stuff.
    Tipper-I didn’t copy this out of a brochure. Every word came out of my head. These people are mountain people just like us. They found their way from the Italian Alps to these beautiful Appalachians that we are proud to call home. Now it is their home too.
    PS: I goggled Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and they were at the Rock School last Friday.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Steelies were actually ball-bearings my Dad would bring home from work. Those big marbles were called “loggers”. There were cats-eyes and bumble-bees and those solid color marbles that came from the inside of spray paint cans. I loved and still love the clicking sound of a good shot, followed by laughs or groans. A few guys had real shooting reputations and controlled the games.
    The glass jewels still come to surface every year in my Parents’ driveway and garden plot. I didn’t know we lost so many marbles.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    HI TIpper,Marbles,I just had to get the old mason jar of marbles out,some go back to the 20-30s.Some where I have 4-5 of moms old clay marbles.Did anyone play odd or even,guessing how many marbles in the other persons hand? GOD BLESS. JEAN

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    April 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    This brought back memories that I haven’t thought of in quite a while. I remember when playing marbles was really popular in the fifties. My brother was 4 yrs. older and ofcourse really good. I remember him drawing a big circle in the dirt. I gave it a try,but I wasn’t very good. I felt included because my mother would take us to the 5&10 in town to pick our marbles. I had a big mason jar full. I would walk around with them hugged up against me. I loved my marbles. Now I going to look for them

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Here is how it started. First you have two brothers, the closes girl friend lived way down the road. Sittin’ around with nothin’ to do…a few kids would show up, of course boys from up the road.
    Someone would say, “Did you bring your marbles? Well, let’s play, another would shout.”
    No Steelies or Doughrollers in the first game! When agreed, someone would yell, keepers or no keepers…Or keepsies, as someone said, in the comments..We went to the ground closes to the house that was bare. If thick of dust and dirt had covered up the area, then I (girl) was sent to the house for the broom! The area was swept to relieve it of fallen twigs, extra dirt and pebbles.
    A strong broken limb..(or if Mother didn’t catch us) the end of the broom was used to draw the circle…”Biggin’ Littlin” was called..the most votes were to decide the size of the circle…
    I could see this was goin’ to be a serious game…The tough guys had some tough marbles…Thumbs with callus’s and knees that looked callused as well…I didn’t get to play in those games…The fun began, and my brothers would win a few and loose a few..Some special marbles were cherished, that were hard to come by. Agates, solid in swirled colors, not many transparent marbles…some very good cats eyes and occasional marble with the figure inside…
    You don’t know how bad I would love to go back to that place and dig around for old forty, fifty marbles…but alas it has been covered with blacktop…
    I have some marbles in a old milk jar in my kitchen window. Agates are hard to find for me…How I wish I had one of the boys old marble bags that Mom made for them one Christmas. She didn’t make me one, but I got my storybook doll…If I had one bag I would have to give it to one of my brothers….They wore out so fast, being thrown on the ground and dragged around everywhere…
    Those were the days….I did find a steelie a few years ago..and remembered the tough guy that always wanted to use the steelie!
    Thanks for the memories…

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    We played jacks, but never marbles. I too have been mesmerized by marbles since I was a child. I have never been able to figure out just what is so magical about a colored ball of glass, but I still find them fascinating!

  • Reply
    Trish Hash
    April 24, 2013 at 11:34 am

    So…..I ran across your Blog today for the first time and know that I am reading information from another Mtn. Girl from the information I have read thus far. Yeah!!! I live across the state line in Va. I am the only person I know of in my neck-of-the-woods that has the same interest and background that is similar to yours and mine. You had me from Sunday lunch at Granny and Papa’s add the music and the love of all things old and mountain ways, finally someone that knows how I was raised. One of my favorite memories is Sat. nights at Granny and Papa’s just waiting for Lawrence Welk to go off so we could watch Hee-Haw and then Granny would pop a dish pan of popcorn and Papa and my Uncle Jed would get out their guitars and the family would gather round and sing and drink cold pop and eat popcorn. I am 45 years old this year and my Momma’s favorite thing to say to me is “If you had to use all that old stuff like I did you would not want anything to do with it now”, but I love the old stuff. Heck who wants a milk cow and all the work when you can buy it at the store, me!!!! I milk every evening about 5:00. Don’t get me wrong I like the ideal that I can quit anytime I want to but I do it because I love it and my husband don’t fuss to much when he has to help because he loves country butter better than ice cream. I will be checking back and catching up. P.S. I love hearth cooking and we can about anything that you can think of. Waiting on that first mess of scalded lettuce and onions. If Granny was still living wild greens would be on the table for Sunday lunch before they become to bitter. Hello and Glad to Meet You, Trish

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Ed Ammons: “Bocce” is a very old Italian game where a small ball is tossed to the end of the field and two teams, with two larger balls each, try to toss their balls closest to the little one, or knock the opposing team’s ball away. I’ve watched it being played on lunch hour when I worked at a piano factory where I worked 50-some years ago, up in the Yankee Country. Never played it, I could not speak the language. The game is still played in Baltimore’s Little Italy on a very nice court provided by an Italian restaurant. I suspect it’s played elsewhere, wherever Italians gather.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Playing marbles for keeps was a
    game I loved to play. We’d draw
    about a 6 foot circle, have 6
    guys put in two marbles to sweeten
    the pot. I had a friend who could
    shoot harder than anyone of us,
    and when he hit the center pot they went flying everywhere. All the while his marble just stuck there spinning like a top. If he got to go first you might as well chauk it up. But I did like your
    girls did, later shot mine away
    in my slingshot…Ken

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Ahhh, marbles & jacks. Loved them both. There’s something very relaxing about rolling those cool, smooth, colorful glass orbs between your fingers! I still pick them up whenever I can at auctions, flea markets, etc & bring them home. I have a large mason jar (like 2 feet) that I house them in & it sits near a window to take advantage of the light & color play. Pretty Pretty! I must confess that I also have a veeerrry old set of ball & jacks that I display with a big old Teddy as well. Love my nostalgia! Thanks for the fun post. :.)

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    April 24, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Tipper, I too loved to look at marbles. But the description of the “Jack in the bush” game brought back the fondest memories for me. My dad used to play it with me (if he were alive he would be 96 now), but we didn’t use marbles, we used other types of things like sticks or stones. I miss him so much, but I can still hear him say “Jack in the bush” in my mind.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Collecting marbles is becoming very popular these days. I have a friend who is into this. Some are very expensive.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 8:53 am

    The only marble game we ever played in school was the one where you drew a circle in the dirt with your finger and used your fingers to hold a marble and shoot the ones in the ring.
    We used to find a solid color marble and heat it until it crinkled, then attach it to a string and wear it as a necklace.
    I stopped at a flea market while on vacation in MN and could not believe the prices a collector had on some of the marbles. They looked just like the ones that can be bought in the stores today.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Marbles! Every child had some, and playing marbles – using a “shooter” to jog other marbles along into or out of a circle – was a skill that could either fatten your marble bag or diminish its contents considerably.
    At one point, my mother sewed up a set of marble bags out of denim (I’m guessing from the legs of dungarees one of my four big brothers had worn beyond the point of salvage as clothing) and stitched our names on the bags…such style!
    Marbles were a big part of summer throughout my childhood. I remember particular favorite marbles very clearly even today.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Good Morning from Ontario Canada
    Our weather has been nice the last few days , but tomorrow maybe
    what can I say, that’s what its like here sometimes, one just has to work with it.
    I could go on and on, Id just love to talk more with you folks.
    But honestly
    thank you again for the wonderful music.
    I listen to it while I sew, every chance I get.
    I wish more people could hear it.
    Thank you so much
    God Bless You
    Love Bonnie

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Like you, I also liked looking at pretty marbles. I remember the cats eye ones that always caught my attention. All i have now is 2 of the ones out of vaseline glass.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 24, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Up the road a little ways from where I live is a place called Valdese where they play with huge marbles. They call them Bocces. They are about the size of a softball and weigh two pounds. What I wouldn’t have given for a couple of those when I was in elementary school.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Did anyone play “Chase” with marbles? Our tractor shed had a dirt floor. On days when the wind made it too uncomfortable to stay outside, sometimes my sister and I (or just me) would join my Dad in the shed as he worked on his tools and the tractors (all two of them) or other implements. To keep us out of his hair he would draw a circle on the ground. Inside it he would draw a square so that no corner was closer than, say, a foot, to the circle. In the middle of the square and in each corner of the square a small hole was dug about the size of a small child’s cupped hand. The holes were numbered 1 to 5. He would then get the marbles he had played with as a child and we would each choose 5 (I think).
    We would set up outside the circle somewhere near the 1st hole and take turns shooting our marbles to get into (and not overshoot so the marble went out again) to get in the first hole. We took turns until one of us got in the hole. When we got in the hole we could immediately get out and shooting from the edge of that hole, shoot for the next hole.
    One was quite skilled if one could go all around the square and into the middle hole without the other person (or persons) getting a turn. If you were extremely skilled you got all your marbles in the center hole before the other person had a turn – I don’t recall that ever happening except once when my older boy cousin from Tennessee came to visit. I became a very pouty little girl that day!
    Sometimes we played that you had to leave your marbles in the center hole until one person got all of their marbles in the hole. Of course, the more marbles that were in the center hole, the harder it was to get your marble to stay in that hole.
    Also, on the way around the square you might choose to shoot someone else away from an advantageous position while hopefully keeping yourself in a good position. If you could shoot them out of the circle, they had to go back to the beginning and start over. If you overshot and went outside the circle, you also had to go back to the beginning. Since they were Dad’s marbles, there were no keepsies games. However, I was thrilled to get a bag of marbles for my birthday one year. Still, with just my sister and I, there were no Keepsies games – which was fine with me.
    I recall watching the boys at school play but girls were never allowed to join them. Bummer!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 24, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I loved playing marbles as a boy. We would trade with each other for really neat ones. My favorites were cat eyes. I had the big dough rollers and the little pee wees. It was a lot of fun playing at recess to see who the best shooter was. This has me itching to find a sack full of marbles and go challenge someone to a game under the shade tree.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 24, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Tipper, I loved marbles when I was young. I played marbles a little but mostly I just like to look at them and feel them in my hands. I had the regular sized ones and I had some big ones.
    The reason I didn’t play marbles was because I was so attached to them that I wouldn’t risk losing one.
    There is just something about marbles that has always attracted me, and still does. It might be the varied and different colors. I am drawn to colors. If I’m at a yard sale and they have marbles I have to stop and look at them.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    April 24, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Tipper, we were shooting marbles by the time I was in the 3rd grade – maybe 2nd. I can’t say that I was ever one to marvel at marbles’ swirled appearance, but definitely enjoyed the shooting game.
    I hope you’re planning to talk about the game itself. I’d like to hear about playing methods that others recall.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 24, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Playing marbles was popular at my Choestoe country school and also in the cleanly-swept yards of our Choestoe homes when any of the kids got together on Sunday afternoons or those idyllic “days off” from farm work when we had “protracted meetings” (revival) at church and visited in the afternoons! And yes, I remember how I loved to look at the swirly colors of the marbles and wonder how in the world they were made with colors so adeptly distributed through a round piece of glass! I think the looking and wondering was about as interesting to me as playing a game of marbles in the schoolyard or in a neighbor’s or my yard. My first time of going to Gainesville with my Dad and in my Grandfather’s truck (when I got so terrribly car-sick crossing the mountain!), Daddy took me to a dime store on-the-square in Gainesville to select one gift for me and one for my little brother Bluford. I got a Jack-sticks game and got a bag of colorful marbles for Bluford. I’m afraid I had myself in mind with both selections! Getting them was like “Christmas in August.”

  • Reply
    April 24, 2013 at 7:37 am

    My brother and I were always fascinated with the colors of marbles. We used to roll them and try to hit the other person’s marble. We would flick them with our thumb or index finger. I had a few marbles, but my brother had a lot, at least that was what I thought when I was little. He used to keep them in an old sock.

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    April 24, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Does anybody remember the steel marbles, called “steelies”?

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