|Statesman-Examiner Colville, WA June 30, 1999
Round rocks from square blocks
Retired Colville man
know his marbles
By Chris Cowbrough
S-E News Editor
Lets play for all the marbles...
All your marbles.
--Lenny The Crooked
Ill admit it. I didnt know any better. I was a pre-pubescent with an
elementary understanding of life and the laws of the playground...and not a whole lot
I got regularly schooled in the playground games of chance.
Playing for all the marbles. All my marbles, actually.
Ill never forget that day hard by the backside of the 1950s. Hula Hoops were
all the rage and the game of marbles was still a passing fancy.
I had my marble collection (actually my fathers precious old marble collection). There
were Swirls, Cats Eyes, Aggies, Immies, Peewees, Steelies and Shooters. Some hot
marbles in the hands of a clueless child.
If only I had been a shooter back then. I might still have those prized and antique
objects of my affection and former collection. But no. Duped into one too many games of
marbles with Lenny The Crooked. The Marble King of Hucrest Elementary. Actually, he was a
friend. Until he took the better part of my marble collection that day on the playground.
Didnt give them back either.
Marbles are a terrible thing to lose
After that he might as well have been Lenny Bruce.
Yes, I had lost all my marbles. Im sure thats what my parents probably thought
when I came home that night with an almost empty leather marble bag.
Live and Learn.
I learned the hard way what playing for all the marbles meant. It meant
Marbles, in one variation or another, have occupied childrens playtime for
centuries. For sure. long before Hasbro and Fisher-Price hit the toy boxes.
Archaeological digs in Europe, Egypt, the Middle East and elsewhere have uncovered glass
marbles made from the same glass used in vases, beads and other items of ancient
The original Toy Story.
Sticks. Dirt and rocks. The staples of childhood. And naturally, round stones have become
the universal stones in any era. Prized. Collected. And thrown.
Today, those stones are often transformed into handmade marbles by older, wiser children
who dont throw rocks; they turn stones into magnificent, antique works of art.
Yes. Hold a marble in your hand and you hold a sphere of history. Descendant of the stone
and clay balls that have been used as toys for the ages.
The allure of marbles transcends ages, classes, generations, languages and continents.
Referenced and refined globes that have stood the test of documented history. Romans
revered them. Shakespeare referenced them. Defoe pined to play marbles with the best of
Well-known for his marble creations
"I always thought they were interesting," concedes Colville marble maker Keith
Berger. The retired log scaler carefully grinds away on what was once a seemingly
nondescript chunk of rock. Here basic geology is soon transformed into a striking,
saleable-- and collectable-- work of art.
Berger, who estimates that he owns upwards to 2,500 to 3,000 marbles is well know in
marble circles. He and wife Ann do an often brisk business with their Round Rocks Etc.
hand-made marbles and lapidary supplies.
Round Rocks, Etc. started as a hobby for Berger in the late 1970s. He had been collecting
equipment and materials before that time, but there never seemed to be enough time to set
it all up and make marbles.
He had learned the art of marble-making from his father-in-law Red Wilson. Wilson, 91, who
lives with Keith and Ann in their Colville, home, owned a rock shop in New Mexico. Red and
his late wife Ann, who collected arrowheads, were well know rockhound who traveled around
the country to gem and mineral shows.
"We hit a lot of them," says Red, watching as his son-in-law turns another
marble.Keith picked up the rudiments of marble making from Red. He has incorporated his
own ideas and techniques over the years. Custom marble making is now his principle
"Red had a portable grinder," Keith recalls. "I got to playing around with
it and found out I liked it and was interested. But there wasnt time then.
"I remember that I was going with Ann at the time." Keith says of his early
recollection of Red Wilson and his passion for rocks. "I was just getting started in
life after the Korean War. I didnt have time for any hobbies. Too busy trying to
make a living."
The father of three children would ultimately find time. After all, Television is pretty
much a waste of time.
"I dont watch much television," concedes Keith, who admits he doesnt
possess a whole lot of patience until it comes to creating marbles. "I read a lot and
watch a little college football. But I would rather be out making a marble in my
Keith and Ann, who has gotten into hot-glass bead-making after spending the last 19 years
working for the City of Colville, mostly as city treasurer, sell a lot of what Keith
handcrafts in that shop.
Keith admits to not caring a whole lot about computers, but Ann, after all those years
with computers and spread sheets, thought that going On-line with their own page would
help to explain Round Rocks, Etc. To the computer age and marble lovers of North America.
Business is picking up.
"Ive sold marbles by mail order all over the country," Keith says.
"Basically, with this business, its pretty much mail order unless you do a rock
show. We do a few, but that takes quite a little traveling."
Round Rocks, Etc. Does its oftentimes brisk business on the internet and through
advertising in trade magazines like Rock and Gem and the Lapidary Journal.
One thing about marble material--there is an infinite amount of variety to this hobby and
business. If you dont like your material in more traditional geologic forms, then
there are an infinite number of man-made materials that make eye-catching marble
specimens. There is something called Fiber Eye, a man-made material from Portugal. Glass
"There is just so much variety to it." Keith admits. "You look at the
outside of a rock and you dont see much until you get inside and start cutting it
up. Youll never find two exactly the same."
So many marbles and materials to make them out of and so little time. Berger says he sells
marbles to one man in Nebraska who claims to have over 10,000 marbles in his collection.
"There is just no end to the variety," he says.
Plenty of material, plenty of time to create works of art
Some of the marbles Berger makes and sells include Amazon Valley Jasper, Australian Tiger
Iron, Australian Petrified Wormwood, Blue Lace Agate, Botswana Agate, Brazilian Agate,
Canadian River Plume, Dinosaur Bone, Fibre Eye, Glass, Gold Stone, Montana Agate,
Petrified Palm Wood, Rutilated Quartz, Solidified Mud, Snowflake Obsidian, Tiger Eye, and
Turatilla. And on..and on.
Each marble is hand-ground using a technique that has been perfected over the last 30-plus
Marbles can command a princely price. Ann says she recalls one woman paying $1,000 for a
Cats Eye marble at a show. Certainly, $300 isnt an out of line investment for
an antique marble.
Keith, who concedes that he has more marble-making material than he will ever use, is a
marble artisan who appreciates his craft and the beauty and unique quality of the finished
He devotes plenty of time to his hobby and craft these days. For one thing, hes
retired. And for another, he doesnt play golf.
"I dont think this is any more expensive than playing golf," he says with
a smile. "And I have something to show for my time at the end."
If you would like to check out the Round Rocks, Etc. Website address, its