The games collections of the National Museum of Play® include more than 7,500 examples of board, card, role-playing, and other games. This number does not include video and other electronic games held in The Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games. The National Museum of Play’s games collections fall into a variety of categories. The ones described here represent some of the most popular and historically significant groupings. Some listed under manufacturers’ and inventors’ names also include other items from those makers and designers.
Between 1915 and 1945, the Rochester, New York, firm All-Fair—known variously over time as Alderman-Fairchild, Fairco, and E. E. Fairchild—ranked only behind Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley as an important American game manufacturer. The museum holds about 200 examples of the company’s games, toys, and puzzles, representing the complete scope of the company’s game and toy products. Examples include some of the firm’s earliest efforts in high-quality games as well as classic later versions in bright, Art Deco designs.
From timeless classics like chess and checkers to the latest party and trivia games, the more than 2,150 board games in the museum’s collection demonstrate both the range and continuity in this important form. Highlights in the collection include examples of early games such as the Mansion of Happiness (1843) and the Jolly Game of Goose (1851), as well as the earliest known version of the Monopoly game (1933), handmade by Charles Darrow, who produced the first commercial version of the game. The collection is especially strong in late 19th- and early 20th-century games with boxes and boards decorated in beautiful chromolithography. Like games throughout American history, these reflect the trends and currents of the popular culture that surrounded them.
Card Games and Playing Cards
The museum holds more than 1,300 proprietary game decks and standard 52-card decks. Unlike standard card decks, proprietary game decks are concerned with one type of play. Over the years proprietary card games have provided a less expensive alternative to board games while representing many of the same types of themes, such as popular pastimes, current events, children’s literature, and adult literature—especially the game of Authors. The museum’s collection ranges from childhood classics like Fish and Authors, and branded games like Flinch and Uno, to late-19th- and early-20th-century proprietary games with colorful images printed on their boxes.
McLoughlin Brothers Collection
McLoughlin Brothers made games and other items of play from 1828 to 1920. The museum’s collection of more than 750 items consist chiefly of board and card games and also includes paper dolls, puzzles, and children’s books. Most of the items date from the late 19th century or early 20th century. All McLoughlin products from this period featured vivid color illustrations created through chromolithography.
Milton Bradley Collection
Milton Bradley, who set up his first color lithography shop in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1860, is often credited with launching the board game industry in the United States. The museum holds more than 525 examples of games manufactured by his company. Among these are several examples, from different periods, of his best-selling game, The Checkered Game of Life, and of his early teaching products, which he aimed at the kindergarten movement in the second half of the 19th century. Other examples of puzzles and games carry the collection through the present and include many mid-20th century examples with direct ties to popular culture trends.
Parker Brothers Collection
Founded by 16-year-old George S. Parker in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1883, Parker Brothers—Charles joined the firm in 1888 and Edward in 1898—specialized in games that offered simple fun, rather than emphasizing morals and values. The museum’s collection includes more than 525 examples of Parker Brothers’ financial games—most notably, Monopoly—fortune telling games, racing games, and nonsense games, and ranges from the popular 1906 card game Rook to modern classics such as Clue, Risk, and Sorry!
The museum holds more than 1,100 examples of role-playing games, the manufacture and consumption of which peaked during the 1980s. Role-playing games are important for their contribution to electronic gaming and the many role-playing options now common in that medium. This collection covers a highly representative sample of all major manufacturers and types and is particularly strong in works by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, founders of TSR. These men are considered pivotal in the development of role-playing games, and their firm’s products are among the best known. The collection includes important examples of those as well as special games made available only at conferences. Examples range from the earliest beginnings of the form, in the mid-1970s, to the present.
Ron Dubren Collection
The more than 100 games, toys, and prototypes in this collection document the 30-year career of game inventor and artist Ron Dubren, who is particularly well-known as the co-creator, with Greg Hyman, of the Tickle Me Elmo toy. In addition to many examples of various versions of this toy, the collection includes a wide range of other toys and games, from Dubren’s own Chinese Chess to licensed character games such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The collection sheds light not only on those particular games and toys and the play they inspired and enabled, but also on toy and game industry design and production processes.
Sid Sackson Prototypes Collection
This collection consists of 330 three-dimensional prototypes of games invented by Sid Sackson, whose 1969 book A Gamut of Games remains an industry classic. Sackson also wrote a column—“Sackson on Games”—for Strategy and Tactics magazine in the mid 1970’s, and his life and works are still revered by serious gamers and game designers around the world. Acquire, Sleuth, and Take-Five stand among his numerous well-known and long-lasting games. His abstract strategy board game Focus, which first appeared in the early 1960s, received the prestigious German Spiel des Jahres game design award in 1981. (Note: The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play holds the Sid Sackson Papers, which include his diaries plus game descriptions and rules, writings, correspondence, and other materials that document his career.)