Library Collections

The library holdings of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library & Archives of Play consists of more than 215,000 scholarly works, professional journals, children’s books and periodicals, comic books, trade catalogs, gaming magazines, marketing kits, fanzines, and other printed materials that illustrate and document the role of play—and the artifacts of play—in learning and human development and the ways in which play illuminates cultural history. Search The Strong's library catalog.

For more than half a century, in more than 350 books and articles, Brian Sutton-Smith (1924–2015) 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. The collection includes both Sutton-Smith’s own publications and hundreds of volumes from his personal library.

Each year dozens of researchers from across the country and around the world visit the library and archives to use its unique resources for their studies of various forms of play. Research topics span women’s knitting during World War I, to the crash of the videogame industry in the mid-1980s, to the cultural and religious messages of board games over time.

Significant materials include:

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Children’s Books and Periodicals

Starting in the early 1800s and extending to the present, the library’s 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; books of games, sports, and hobbies; children’s newspapers and popular serials; picture books; and young adult fiction. Representative periodicals include St. NicholasHarper’s Young PeopleChild Life, and The Youth’s Companion; representative publishers include McLoughlin, Frederick Warne, Random House, Nister, and Wonder Books.

See also “The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood,” “YOU and YOU ALONE: The Story of the Choose Your Own Adventure Generation,” and “The Flying Sandbox.

Chris Kohler Fanzine Collection

Author and former games editor at Wired magazine, Chris Kohler, donated a collection of more than 350 fanzines with more than 80 different titles that illustrate how players shared their passion for games with others during a time when few Americans had access to the Internet. The Chris Kohler Fanzine Collection opens a window into players’ experiences with video games and preserves evidence of player culture.

See also “Chris Koehler Fanzine Collection Documents Video Game Culture.”

Comic Books

Widely disseminated and ephemeral in nature, comic books have been both enjoyed and reviled throughout their history. This collection provides a sampling 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 to the present) 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 “Which Came First—The Comic or the Toy?” and “Comic Book Heroes and the Battle of Good vs. Evil.

Company Newsletters and Press Kits

Company newsletters from pioneering brands such as Atari, Brøderbund, and Strategic Simulations, Inc. provide evidence of games that no longer exist—or that never made it to market—and document gaming culture. In addition, these publications reveal a game company’s strategic planning, long-range goals, and overall understanding of the marketplace. While internal memoranda and personal papers from executives illuminate the views of company leaders, newsletters provide broad views of an individual company and its industry. Press kits provide insight into the marketing and merchandising plans and priorities of companies such as Nintendo, 3DO, Avalon Hill, LEGO, SSI, Activision, and Game Informer magazine.

See also, “Why ICHEG Collects Game Company Newsletters and Magazines” and “Four Horsemen: 3DO’s Apocalypse That Never Was.

Darwin Bromley Strategy, Simulation, and Role-Playing Game Collection, 1950s–Present

Darwin Bromley, co-founder of Mayfair Games, began playing and collecting games with his brother, Peter, in 1962. The Bromleys focused on collecting strategy and simulation games, wargames, fantasy, and role-playing games and associated materials. The more than 7,200 magazine issues in the collection include nearly 600 titles, such as American Wargamer, Challenge, Dragon, Fire & Movement, The General, The Grenadier, Imagine, Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, Owl and Weasel, The Space Gamer, Strategy & Tactics, Wargamer, and White Dwarf. In addition, the more than 1,300 books, trade catalogs, press kits, comic books, conference materials, and other publications Bromley donated to the library illuminate a pivotal time in game development before the computer age.

See also “The Influence of Dungeons and Dragons on Video Games” and “Playing the ‘Good War."

Kevin Gifford Electronic Gaming Magazine Collection, 1960s–Present

Video game magazine collector, writer, and translator Kevin Gifford assembled this core group of more than 8,000 individual periodicals that includes titles such Nintendo Power, Atari Age, Next Generation, Electronic Games, Official US PlayStation Magazine, Creative Computing, BYTE, and many more. Electronic gaming magazines illustrate how important elements of the print media covered and interpreted the industry and the individuals and companies that built it.

The electronic gaming magazine collection as a whole documents the evolution of the video game and arcade industry since the 1960 and includes more than 15,000 individual periodicals such as Famitsu, Computer Gaming World, RePlay, Play Meter, Pingame Journal, and Automatic Age. Many items in the collection originate from the United States with others from the United Kingdom and Japan. Donations to the collection are from: Jason Scott, Brenda and John Romero, 1Up.com, Kevin Savetz, and Kyle Boyd.

See also and “Why collect gaming magazines?” “Tournaments, Contests, and International Scoreboards: A Prehistory of Esports in the 1980s Arcade,” and “Bill Kunkel, 1950-2011: Video Game Journalism Pioneer.”

Playthings Magazine, 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 television programs, birthday parties, or 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. The collection includes the most complete run of the magazine in existence.

See also “Playthings and Intellectual Property,” “Postwar Plastic Playthings: Affordability, Resources and Military Surplus,” “Playthings Magazine Documents the History of Electronic Games,” and “The Home Front: Toy Production during World War II.”

Prima Game Guide Collection, 1990–2009

The collection of more than 1,250 Prima Games titles includes a copy of almost every strategy guide and cheat codes book issued by the leading publisher of strategy content for PC and console video games, from 1990 to 2009. 

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

Stephen and Diane Olin Toy Trade Catalog Collection, 1870s–Present

The Strong’s collection of trade catalogs from the doll, toy, and game industry is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world. The Olins donated the core collection of 10,500 trade catalogs to the library in 2006. The catalogs 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.

In total, the trade catalog collection includes more than 30,000 catalogs produced during the past 125 years from well-known and influential makers of toys, dolls, puzzles, and games such as Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Lionel, Kenner, Playskool, Atari, Hasbro, Mattel, and Fisher-Price. The collection also features examples from hundreds of smaller toy firms of the 20th century, many of which have not survived the corporate consolidations and mass-market retailing that shaped the toy industry in the past 40 years. Additional donors to the trade catalog collection include: the Link Group, Richard C. Levy, Anne Williams, Andrew Berton, Ron Dubren, Ken Brand, Ernie Bridge, Darwin Bromley, GUND, Inc., and the Association for Games and Puzzles International (AGPI).

See also also “But Mom, I Wanted PONG!,” “Imaginary Gardens” and “My Favorite Toy Catalogs in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.”