Interview with Arthur Sykes, 1984 March 21 [audio]

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  • Discussion of marbles including description of the rings, object of the game, and method of holding the shooting marble
    Keywords: Fathers and sons; Games; Marbles (Game objects); Marbles (Game)
    Transcript: Bond: [This interview is being taped over the phone with Arthur Sykes. Frank McKelvey was very interested in the tape made concerning marble playing and I have a few more questions to ask you.]

    What were the size of the rings, you mentioned two rings, one inner ring and one outer ring.

    Sykes: Well, I don't know exact name, or the size of the rings...

    Bond: Well, about.

    Sykes: For the simple reason we just drew a ring, and one ring would be, I'd say about two foot...

    Bond: Diameter?

    Sykes: Yeah diameters, the space would be the two - two foot, was the largest ring, size that you would draw.

    Bond: Okay, so the inner ring would be about two feet in diameter, then the outer ring was about two feet away from that all around?

    Sykes: Yes, that's right, correct. And the object of the game was shoot from the outside of the rings, ring I should say, and the object was then to knock the marble inside of the small rings and to maintain the inner circle and hold it.

    Bond: Did you knock it, then, from the inner ring into the outer ring? Or did you knock the marble from the outer rings - where did you start out with the marbles?

    Sykes: We started - the large diameter.

    Bond: Oh, they were in the big ring?

    Sykes: Yeah, that's right.

    Bond: Okay. Now how many of them were there?

    Sykes: Just two rings.

    Bond: Oh yeah, but how many marbles in each ring, in the ring?

    Sykes: Well, whatever you choose.

    Bond: Oh, whatever you choose, okay, could be any number, but was it normally four or five, or ten or twenty?

    Sykes: Well, my father and I used to play with about ten or twelve.

    Bond: Okay.

    Sykes: Now that's the way he played marbles when he was a boy, and I thought I better tell you that.

    Bond: Well, that's what I appreciate, okay, so this was way back when your father was a boy.

    Sykes: Oh yes, yes.

    Bond: And did they play — you mentioned playing marbles inside of the house by drawing chalk rings on the floor?

    Sykes: That's what I'm talking about.

    Bond: Well did they also play the game outside on the dirt?

    Sykes: Well I would imagine they did, but his favorite was playing with the chalk marks.

    Bond: Okay, all right.

    Sykes: And whether he played outside as well, I don't know. But he had marbles, and taking the word from his sister, she said he had barrels of them.

    Bond: Barrels of them, huh?

    Sykes: Yeah. Now how many was in the barrel I don't know. She didn't tell me that.

    Bond: What was the size of the marbles?

    Sykes: Oh, I don't know because he disposed of all of his marbles, I can't tell you.

    Bond: Were they as big as mothballs or something like that?

    Sykes: I would say average mothballs, yes, but I'm not sure now.

    Bond: That's okay, it's been a long time.

    Sykes: It's been a long time [laughs] that's right.

    Bond: What were the marbles made of?

    Sykes: And that's another thing I can't answer.

    Bond: You know some of them were clear glass and then others - you know the old doorknobs they used to have, sort of porcelain looking?

    Sykes: That's — I think they would be porcelain...

    Bond: Sort of brownish.

    Sykes: Porcelain, I'm not positive of anything of that - other than the rings.

    Bond: Okay.

    Sykes: And the number of marbles he had accumulated, course he gave them away to the children.

    Bond: Oh he did?

    Sykes: Oh yeah, yeah he didn't save them.

    Bond: Another thing, the marble you used to shoot with...

    Sykes: Yes?

    Bond: What - did you call it anything special?

    Sykes: Yeah, they had a name for it, but I don't remember.

    Bond: Would it have been a shooter or...

    Sykes: No, it had a special name.

    Bond: Special name - was that...

    Sykes: Other than you would find somebody who played the game and could tell you about, I can't answer because I would be wrong.

    Bond: Well, that's all right. Do you remember if this marble you used to shoot with was the same size as the other marbles?

    Sykes: No, no - I could tell you it was not.

    Bond: Was it bigger?

    Sykes: No — I would imagine it would be larger.

    Bond: Do you have any idea, was it twice as big as the others or - I realize I have you at a disadvantage...

    Sykes: I will venture a guess, it was twice the size for the simple reason, you couldn't grip any marble larger than that.

    Bond: Okay.

    Sykes: You see you hold it...

    Bond: How did you hold it?

    Sykes: You hold it with your thumb, on your knuckle of your thumb.

    Bond: Oh, the knuckle of your thumb.

    Sykes: Knuckle of your thumb, you turned your — let's see, shape of your index finger would be at right angles.

    Bond: Okay, yeah.
  • Rules of the game and "playing for keeps"; his father's skill at marbles
    Keywords: Fathers and sons; Games; Marbles (Game objects); Marbles (Game)
    Transcript: Sykes: And there's a lot to it, and I would imagine there was more than one game you could play.

    Bond: Okay, that's what I wondered, do you remember more than one game?

    Sykes: No, he and I would play on the rug, living room rug.

    Bond: Rug, but you had this one circle that was maybe six feet in diameter and then a two— foot circle in the middle of it, and you started out with ten or twelve marbles in the space between the two circles?

    Sykes: Yes, that's right.

    Bond: Then the idea was to knock them into the inner ring?

    Sykes: That's right, and hold it in there, and hold them in there.

    Bond: And hold them in there, okay.

    Sykes: That's right, that's the secret. That's the hardest part.

    Bond: How long could one player keep shooting? If it was your turn?

    Sykes: I don't know for the simple reason that we played both ways, each one would take a turn.

    Bonds: Oh, you'd take a turn, okay.

    Sykes: And the number you would accumulate would be to - well I guess till you ran out of marbles, the only thing I could say as far as the numbers.

    Bonds: Okay. Did you — when you were outside the ring, did you stand up or kneel down on a knee when you played it? I mean to shoot marbles.

    Sykes: I have to stop and think a moment about that.

    Bonds: Oh sure.

    Sykes: I think I rested on my knee, if I'm not...

    Bonds: Okay.

    Sykes: And — whether - I can't remember my father rested his knee or not. I know - another thing, I didn't have the force to shoot that marble that my father had, so it was the style or power in your fingers.

    Bonds: Did people play for keeps, I mean if boys were playing, would one of them play for keeps?

    Sykes: Oh yeah, they played — in his time they played for keeps.

    Bonds: Did they play for keeps in your time?

    Sykes: Well, he and I would just - did that for Sunday afternoon, or Sunday evening.

    Bonds: Well, when your father was a boy, did they play this game out in the yard as well as inside?

    Sykes: If they did, I didn't know about it, let's put it that way.

    Bonds: Okay. This marble you used to shoot with, was there any way you would lose it, I mean could the other fellow win it from you?

    Sykes: If they did, I didn't know about it. I would say that if you won, given a name, I would say it would be nibs N-I-B-S.

    Bonds: Okay, nibs - hey, I remember that name I think.

    Sykes: But I'm not positive, see this is a couple years back [laughs].

    Bonds: [laughs] I realize that, closer to three years back isn't it?

    Sykes: Yeah, and the thing I remember is my father's sister talking about the barrels he had of marbles.

    Bond: Oh my goodness. Well did your father play — when he got all these barrels of marbles, was he still a boy or was he grown up?

    Sykes: Oh no, he was a boy, always was a young'un, because I can remember my aunt, or his sister, talking about the force he had in shooting his marbles as well as the power he had in his fingers - that's the secret, part of the secret.

    Bond: If you lost your Nibs or your shooter, whatever we call it, did you win it back, or was there any way you could lose it?

    Sykes: I don't think so, no, it's the total marbles won or lost, as far as I can see. And you retained what you won.

    Bond: Okay. Where did people keep marbles, did they just keep them in their pocket or a sack - you mentioned several barrels?

    Sykes: In my case, my father's case, he'd have barrels.

    Bond: What did the poorer players do?

    Sykes: Well, I really don't know, honest, to answer you correctly I wouldn't say.

    Bond: Okay.

    Sykes: But he must have had an awful power.

    Bond: He must have had power and been a real talented fellow.

    Sykes: Yeah, that's right.

    Bond: Well let me see if I remember all these things - you said basically that you had an outer ring about six feet in diameter, maybe an inner ring at two feet in diameter...

    Sykes: That's right.

    Bond: And you'd put ten or twelve marbles in the space between them and then the idea is you probably kneel down and try to shoot from the outer ring to the inner ring.

    Sykes: That's right.

    Bond: And these marbles, if you had, say, ten marbles in the ring, were five of them yours and five of them your opponents?

    Sykes: I would imagine, yes.

    Bond: Okay, and so you were really shooting to get your opponent's ones in the middle ring, weren't you?

    Sykes: Well [next words not audible] know what I'm talking about?

    Bond: Right.

    Sykes: Other than then the total marbles. You could play both ways if you choose to do that. In other words you had to knock his marbles out, the opponent's, or the total.

    Bond: When you say "knock them out" you mean knock them out from the outer ring to the inner ring?

    Sykes: That's right, yes, yes.

    Bond: Normally did only two people play? I know you and your father were just two.

    Sykes: I don't know whether more than two played at one time or not, I can't answer you.

    Bond: Okay.

    Sykes: I hate to tell you about the material the marbles were made of, but I would say the only thing you could [audio cuts out]

    Bond: [audio resumes]...they might know over here at Hagley for that matter.

    Sykes: It may be here in Hagley, over at your place.

    Bond: Okay, well thank you kindly for talking, Arthur, sure appreciate it.

    Sykes: Oh, you're welcome, glad to help you.