Rockwell Files: Losing His Marbles

Knock the marble out of the circle and it’s yours!

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Like most Americans of his generation, Norman Rockwell grew up with marbles, the subject of his September 2, 1939, cover. Veteran marble enthusiasts might know that these are ½-inch-diameter marbles, called “ducks” or “mibs.” Players take turns shooting a larger ¾-inch marble (a “shooter” or “taw”) to knock the smaller marbles out of the ring, scoring points for each marble ejected.

As we can see, this game isn’t being played for points but for keeps and, to judge by the young lady’s bulging marble bag, she’s crushing her opponents. One is watching in dismay as his marbles are added to her sizeable stash. The other boy has already reconciled himself to being wiped out, as indicated by the empty marble bag protruding from his pocket.

Readers would have been amused by the seeming incongruity of a girl triumphing in a “boy’s game” — a concept that is, of course, outdated now. They also would have recognized the boy’s hat, which was called a “whoopee cap.” It was made by removing the brim from an old fedora, cutting triangles into the lower edge, and folding them upward.

This article appears in the September/October 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. This is an interesting story behind the story. I’m not sure if playing marbles was one of those games that went away after World War II or not, as many things did. The girl beating the boys ‘at their own game’ shows it really wasn’t just ‘their game’ after all. Still, I’m sure it caused its share of controversy in some homes back then.

    I’ve seen the boy’s hat in old movies, but never knew the name. I just thought of it as a jester-like hat popular at that time. My mom would have gave been around the age of these kids in 1939. I never knew to ask her if she played marbles or not. I do know she loved Chinese checkers (with marbles) and got me playing with her at a young age. It was a lot of fun.

  2. Loosing his marbles

    I loved the observance of the editors to bring out parts of the picture and explain them, which is not obersaved

    by the naked eye. Thanks


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