Old-fashioned games: Simpler times and simpler amusements
From an article by Lilian Jackson Braun – Detroit Free Press (Michigan) November 3, 1975
Who remembers Tiddledy Winks, Peter Coddle, Shoot the Hat, and Snap? They were pastimes that provided hours of entertainment before the days of radio and TV — even before Monopoly.
“They were uncomplicated,” said Warren Stephens, who collects Victorian games. “Simpler times, simpler amusements.”
“Games were not made commercially until after the Civil War,” he said. “They didn’t believe in children wasting their time. You can date the games by the clothing styles on the boxes. Collectors go for the colorful boxes.”
Many of the cardboard containers are remarkably well-preserved. “Kids took better care of their toys then.”
AN EARLY ITEM in Stephens’ collection is a set of Crandall’s building blocks. In 1887, Crandall was manufacturing an interlocking wooden box to hold “the new game of croquet” when his children contracted scarlet fever.
He took some of the wooden components home for his children to play with, and the doctor attending them said: “Would you make a set for my own children?” Stephens said, “Crandall went on to build a toy empire.”
“The old games of Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers are also highly collectible.”
Another choice item in the collection is called The New Game of Tiddledy Winks, with chips made of bone (not plastic) and with a real little woven basket to catch them. “These little baskets sometimes turn up in antique shops,” Stephen said, “and people don’t know what they are.”
There are early Jack Straws, Old Maid, Buffalo Hunt, Soldiers Five, the Santa Claus card game, Lotto, and the ludicrous adventures of Peter Coddle. “Lotto was the first bingo game. Peter Coddle is a game that could be revived; our kids play it.”
In the Country Auction game, a butter churn goes for $2.50, a turkey gobbler for $2, a plough for $10. In the Auto Game, the players spin a dial (on dice) and move counters along a roadway fraught with catastrophes: punctured tire, broken axle, hot cylinder, collision.
STEPHENS COLLECTS nothing later than World War II. “Monopoly came after that,” he said, “but it is the most popular game of all time.”
The games sometimes bear their original prices: 8 cents, 17 cents, or an exorbitant 39 vents.
“Often we get one where Mother has sewn the box to repair it. Boxes can be cleaned carefully with wallpaper cleaner or repaired with a little white glue, but never patch them with Scotch tape. You can’t get it off without damaging the box.”
As collectibles, games are still reasonable, compared to such runaway favorites as cast iron toys. “You can get a Victorian game for $5,” the collector said, “and you hardly ever see them over $20.”
Old-fashioned games: Fortunes in small things (1910)
The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) January 08, 1910
“The philosophical maxim, “Nothing is small or insignificant,” is strikingly realized in the history of what seem to be petty inventions.
The man who patented the idea of attaching rubber tips to lead pencils realized over $200,000 by his invention. The miner who first attached a metal rivet at each end of the mouth of the trousers pockets, to resist the strain of heavy bits of ore, made more money than if he had found a gold mine; while he who first devised the small metal plates to protect shoe heels realized $250,000 in a few years.
The glass bells to hang over gas jets, and thus protect the ceiling from smoke, made a large fortune for their inventor; while the inventor of the roller skate made over $1,000,000. The copper tips to shoes made their inventor a millionaire; and the gimlet screw has piled up a dozen fortunes for its proprietors.
Even toys have made their inventors rich, and fortunes have, been realized from the dolls that close their eyes, dolls that cry, balls with return string and puzzles; in fact, any device that sells in great quantities, however insignificant it may seem, is certain to bring very large returns to its owner.
It is noticeable, however, that originality is essential to success in all small inventions, especially toys and games.
The great inventions of the country, such as the steam engine, steamship, spinning machines and many others, are continually being perfected, until they now bear little resemblance to the first model; but the public does not seem to care for any improvement in small inventions.
Two of the greatest selling toys of the present century were the “Fifteen puzzle” and “Pigs in clover.” They sold by the millions, and were followed by a number of imitations, all very cleverly designed, and some equal in ingenuity to the originals, but they did not sell at all. The public curiosity had evidently exhausted itself and could not be revived.
There is also a grout deal of chance in the success of these little things, and the ephemeral character of their popularity shows that they have no basis of real merit. In a single year, perhaps inside of six months, the craze runs its course.
Wild West Game – Race Around the World – Messenger Boy
Day at the Circus – Uncle Sam’s Mail – Parlor Game of Golf
Mother Goose Games – Mademoiselle Lenormand’s Fortune-Telling Game – Punch & Judy
Mother Goose’s trip to the Moon and Egypt – Red Riding Hood and Slide – Baseball and hunting and trapping
Mail, express and accommodation – Telegraph Boy game – Game of Louisa
Big game hunting – Tobogganing at Christmas – (The game of) Pyramids
Kriss Kringle visits – Department store – Steeplechase and yacht race
Go-bang – Pilgrim’s progress – From log cabin to white house
The whirlpool game
Mary and John – an antique game
Department Store game
Game of Obstacles
Vintage Honey Bee Game
Jack and Jill
Logomachy (or War of Words)
Mail and Express
Pirate and traveler
Spoof (The cheer-up game)
Voyage round the world
The Sixteen/Fifteen Puzzle