Would you pay $20,000 for a single marble? Well, apparently some collectors might...
Marbles are essentially miniature works of art in glass, and the number of collectors who are drawn to them just keeps on growing, says Dan Morphy, whose Pennsylvania auction house has become a virtual collectors' clubhouse for the specialty hobby.
On December 3, Morphy's auction company will conduct its largest-ever sale of marbles - a total of 762 lots. As has become the custom, the event is likely to attract a throng of collectors from several states, all keen to see what sorts of fresh finds have come out of collections for this particular sale.
"We've had collectors come from as far away as California to attend our marble sales," Morphy said.
"Those who can't attend in person - including the many Europeans who collect marbles - are always quick to sign up for phone lines or to bid via the Internet."
Morphy - himself a longtime buyer and seller of marbles - believes the December 3 event may very well gross in excess of $300,000, noting that several marbles are poised to reach $20,000 apiece.
The renowned Paul Baumann collection is the auction's centrepiece and comprises the first 430 lots of the sale.
Many of Paul Paumann's 'miniature works of art in glass' marbles are expected
The collection was started in the summer of 1952, when Baumann was a mere five years old. Baumann's parents were antique collectors who enjoyed prowling through shops, but they worried about their son's short attention span and wanted to think of a way to keep him occupied.
The solution Paul's dad devised was to give the boy a portion of his own marble collection, with instructions to keep an eye out for similar types of marbles during their shopping expeditions.
"That was what sparked a lifetime of marble collecting and expert scholarship on the subject," said Morphy.
"Paul was way ahead of his time. He wrote a book about marbles that was released in 1969 and has been reprinted several times, with 44,000 copies sold in all. That's unheard of for what was such a narrow specialty for so many years."
One of the most highly prized pieces in the Baumann collection is a 2¼ inch diameter onionskin peacock lutz marble with mica. Its medley of colours includes purple, orange, yellow, blue, pink, red, green, turquoise and baby blue; and as described in the auction catalog, it contains "large chunks" of mica and lutz.
The consignor purchased the marble over 50 years ago at a high-end antique show in Chicago, paying $75 for it.
Its surface is in "fabulous" condition, and overall, the marble is graded 9.7 to 9.8. In the December 3 auction, it is estimated at $10,000-$20,000, which Morphy described as "a very nice return on the consignor's investment."