Please! Don’t even THINK about asking Nick Britz if he’s lost his marbles.
“I’m going to hang myself if I hear that one more time,” jokes the North Side marble collector.
But Britz is the first to admit his hobby inspires plenty of puzzled looks and questions.
Don’t all marbles look the same?
What do you mean my grandpa’s boyhood marbles aren’t valuable? , What on earth’s interesting about marbles?
Marble collecting nationwide is “firecracker hot,” according to Britz.
“People go nuts for marbles - it’s addicting,” he says.
A Spokane native, Britz, 41, says he played marbles as a kid on the playgrounds of Finch and Willard elementary schools and always had a few rolling around the house. But he really became hooked two years ago.
Now the spherical art fills jars, bottles, decanters and boxes in his home on West Olympic Avenue. About 25,000 marbles.
It’s not nearly enough.
Insatiable, Britz posts “Marbles Wanted” notices on neighborhood bulletin boards, runs newspaper ads, even has an Internet Website - Nick’s Nostalgia (http://www.eznet.com/’nbritz) - devoted to his quest for the little glass orbs and memorabilia.
Each marble is unique, a thing of beauty, he says.
“The more you learn about them, the more interesting they become,” says Sherry Britz, who shares her husband’s fascination. “A marble isn’t just a marble.”
Step inside their home, and it’s obvious that more than marbles captivate the couple. They collect everything.
Sherry’s passion is fossils. Nick gathers everything from McDonald’s Happy Meal toys (in their original bags, never played with) to cigar cutters, matchsafes and toy rings.
“Anything small, old and interesting,” he says.
He buys, sells and trades, searching garage sales and flea markets for something to add to the collection.
“I’m into the history behind this stuff. I always wonder what the person was like who owned this or that,” he says.
But marbles are clearly something special to Britz. He only buys, never sells.
Like any devoted collector, he rattles off specifics and qualities faster than the uninitiated can follow: clearies, aggies, cat’s eyes, sunbursts, pontil marks, solid core, ribbon core, lobed core…
“And, of course, you know quality is everything - no chips.”
“Prices range from a penny to over $1,000,” says Britz.
To be worth $1,000 the marble would have to be large, hand-made, feature a beautiful design, and be in perfect condition, says Britz.
A few months ago, he bought Cecil Whipple’s boyhood collection.
“I had them since I was a kid,” says Whipple, a 68-year-old Valley resident. “I saw his ad and called him up. I was just wondering what they were worth.
“I had mixed feelings about selling them. I’d had them that long.”
Whipple had more than a thousand marbles.
“That’s what we did as kids: We played marbles, and either you win or you lose,” he says.
“Everybody has their thing,” says Whipple.
Britz’s marble-mania reaches beyond the little round balls. He also searches for anything related to marbles: pouches, boxes, postcards, awards, advertising, or art showing children playing marbles.
Britz says marbles and marble collecting goes in cycles. Although marbles have been around for a thousand years, they really reached their peak popularity in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Now, the Internet lets him share his passion with enthusiasts around the world. His latest addiction is “marbles mailed from other parts of the world.” So far he’s received marbles from Portugal, The Netherlands, Russia and England.
Britz hasn’t lost his marbles. He just wants yours.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo