Knuckle Down, Boys.

James B. Tippin, Jr., author of “Encouragement, Loyalty and Make-Do” shares his memory of “shooters”, “bankers” and the innovations the game of marbles experienced during the Great Depression. The marbles shown in the images are treasured keepsakes of the family.

Cigar Box with Marbles

Gambling Hit Florida County schools about 1936. It was the time that “Knuckle Down” came into fashion, a phrase yet used at half time, during television interviews football coaches from major schools.

Usually there was a grandpa or uncle who provided the prize, a cigar box. Ever so carefully a hole the exact size of a standard glass marble was cut in the top. Now one found a “banker,” a kid a year or so older whose pockets bulged with marbles. “I’ll give you six for three.” was the offer. In other words the banker invested three marbles if your box looked promising, knowing that by afternoon he would have a 100% return without effort or risk.

Winner Takes All

Now you were in business but you faced a chilling risk for the first few customers. The object was for the customer to attempt to drop from belt buckle height, a single marble through the whole in the top of your cigar box. If successful, the player was handed his or her marble and one more, maybe two as a “come on,” if you were really into the “game.” If the player missed, the marble became the property of the cigar box owner. Misses prevailed by a significant margin. The notoriety of this cigar box gang grew over night. When the bell for recess tolled all the little gamblers running down the hall with cigar boxes half full of loose marbles sounded like Derby day at Churchill Downs. Aha! “Sharp eye Spade”, the Principle, was troubled by this noise. Boxes were collected. Threats were made. We assumed “Sharp eye” used the boxes for his fishing tackle.

Grade School Gambling

The comparative peace of the game of marbles returned wherein a circle was drawn in the sand, marbles from each player were placed in the circle, and, in turn, players attempted to knock them out of the circle with their “shooter,” a favorite marble propelled by the thumb. Their hand could have only one knuckle touching the ground. Thus we have “knuckle down” as in, “I don’t know but we’ll sure have to ‘knuckle down’ in the second half!” In time, the game experienced certain escalation when some innovative sixth grader showed up with a “shooter” five times the size of a standard marble.