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Marble shooters fondly recall game of the past

This story was published in the Hannibal, Missouri, Courier-Post on Aug. 22, 1979.

Marble champion Adair Holliday posed for a portrait in 1933 after he won the Hannibal marble championship. He was described by a childhood friend, Charles Rendlen, as having great eye-hand coordination. He went on to the state competition in St. Louis, and made it to the semi-finals before he was finally defeated.


Courier-Post Staff Writer

Aug. 22, 1979

“You broke my glassie with your steelie.”

“So what!”

“You can’t use steelies!”

“No one said I couldn’t so try and stop me!”


And so it went, a pastime which occupied a whole generation of youngsters, caused fights and taught gambling to the children. Before school, during recess, after school and all summer long, marble games could be found on almost any dirt lot. The hotter the temperature, the hotter their tempers got, and fights often erupted over alleged cheating.

There were champion shooters who made the rounds of the marble games, collecting marbles from all who dared to challenge their ability. One of these, Adair Holliday, won the Northeast Missouri marble championship in 1933, and competed in the Missouri contest in Forest Park at St. Louis before he was finally defeated in the semi-finals.

His partner-turned-manager, Charles Rendlen, remembers the competition and the events leading up to Holliday’s championship.

Rendlen and Holliday were partners in their marble-shooting days, having lived only a half a block away from each other in their youth. “I was smart enough to join up with a very good marble shooter,” Rendlen said of their partnership which lasted several years.

The two played marbles at the Central School yard which was near their homes. Rendlen says Holliday collected “sacks and sacks of marbles” during his heyday. “He had the best eye-hand coordination I ever say as a youngster,” Rendlen remembers.

Holliday, a quiet-mannered accountant, doesn’t recall much about his marble championship, but does remember purchasing his taws or shooters, in St. Louis.

His trademark was a taw made from carnelian, an imported stone. Holliday remembers it was very expensive - possibly $5 - but worth the price because it aided him in his winnings. Rendlen says, however, that these were the only marbles Holliday purchased - the rest were won.

The two traveled to St. Louis with Holliday’s uncle, Lewis Quirk, and they spent the night at the Chase Hotel, Rendlen remembers of the state contest. Holliday made it to the semi-finals in the state competition before he was finally defeated. “But I won a baseball glove, ball and trophy,” Holliday recalls.

The game most commonly played by youngsters involved two to six children and centered around a large circle in the dirt. The marbles were placed in a cross in the center of the circle, each marble three inches from the next. The larger marble, or taw, was used to knock the smaller marbles out of the circle. The one who shot seven marbles out of the ring first was the winner. Simple, but …

When shooting, one knuckle had to touch the ground until the shooter left the hand.

Histing (raising the hand from the ground and moving the hand forward) was forbidden.

If the player walked across the ring he gave up one marble.

If he talked to his coach during play he gave up all the marbles he had won.

When the seventh marble was shot out, the shooter had to go out too. If it did not, the object marble was put back on the cross.

Histing, hunching and smoothing the ground were punishable by the loss of one shot.

If the player changed taws during play, he left the game.

There were actually two types of marble games, “for fair” and “for keeps.” For fair meant at the end of the game all marbles were returned. For keeps meant they were not. Few people played for fair.

Some of the more common marbles included:

Commies - These were the cheapest marbles, were made of clay and could be purchased several for a penny. They broke easily, and seldom lasted long in fierce marble games.

Steelies - Small streel balls similar to ball bearings, were used by less than reputable marble shooters. They would often break glass marbles on impact and were often forbidden.

Emmies - These were made of colored glass and were fairly inexpensive.

Aggies - Made from agate, these marbles were fairly expensive, and considered valuable marbles to win.

Carnelians - These were the elite marbles owned primarily by the card sharks of the marble circuit.

Each youngster also had a small bag which he carried his prized marbles. One popular bag was a “Bull Durham” tobacco sack. Also popular were net bags, and the more industrious devised sailcloth bags made from trouser pant pockets with draw strings added.

Marble games are seldom seen on playgrounds today, and Holliday has a theory about that: The playgrounds have been paved over - to play marbles you have to have a dirt surface.”

Adair Holliday, in 1979, holding a small trophy he won in a 1933 marble shooting contest. Courier-Post photo. (1921-1997)

Charles Rendlen Jr., photo from author's collection. (1919-2006)

Lewis (or Louis) Hugh Quirk, uncle to marbles champion Adair Holliday. Mr. Quirk is pictured during World War I. (1888-1974) Steve Chou collection.

Lewis Quirk took his nephew, Adair Holliday, and Adair's marbles partner, Charles Rendlen, to St. Louis in 1933, so that Adair could participate in the state marbles championship in 1933. Author's collection.


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