Like other boys his age, about anywhere Charles Fuentez went in his youth, he had a pocket full of marbles — a shooter and mibs —ever ready for a game, especially with those boys willing to play “for keeps.”
“Everyone had a sack full of marbles. Everybody would throw marbles (mibs) into the pot, and whatever ones you knocked out, you got to keep,” Fuentez recalled of playing ringer. “There was another game of marbles we played where you had several holes and if you got your marble in the hole, you got to keep the marbles in it.”
Growing older, games of marbles became fewer, and soon Fuentez was off to college and a career as a teacher in Phoenix. Despite leaving the game of marbles behind, he never grew out of his like of the spherical toys of glass, clay and agate that filled his pockets as a youth.
Tucked away, he still had a few of those marbles he had kept from his boyhood. Coming across more in a jar at an auction, Fuentez couldn’t resist.
“I started collecting them. I like to go to auctions and just about everybody always had a jar or container of marbles. I thought, ‘Why not you?’ So I started buying them,” he said. “Every time I bought a jar of them at an auction, I’d count them and add that to my total.”
Searching for nothing in particular, Fuentez simply bought the marbles as he would come across them. Fancier or less common marbles he would display individually, while others he would separate into containers, according to their types.
“Marbles all have certain names,” he said. “Like, aggies are marbles made of agate.”
A few other examples are: Onionskins — glass marbles with swirls of layered colors extending the length of the marble; jaspers — blue marbles made from glazed and unglazed china; bumblebees — yellow and black striped; and sulphides — semi-opaque and containing a small figurine in the middle.
Marble fans also give them names like Popeyes, Supermans, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts because of their design or colors, Fuentez said.
Some marbles advertise products, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Sinclair Oil Corp. Among those he has on display are also marbles with television, movie and cartoon characters on them, from famous cowboys and movie stars to Little Orphan Annie and Snoopy.
Hand-painted porcelain marbles became a part of his collection, as well, to be displayed alongside the growing number of glass, clay, porcelain, plastic, steel, agate and a variety of natural stone marbles including turquoise.
“There were a lot of auctions in Phoenix, so I collected a lot,” he said.
His collection grew to include some grandfather agates that are as large as a billiard ball and art glass marbles that are more than 12 inches wide.
Following 30 years of teaching in Phoenix, Fuentez retired from teaching and returned to Parsons. While he continued to collect marbles, his wife, Peggy Gatton, collected paperweights.
“Marbles are actually a byproduct of the paperweights. They make the paperweights and use the pieces left over to make marbles,” Fuentez said. “She started collecting them, and then I helped her collect them, too.”
Decades have come and gone since Fuentez and his friends around Parsons would draw a 10-foot diameter circle on the ground and knuckle down to see who was the best marble player, or mibster.
The whole northeast end of his living room is filled with display shelves and containers of marbles.
“I have 50,707 marbles, now. Fifty thousand is not that many. I went out to (Rick) Trotnic’s one day and in his office at the front of his building he had tubs, barrels and containers of marbles. He had over 200,000, so he had five times what I had,” Fuentez said. “There are a lot of marble collectors all over. If they had a marble collectors meeting in Parsons, there’d be 10 or 15 people there at least. There are a lot of collectors around here.”
Dust covers the tops of many of the marbles, at no fault of his housekeeper, hiding their beauty. Attempts to clean them would be too time consuming and would likely result in them falling from the shelves.
“This is not a good place to live with a marble collection. We get big trucks that come by here sometimes and some of the marbles fall off the shelves,” he said.
Now at 20 years post-retirement, Fuentez can legitimately tell his friends, “No. I haven’t lost my marbles.”
While he hasn’t lost them, he is considering selling them.
“I’m getting old and these are taking up a lot of room,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about taking them to auction in Columbus. There is a guy there and he has a reputation for setting a price for something and staying after it until he gets what he thinks it’s worth,” Fuentez said.
The marbles range in value, from some worth less than $1, to others worth hundreds.
“I’d like to be able to get $1 a piece for them. Some aren’t worth a dollar, but there are others that are worth a whole lot more than that. One up there is even worth $1,000, so if they are getting it for $1, too, it equals out,” he said. “They’d be getting a good deal, but most people couldn’t just pay $50,000 for the collection, which is why I’m thinking about taking it to the auction.”
“It’s time,” he said. “My wife is getting tired of them, and me, too. They are taking up space and there is no need for it.”