Reproduction and Fantasy Marble PackagingBy B. Alan Basinet
Reproduction and "Fantasy" Marble Packaging
The hobby of collecting antique marbles is already several decades old. However, in recent years marbles have become one of the most popular types of collectible toys. It is only in this period that collectors have turned their attention from handmade German marbles of the latter half of the nineteenth century and very early twentieth century to include the machine made marbles that eventually supplanted the former around the time of the First World War. And as with any type of collectible, such marbles in their original packaging are much more desirable than those that are not.
The first marble packaging included cardboard and tin boxes, and then net mesh bags, and eventually, beginning around the late 1940s, polyvinyl packaging. This latter type, usually simply called "poly bags," was used by a number of marble manufacturers. Several companies not only distributed these bags under their own brand names, but also sold them to corporations that used the marble packaging as promotional giveaways. This became especially popular throughout the 1950s and into the succeeding decade.
Polyvinyl packaging includes the bag itself and a paper header attached to it, usually with a pair of staples. Unfortunately, such packaging is fairly easy to reproduce, and in the last few years a number of fake bags has appeared, usually at flea markets, in antique malls and stores, and on Internet auction services. There are two basic types of these fake bags: reproductions, which are made to resemble actual original packaging; and "fantasies," which have no genuine counterparts.
Most fakes appear to be originating in Florida and are sold in bulk for as low as $2.00 each, and often resold for up to $100. Obviously, there is a large profit to be made from these fakes. Many people who resell them have no idea the bags are not genuine. To date there has been little effort to educate buyers aside from a few Internet sites and marble collecting books.
Recognizing New Bags and Headers
Many beverage companies of the 1940s-1950s gave away bags of marbles attached to their bottles as promotional premiums. Now there are many new bags being made to take advantage of the recent interest in beverage collectibles. Most of the new bags are made with regular headers (see Fig. 6), not the original "bottle hanger" header (Fig. 7) made to fit over bottle necks. Some of the new beverage headers seen include 7-Up, Hires, Nehi, Pal Ade, Dr. Pepper, Coca Cola, and Royal Crown. Although most new bags have regular headers, a few new bags are made in the bottle hanger style including Coca Cola and Pepsi versions.
Another common reproduction is the Mr. Peanuts bag. The difference between the original and the reproduction is that the header of the former will read "Play the game, be fair..." while on the latter it reads "Play the square, be fair" (see Figs. 2 & 3). Another common fake bag is Morton Salt. This has a genuine counterpart, but the original is net mesh and not polyvinyl.
Another type of marble originally only distributed in net mesh but which is reproduced as polyvinyl bags is Alox Agates (see Fig. 5). New bags are made with Air Force, Army, and Navy headers, something never made by the genuine Alox Manufacturing Company. Akro Agate, a company which produced most of the marbles in the American market until it went out of business in 1951, also did not sell its marbles in poly bags; therefore, any such bag purporting to be from this company is a fake (see Fig. 4).
Some of the more recent fantasy marble bags are those which advertise the Rio Theater. These have headers showing common stars, usually from western movies, from the 1940s-1950s, and therefore not only seem to suggest age but also are made to appeal to collectors of movie memorabilia. Known fake bags in this category include Gene Autry, Cisco Kid, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and Humphrey Bogart.
Another category of fake bags (Figs. 8-9) is oriented toward the collector of gasoline filling station giveaways, which were popular during the 1940s and 1950s. As far as is known, none of these new bags have genuine counterparts. New headers have been seen with these company names: Atlantic, Esso, Gulf, Mobil, Sinclair, Texaco, and Tydol.
In the past couple of years a marble company in West Virginia, Marble King, Inc., has produced a line of marbles made to mimic styles it produced in the 1950s and early 1960s. These were originally called Rainbows, and were often distributed in packaging with the company's logo. These packages included mostly white-based marbles with some having a colored base. These color-based marbles are popular with collectors and are those which were recently remade by Marble King, though in a design differing slightly from those of their vintage marbles.
These new marbles have appeared in fantasy packaging with names of the originals they attempt to imitate. These bags have headers with names such as Cubscouts, Girlscouts, Bumblebees, Wasps, and Watermelon Delights. The latter type of marble, when genuine, can sell individually for hundreds of dollars. No wonder the fake packages bring very high prices since they contain a whole bag full! It should be emphasized that Marble King never sold packages that contained all one style of Rainbow marbles such as all Bumblebees or all Watermelon Delights. The fakes always contain just one style like the package of all Watermelon Delights in Fig. 13.
Other fantasy bags include Mitee Marbles, Santa Barbara Air Express, John Deere, Aero Agates, Atro Agates, Perfect Circle, and Jeff's Sure Shots. There are probably others out there, as those responsible for making them are forced to stay one step ahead of collectors, who are beginning to become very wary of any polyvinyl packaging.
There are several reliable methods for detecting reproduction and fantasy polyvinyl packaging. The best is to have enough knowledge about marbles so that old ones can be separated from new ones. Old marbles are never placed inside fake bags; the marbles are always new. However, this method of detection is not always possible, as many people who buy these bags are not marble collectors, but rather buy them because they relate to their own particular hobby such as beverage items or filling station premiums.
Some buyers are lured into a purchase because they think the bags are old, as many of them have headers with rusty staples. Those making and/or distributing these bags will often go so far as to artificially age the headers and oxidize the staples by adding a mildly acidic solution to the area surrounding them. Therefore, rusty staples should not be construed as an indicator of age, particularly when there is an accompanying staining of the paper surrounding the staple.
One trait possessed by all early polyvinyl marble packaging is that there will be a wide seam down the back of the package (Fig. 12, center arrow). This is not found on reproductions. The packaging on older bags is also thicker and is heat sealed along the bottom, leaving a seam that measures around 1/4" (Fig. 12, left arrow). Bottom seams on the new bags is much more narrow (Figs. 10-11).
Authentic older polyvinyl bags are often cloudy sometimes making it difficult to clearly see the marbles. New bags are generally clear and very transparent. Genuinely old polyvinyl bags almost always show some type of wear such as ragged edges or soiling. Finally, the headers on fake poly bags are often printed with an inkjet printer, which leaves telltale dots (which are easily observed under magnification) on the print rather than the continuous inking of older styles of printing.
When all else fails, educate yourself as to the honesty and reputation of a seller who is offering these bags. Be wary of anyone who claims to have large numbers of original marble bags for sale, and avoid buying them if nothing else but intuition tells you to steer clear. It is only through education and becoming very familiar with a collectibles market that a hobbyist can avoid being taken advantage of and succumbing to the scams so prevalent in the antique and collectibles market. Fake polyvinyl marble packaging constitutes a very small portion of the fraud market, but it is one that is swiftly growing and spreading into other collectibles hobbies.
B. Alan Basinet was an experienced marble dealer who created a website for collectors to learn what he was passionate about. www.marblealan.com. He passed away in March of 2012.