Between the 1830s and the 1920s, playing marbles were handmade by German glassmakers. In the 1920s, the glassmakers in the United States started making marbles by machine. Both the handmade playing marbles and the older machine made marbles are collectable. New marble makers produce marbles similar in design to the older marbles. Even the experts have a hard time telling the difference between the old and new playing marbles, but talking with an expert marble collector can give you a head start in telling the difference between the old and new playing marbles.
Feel the marble with your hands to see if you feel a rough spot, called a pontil, on either or both ends. This rough spot is a result of the cutting or twisting of the marble off a long glass cane. These hand crafted playing marbles may date from 1830s to the 1920s. New marbles do not have this rough spot.
Look at the colour. Early marble makers did the entire marble-making process by hand with high quality glass, while the machine marble manufacturers used a lesser quality glass. The handmade marbles have a bright colour while the machine created marbles are more subdued. Newer marble colours are even duller. You need all three kinds of marbles next to each other to tell a difference.
Compare the swirls and check the designs in the marble. The cutting of the marbles resulted in the swirls coming together. The machine marbles do not require cutting and the swirls separate instead of connecting. Marble manufacturers often put images in the centre of the marbles such as the comic book character marbles made in 1926.
Check the size. Newer playing marbles are smaller than the older marbles. A shooter, the marble used to shoot the other marbles, is usually larger than the standard size of 5/8 of an inch.
Visit new and used bookstores, as well as the library, for books on how to identify old and new playing marbles. The manufacturing process of the machine-produced marbles has not changed much over the years. However, the patterns and manufacturers have changed. Finding the pattern or manufacturer in the antique books can help put a date on a marble.
Attend marble collectors shows to get an idea on the value of your playing marbles. Broken vintage playing marbles can be repaired by a glass maker.
Be aware, as with anything collectable, there are fake old playing marbles on the market.