Library Collections

The library holdings of The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play include scholarly works, professional journals, other periodicals, children’s books, comic books, trade catalogs, gaming magazines, and other printed materials that illustrate and document the role of play in learning and human development and the ways in which it illuminates cultural history.

Key holdings include the following:

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Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors Collection, 1850–2010

The Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors, which is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and appreciation of games and puzzles, assembled this collection of more than 1,275 historical items. Included are books, trade catalogs, magazines, auction catalogs, exhibition catalogs, game instructions, and other historical game-and-puzzle-industry items dating from the mid-19th century to the present. Key companies represented in the collection include Great American Puzzle Factory, Cranium, Frederick A. Stokes, Parker Brothers, Endless Games, and World Wide Games.

Children’s Books and Periodicals

Starting in the early 1800s and extending to the present, the library’s extensive collection of children’s books and periodicals provides a revealing record of the social, cultural, technological, and commercial changes that have governed the evolution of printed materials designed to educate and entertain children. The collection covers every aspect of childhood and includes inexpensive chapbooks and moral tales; toy and movable books; readers and primers; children’s newspapers and popular serials; picture books; books of games, sports, and hobbies; and young adult fiction. Representative periodicals include St. Nicholas, Harper’s Young People, Child Life, and The Youth’s Companion; representative publishers include McLoughlin, Frederick Warne, Random House, Nister, and Wonder Books. (See also Little Golden Books.)

See also “The Flying Sandbox.

Comic Books

Widely disseminated and ephemeral in nature, comic books have been both enjoyed and reviled throughout their history. This collection provides a full range of comics history, including superhero, romance, horror, Classics Illustrated, war, teen, Western, spy, adventure, Manga, and other popular genres. The eclectic nature of the collection, together with its size (more than 21,000 titles dating from the 1950s) illustrates changes in social and cultural attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions over half a century. Written for readers of all ages and backgrounds, the comics graphically depict ideas about heroism, patriotism, adolescence, violence, crime, the American West, the supernatural, sexism, racism, and Americanization, among other topics.

See also “Comic Book Heroes and the Battle of Good vs. Evil.

Computer Gaming World Collection, 1982–2000s

For two decades, Computer Gaming World magazine ranked among the most important magazines for the video game industry, documenting both electronic game development and play in America. This collection, originally retained by the magazine’s publishers as the official archive of Computer Gaming World, is comprised of more than 100 issues, from volume 2 in 1982 through the last issue in 2006, when the title changed to Games for Windows. Volumes in the collection contain articles by many of the most important video game pioneers, such as Dan Bunten and Chris Crawford, as well as legends of pen-and-paper gaming like Dave Arneson.

Joe L. Frost Collection, 1967–2006

A recognized authority on the subject of early childhood, children’s play, and play environments, Joe L. Frost has made significant contributions to the study of play for more than 40 years as a scholar and educator. He is a leading advocate of safety standards in playground design and construction and for policies and programs that encourage free play outdoors. This collection includes every book he has written or edited plus a bound set of all the papers he published prior to 2006.

Kevin Gifford Video Game Magazine Collection, 1970s–Present

Assembled by video game magazine collector, writer, and translator Kevin Gifford, this group of more than 8,000 individual periodicals includes titles such Nintendo Power, Atari Age, Next Generation, Electronic Games, Official US PlayStation Magazine, Creative Computing, BYTE, and many more. The collection is especially strong in magazines from the United States and the United Kingdom, with significant representation of Japanese gaming publications. Collectively, the magazines richly document both the evolution of the video game industry since the 1970s and how important elements of the print media covered and interpreted the industry and the individuals and companies that built it.

See also “Four Horsemen: 3DO’s Apocalypse That Never Was.”

Little Golden Books Collection

Launched by the Artists and Writers Guild in 1942 and sold everywhere from department stores to supermarkets, Little Golden Books have contributed significantly to children’s love of reading and the development of early literacy skills. In addition to representing the creative work of many leading writers and artists, the brightly illustrated books reflect evolving theories of early childhood development and leading characters and themes of popular culture. The collection includes nearly 2,400 titles spanning six decades from the first year of publication, when the series began with 12 books, to the end of the last century.

See also “Golden Memories” and “Little Golden Books and Little Red Riding Hood: The Better to Read with You, My Dear.”

Stephen and Diane Olin Toy Catalog Collection, 1850–2010

Containing more than 12,250 trade catalogs from the mid-19th century to the present, this international collection constitutes an unparalleled record of the toy and recreation industries. Through text and images, the catalogs illustrate a full range of toys, dolls, games, and recreational artifacts and provide a critical mass of information essential to examining the commercial aspects of play and the interplay of products and culture over time. Almost every toy manufacturer is represented, including Dent Hardware, Selchow & Righter, Lionel, Marx, Playskool, Fisher-Price, Hasbro, and Mattel.

Playthings Magazine Collection, 1903–2010

For more than 100 years, Playthings magazine stood as the leading trade magazine for the toy industry, documenting both toy manufacturing and play in America as viewed through artifacts of play. From its first issue in 1903, Playthings recorded the introduction of virtually every new toy that found its way to store shelves, the back pages of comic books, Saturday morning children’s TV programs, birthday parties, or space under Christmas trees. The magazine’s pages mark the effects of the Great Depression, two World Wars, suburbia, popular culture, the Internet, and other significant milestones and trends on the industry. The collection includes a complete run of the magazine.

See also “Playthings Magazine Documents the History of Electronic Games.

Prima Games Collection, 1990–Present

This growing collection of more than 1,250 titles includes a copy of almost every strategy guide and cheat codes book issued by Prima Games, the leading publisher of strategy content for PC and console video games, from 1990 to the present. 

See also “A Librarian's Top Five Video Game Strategy Guides.”

Brian Sutton-Smith Collection, 1949–2009

For more than half a century, in more than 350 books and articles, Brian Sutton-Smith has led or synthesized all the major advances in play studies, and his The Ambiguity of Play (1987) stands alongside Johann Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938) and Roger Caillois’s Man Play and Games (1961) as a touchstone of play theory. This collection includes both Sutton-Smith’s own publications and hundreds of volumes from his personal library.

See also the Brian Sutton-Smith Papers.

Trade Catalogs—Toys, Dolls, and Games

The more than 6,000 trade catalogs in this collection (which is exclusive of the Olin Toy Catalog Collection) extend from the mid-19th century to the present and document every aspect of American recreational and leisure activities, including sports, tourism, outdoor pursuits, playgrounds, amusements, social and cultural events, and more. Published by manufacturers to sell their products to wholesalers and retailers, and in some cases directly to consumers, these catalogs and advertising pieces feature the latest in print technology, from steel cut engravings to the introduction of chromolithography and photography, in each era. More importantly, the pieces provide key information about when new products and materials appeared, how much they cost, and when they enjoyed their greatest popularity. Companies represented in the collection include Milton Bradley, Peck & Snyder, C. W. Parker, T. S. Denison, Allan Herschell, Thomas A. Edison, Aladdin Industries, Klepper-Folding-Boat, and many more.

See also “Imaginary Gardens” and “My Favorite Toy Catalogs in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.”

Trade Catalogs—Electronic and Video Games

This collection includes more than 1,500 video game and other electronic game catalogs, arcade-game fliers, and advertising pieces. They document the production, evolution, and marketing of electronic games from the 1970s. Companies represented in the collection include Coleco, Parker Brothers, Atari, and Magnavox, among others.

Video Game and Electronic Game Books and Periodicals

The more than 10,000 gaming magazines in this collection provide a telling barometer of the rise and fall in popularity of individual video games and the companies who created them from the 1970s to the present. Included is a special collection of more than 8,000 items in the Kevin Gifford Video Game Magazine Collection (see the separate description of that material). Also included here is a large selection of books related to electronic games of all types.

See also “Why collect gaming magazines?