A little trivia question for all you 20th-century memorabilia buffs out there: What do Superman, Spider Man and Green Hornet have in common with Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and zebras?
The answer is they are all collector names for the brightly colored, machine-made glass marbles that were produced in America during the 20th century.
In days gone by, spring was the season for marbles. As soon as the school yard thawed enough for kids to form a "potsy" in the dirt with the heels of their shoes, recess competition began. Many of us remember with great fondness toting our marble bags to and from school, and the excitement of feeling that bag grow heavier as the days grew longer.
Barry Bonnevie, my brother-in-law, remembers his days at Livermore Falls Elementary School in the 1960s, when kids would line up all along the playground in recess competitions where marbles were won and lost, traded and bargained for.
"You didn't want to lose your shooter," he said. "A shooter was worth about 10 regular marbles. If you lost your shooter, you would have to either trade marbles to get it back or come up with a nickel to go to Wilson's Five and Dime to buy another."
These days, Bonnevie's grandsons, Ethan and Evan Pelletier, are learning to play the game. In recent years, marbles have fallen out of favor with the younger set. Some schools have even banned marbles because they can be used as weapons: That's a shame, because marble playing is one of the greatest spring-time activities ever invented.
Marble games give kids the opportunity to play outside in the fresh air and interact with one other in a friendly, competitive way. Kids learn to follow the rules and develop important strategy and bargaining skills. Real-life lessons can be learned while playing marbles. Even today, we often quote familiar phrases such as "losing my marbles," "knuckling down" and "playing for keeps."