Kids in the 1950s

“The Games We Played”

(From an email by my brother Ed}

As you say, there were different rules in different neighborhoods that people played by. These are the rules that we played by on 15th street.

The marbles were purées, cat eyes, aggies, opaque colored glass, and steelies.The common marbles were mostly of a uniform size. They were mostly common cat’s-eyes and the white opaque marbles with opaque colored swirls. These were the common marbles that you gambled with, or (anteed up) put in the “pot” just as you would ante money in a poker game before the deal. 

These marbles that you put in the pot we’re often called “dates”.  I don’t really know why, but, when a game started, someone would say something like, “Okay, everybody ante up 5, “if you want to play, throw your “dates” in!

The ante could vary, but it was usually 5 or 10 marbles per player. A ten ante game, with five players, added up to a nice 50 marble pot.

Then there were marbles we called “shooters”. They were bigger than the ante marbles, and they could be of any type from cat eye to steelies.  

We called them “half-sizers“ because were “half again” the size of a regular marble.  The added weight of these half-sizers would help to knock the smaller sized marbles out of the ring.  In many games, half-sizer steelies were not allowed because they just gave the shooter too much advantage with their weight.

In all neighborhoods, these “shooter” marbles were revered by the players and would never be put into the “pot”, but sometimes they would be traded for a certain agreed number of common marbles. The “shooter” marbles were of a higher quality that we all recognized.  Today, some of the marbles that we played with are worth many hundreds of dollars each to collectors. The one bad thing with shooter marbles is that they would eventually get all chipped up from hitting the other marbles so often. It might be chipped and scratched and no longer pretty, or in collecting condition, but it still could be your favorite “shooter”.

Your “kid wealth” seemed to be determined by the amount of marbles that you owned.  

I once went over to a kid’s house, and he pulled out a big full-sized cardboard carton that was full up to 3 or 4 inches from the top with purées, aggies, commons, and “shooters.”  That box had to have marbles numbered in the thousands!  I just looked at the sheer number of marbles with speechless awe — I had never seen such wealth!  It was as if he had just pulled from the closet, a pirate’s treasure chest full of gold, silver, and precious jewels.  

Another game we played were spinning tops. The idea was to hit another player’s spinning top with your spinning top.  You would throw your top down hard on someone’s spinning top in order to break it, or split it in two. 

The only gain here was the sheer satisfaction of destroying your opponent’s top.  There was usually four or five guys playing, so it could become quite a fast moving action free-for-all.

Lagging baseball cards was another favorite. Usually played after school, we would all line up and each take a turn to toss our card — trying to land our card closest to the school building wall. Any tossed card that was a “leaner”, that is, one that leaned against the wall, won everything. When you won, it was quite exhilarating to pick up and add all the losing player’s cards to your stack.

Sometimes there would be ten or more kids throwing, and destroying some baseball cards that would come to be worth hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of dollars today.

(We also destroyed many valuable cards by attaching them to our bicycle wheel’s spokes to simulate a motorcycle motor as the spokes would go around and hit the cards)

Marbles, Card Tossing, and Throwing Tops were kid’s neighborhood gambling games, but they all required some level of skill to consistently win. Being addicted, I played whenever any game popped up, but I never seemed to come out big winners — so I was always buying new marbles.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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