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American Boxed Games and Their Makers, 1822-1992
by Bruce Whitehill

An interesting history of board game makers that offers profiles and prices games manufactured from 1822-1992, and gives histories of hundreds of manufacturers, including, Milton Bradley, Selchow & Righter, and Parker Brothers.

                                   
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Roll the Dice and Move Forward
by Bob Brooke

 

Lots of people love to play board games. In fact, they were the primary source of entertainment from the 1880s to the 1920s. Some families still have a “family game night” where the entire family plays board games instead of watching T.V. or talking or texting on their cell phones. Collecting them is easy. However, to truly be a games collector, it’s important to know more about their history in order to be on the lookout for some unusual ones.

Ranging from the games of the early I800s to the Baby Boomer games of the 1960s, perhaps no field of antiques or collectibles so closely documents the trends of popular culture and American history over the last two centuries than board games. Each box is a small container of our nation's history. giving subtle yet fascinating insights into the American psyche over time.

The oldest board game is a game called “Senet.” Ancient Egyptians played it during the Predynastic Period, dating it to around 3100 BCE. The Romans played Ludus Latrunculorum, a two-player strategy board game in which they called the board the “city” and the playing pieces “dogs.” The pieces, each of one of two colors, enabled players to take a piece belonging to their opponent by enclosing it with two of their own.

Essentially, a board game is one played on a tabletop that involves counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or "board", according to a set of rules. While strategy plays a big part in some games, many contain an element of chance. And some are purely chance, requiring no skill.

Games usually have a goal that a player aims to achieve. Early board games represented a battle between two armies, and most modern board games still rely on defeating opponents in terms of counters, winning position, or the accrual of points.

There are many varieties of board games. Their representation of real-life situations can range from having no inherent theme, like checkers, to having a specific theme and narrative, like Clue. Rules can range from the very simple, like Tic-tac-toe, to those describing a game universe in great detail, like Dungeons & Dragons—although most of the latter are role-playing games where the board, which serves to help visualize the game scenario, is secondary to the game

In 17th and 18th century colonial America, the agrarian life of the country left little time for game playing The Pilgrims and Puritans, who preached that dice were the instruments of the Devil, didn’t help matters with their negative views of game playing.

Christian morality was the basis of the earliest board games published in the U.S. The Mansion of Happiness from 1843, for example, sent players along a path of virtues and vices that led to the Mansion of Happiness or Heaven. The Game of Pope and Pagan, or The Siege of the Stronghold of Satan by the Christian Army from 1844 pitted an image on its board of a Hindu woman committing suttee against missionaries landing on a foreign shore. The missionaries are cast in white as "the symbol of innocence, temperance, and hope" while the pope and pagan are cast in black, the color of "gloom of error, and grief at the daily loss of empire."
Few early games were complex or innovative. Most relied on a player's luck in spinning an arrow, tossing dice or hooking a game piece. And all were based on Christian morality.

Traveler's Tour Through the United States, published by New York City bookseller F. & R. Lockwood in 1822, was the first board game published in the United States.

Even though New York City was the center of the board games industry, early board games reflected the nation’s values and aspirations.

As the U.S. shifted from agrarian to urban living in the 19th century, the middle class had more income and more leisure time. The American home became a place of entertainment, enlightenment, and education. Mothers encouraged their children to play board games that developed literacy skills and provided moral instruction.

Commercially produced board games in the mid-19th century featured monochrome prints hand-colored by teams of low-paid young factory women. The development of chromolithography, a technological achievement that made bold, richly colored images available at affordable prices, enabled commercial production of inexpensive board games.

In 1860, The Checkered Game of Life rewarded players for mundane activities such as attending college, marrying, and getting rich. Daily life rather than eternal life became the focus of board games. The game was the first to focus on secular virtues rather than religious ones and sold 40,000 copies its first year.

During the Civil War, board games told about culture in the United States. In the Mansion of Happiness from 1864, players won based on the Puritan view that success is achieved through Christian deeds and goodness. Players advance by landing on spaces denoting virtues like piety and humility, and move backward when landing on spaces like cruelty and ingratitude.

By the 1880s, many games had a rags-to-riches theme. In Game of the District Messenger Boy, published in 1886 by the New York City firm of McLoughlin Brothers, players were rewarded for landing on spots with attributes. It was one of the first board games based on materialism and capitalism. The game is a typical roll-and-move track board game that encouraged the idea that the lowliest messenger boy could ascend the corporate ladder to its topmost rung. Such games insinuated that the accumulation of wealth brought increased social status. Players move their tokens along the track at the spin of the arrow toward the goal at the track's end. Some spaces on the track advanced the player while others sent him or her back.

In 1883, Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall St. Game promised it would make players feel like "speculators, bankers and brokers" and featured cartoons of railroad barons Jay Gould and William Henry Vanderbilt.



The Game of Playing Department Store from 1898, showed what a novel concept it was for Americans to do all their shopping under one roof. Round the World With Nellie Bly from 1890, illustrated the Victorian era's fascination with travel and exploration, while Rival Policeman from 1896 uses as its base the real-life story of a time when New York City had two competing police departments.

Board Games in the 20th Century
Much of the American board game collecting market, however, focuses on the 20th century. Board games have become far more popular in the last century and many more games have been produced. These games provide a piecemeal history: of the current century, closely mirroring the history and popular Culture of our times and the recent past.

Throughout the 1920s, the great aviation feat yet to be accomplished was that of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. During this period a number of games were created relating to the basic theme of crossing the Atlantic. One of these games was Parker Brothers' Hop-Off, in which pieces were moved across a map of the ocean. When Charles Lindbergh finally succeeded in crossing the Atlantic in 1927, Parker Brothers came out with an updated version of its game, calling it Lindy Hop-Off.

The 1930s saw the rise of a number of money related games, including Monopoly. Also during that period, games based on the politics of the time were created. A company named All Fair came out with a game called WPA, named after the New Deal program of the same acronym.

During World War II there were again a number of military games and games related to the war. A company named Waltham produced a game called Dictator. In good condition, this game could sell for around $250. Also during that period there was a game called Ration Board, based on the wartime rationing that Americans were experiencing.

During the 1950s and 1960s many Americans played board games based on T.V.shows and musical groups There was a board game based on Groucho Marx's famous quiz show "You Bet Your Life.” The Beatles, of course, had a board game, as did the Monkees.

Many board games require some level of skill and luck. Game makers introduced luck into their games using a variety of methods. The most common is the use of dice, which dates back to ancient Rome. A roll of the dice can decide everything from how many steps a player moves their token, as in Monopoly, to how their forces fare in battle, as in Risk, or which resources a player gains as in The Settlers of Catan. Other games employ spinning an arrow or hooking a game piece, as in chess, as a way of introducing luck into the game.

Randomness is also an element that promotes luck in many board games. The Game of Sorry! uses a deck of special cards that, when shuffled, create randomness. Scrabble does something similar with randomly picked letters. Other games use spinners, timers of random length, or other sources of randomness.

But there’s also a cultural element to board games. The game of Monopoly wasn’t the first to have a “greed is good” theme. In 1883, Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall St. The The game promised it would make players feel like "speculators, bankers and brokers" and featured cartoons of railroad barons Jay Gould and William Henry Vanderbilt.

Many of the games are also beautiful works of art, with bold designs and bright colors, featuring fanciful characters or outrageous cartoons, often based on nursery rhymes, fairy tales or stories plucked from the headlines.

Old and vintage board games are probably one of the most common items found at garage and yard sales, church sales, and flea markets. As kids grow up and leave the nest, parents either sell their games or give them away.

Collectors often focus on the history of one game, such as Monopoly. There have been so many versions of it produced over the years, that a person could collect only that game and no other. Of course, collectors also focus on role-playing games, buying and selling games, economic stimulation games, educational games, and many other categories.


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