Their names evoke images more exotic than the most common of today's toys: Red Glass Swirl, Banded Transparent, Red Mica, Gooseberry, Red Net Lattacino, Mist Lutz, Two Pontil Onion Skin, Clambroth, Joseph Swirl and Lemonade.
You don't often see marble games on the playgrounds anymore, but the erstwhile passion of many a schoolkid is being rekindled by collectors who are hoarding and displaying the glowing, multicolored orbs.And for aficionados such as Kelly Sampson, those polished glass and mineral treasures so proudly displayed in oak and glass cases are history lessons as well.
Every marble tells a story.
Take the shiny Lutz marble he recently acquired from Leota Jorgensen; in its swirls of color and sparkling copper hues is a tale of old Pocatello, when a man could support his family from card game winnings and selling toys to the kids.
Look deep into the changing facets carefully embedded 100 years ago in a German factory and you can almost see the piercing eyes of John H. Townsend, who ran a ramshackle store on Third Avenue on a site occupied by the Center 151 Building.
A huge gambling man, Town-send would sell anything folks wanted to buy at his store, with a sign out front boasting, "House for rent: $35 without the bedbugs, $30 with," or "I'll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can pack."
When he wasn't busy dealing cards, Townsend bought and sold toys, including some of the fine old marbles that now grace Sampson's collection, thanks to an ad answered by Townsend's granddaughter, Leota Jorgensen.
When she answered his ad, Sampson received a priceless story of the old days to go along with three valuable examples of the marblemaker's art.
"My grandfather basically walked from Missouri to Pocatello and when he started his store around the turn of the century, he didn't even give it a name," said Leota, who found the marbles in a drawer she was cleaning. "He'd buy marbles from kids or trade them for candy. He had jars and jars of old marbles."
Jorgensen's father, Leo, was the recipient of most of the marbles. And like countless youngsters before and since, he brought most of them to school and gave them away or lost them playing the marble-shooting game called "potsies."
All that remained were the three Lutz marbles Sampson purchased to add to his collection, which includes cross-topped steel shooters, multicolored Rainbow Peltiers and even glowing uranium-impregnated Lemonades, Limeades and Orangeades.
Sampson, a local union pipe welder, has always had a passion for collecting things. His introduction to marbles involves another slice of Idaho history.
"In 1977 they were redoing the American Falls Dam and drained the reservoir down to the original channel," Sampson said. "We spent a lot of time over by Aberdeen in some of the old homesteads, and there were glass, metal and even an old rusty pistol exposed."
And embedded in the mud, Sampson dug up a colorful old marble, which immediately cleaned up to a bright shine.
"I didn't know what it was, but I knew it was special," said Sampson, who soon began seriously collecting marbles.
He now has thousands, with fancy display cases, special measuring tools and books such as "Marbles: Identification and Price Guide," and "The Guide to Machine-Made Marbles."
"People go to landfills in places such as Butte, Montana and scour for them," Sampson said. "Collecting is an obsession. It's in the genes. I study and study catalogs. Every day, I'm still learning."