Games People Play
Figure 1: Lot 346, Game of the Visit of Santa Claus, estimated at $2,000 - 3,000 USD, from Oakridge Auction Gallery's November Discovery auction, November 25, 2019.
Games have long been a part of the human story. They are one of our oldest forms of social interaction, transcending culture, place and time. These days, nearly all games are electronic, from video games to the online solitaire on your cell phone. While some board games are still perennial favorites, such as Chess, Monopoly, and Risk, family game nights often look very different than they did even ten or twenty years ago.
The earliest games were used for both religious and secular activities. Codified games date to 3500 BCE with Senet and 3000 BCE with The Royal Game of Ur, both played in dynastic Egypt. The Greeks and Romans played ball games, dice games, strategic battle games, even tic-tac-toe. Chess, one of our longest and most widely played games, dates to 6th century India.
In the modern era, the advent of printing and then color lithography prompted a virtual explosion in the creativity of games. The first board game by a known designer was ‘A Journey Through Europe or the Play of Geography,’ published in 1759 by John Jefferys in London. George Fox created ‘The Mansion of Happiness’ in 1800, which served as the template for board games for nearly 200 years.
Figure 2: Lot 345, Parker Brothers' 'Battle of Manila' Board Game, estimated at $600 - 800 USD, from Oakridge Auction Gallery's November Discovery auction, November 25, 2019.
In the 19th century, companies in the United States, such as Parker Bros. (1883), Milton Bradley 1860), and McLoughlin Bros. (1858), became known for creating elaborately designed and colored games. Often these games were simple variations on each other but with all new graphics and frequently fanciful designs. Oakridge Auction Gallery has a select few games in our November Discovery auction that typify the art and sensibilities of that era. All but one were published by McLoughlin Bros., the exception being the classic and patriotic Parker Brothers’ game of the ‘Battle of Manila’ (fig. 2) created for the Spanish-American War in 1898. This game comes with the original spinner and lead battleship game pieces and carries a presale estimate of $600 - $800.
Figure 3: Lot 344, McLoughlin Bros. 'Advance and Retreat' Board Game, estimated at $1,000 - 1,500 USD, from Oakridge Auction Gallery's November Discovery auction, November 25, 2019.
Of the games published by McLoughlin Bros., one in particular typifies the superb graphics achievable in this era of board games: a 1901 example of ‘Advance and Retreat’ (fig. 3) from the Merry Christmas Series, which depicts mounted Plains warriors on the box cover, unusual for this game, while the game board remains consistent with others of its type, estimated at $1000 - $1500. Other McLoughlin Bros. games in the sale include: ‘Bicycle Race,’ ‘Fun at the Circus,’ and ‘Mail Express,’ but the standout is the 1897 ‘Game of the Visit of Santa Claus’ (fig. 1), with Saint Nick in all his glorious Victorian splendor depicted on the box, considered the best of the Santa Claus-related game from this era. This game carries a $2000 - $3000 estimate.