Vintage Board Games

vintage game

Apple Pie game by McLoughlin Brothers

Winter is approaching and with the cooler temps come the desire to stay curled up with hot cocoa and a blanket. In eras past families gathered in the parlor for a rousing game of cards during chilly nights and it’s great to make new memories with this cherished past-time. Playing older games makes history come to life. Join us as we learn more about what made people hurry to the family table in decades past.

The Early History of Board Games

1840s-1920s | The Zenith

While the previous centuries viewed games as instruments of the devil, the 19th and 20th centuries were a period of tremendous change – a young nation transitioning from rural to urban living, new immigrants making their mark, the traumas of war, and an industrial revolution. With all this transformation, board games were now seen as a way to educate, advise, entertain, and live out fantasies (whether that be striking it rich or traveling the globe). Recreation has always echoed society’s customs; during these years few games were based on strategy or skill. Games of chance and fortune telling were popular. Some games bridged both realms of popularity and necessity. Conversation games evolved during the restrictive Victorian Era. These amusements provided a critical venue for people of the opposite sex to interact and develop their relationships.

As the country gained wealth and status, games transitioned from a focus on morality to competition and materialism. Nowhere is capitalism’s impact more apparent than in the game Mansion of Happiness. Originally good living propelled you to success, but as the industrial revolution gained traction the goal concentrated on amassing wealth.

The Mansion of Happiness

The Mansion of Happiness

Morality may have taken a back seat in parlor games, but being in good health remained paramount. Competitive sports like baseball and golf became the center point of many board games. This was actually a profound development as table games were the great equalizer. Even though women made strides in the suffrage movement, they were still not allowed to play sports with boys. But everyone was welcome at the family table and from this safe place anyone could partake in the festivities. Games continue to evolve, but that sense of inclusiveness remains at the core. So gather your friends, some yummy snacks, and your favorite board game tonight!

Great Vintage Board Game Companies

McLoughlin Brothers – New York, New York
This company produced games from 1858-1920, setting the stage for other successful firms in the New York area and beyond. Many of their games focused on children’s education or moral teaching, such as the very popular Mansion of Happiness. They are known for their intricate and colorful artwork.


District Messenger Boy, 1886

Selchow & Righter – Bay Shore, New York
Another firm producing games in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the firm created their own titles, they also had a reputation for producing and licensing other designers’ titles. Two of their more popular games include Parcheesi and Scrabble.

Parker Brothers – Salem, Massachusetts
The Parker Brothers brand continue to be an iconic firm, bringing us such titles as Monopoly, Clue, and Sorry! Parker differentiated their work from the beginning, departing from the popular opinion of the day. Rather than focusing on moral lessons, they believed games should concentrate on entertainment value alone. Success continued with the 1906 debut of Rook, one of the best-selling games in the US at that time. (And it remains a very popular card game to this day!)

Milton Bradley – Springfield, Massachusetts
The Game of Life, Battleship, Connect Four – these beloved games all come from Milton Bradley. In addition to creating their own games, they also sought to buy up their competition. In the early 1920s, they acquired McLoughlin Brothers and decades later in 1987 they purchased Selchow and Righter. During the Civil War, Milton Bradley is credited with making the first travel games for soldiers to bring with them to the battlefield. In contrast to Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley targeted the educational movement, specifically the teachings of Friedrich Frobel.

To learn more about how this vintage history inspired the modern board game experience, check out this awesome site, called Game Cows!

Four games we know and love & what inspired them

Monopoly & Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall Street Game (1880s)

While Monopoly debuted in 1935, its inspiration came about decades earlier. The Landlord’s Game is typically credited as the foundation of Monopoly, but other sources credit even earlier games with that distinction. Bulls and Bears emerged as wealth became the American formula for personal success. In this game players embodied bankers, brokers, and speculators. It was also one of the first games to incorporate caricatures of popular financial titans.

vintage games

The Checkered Game of Life

The Game of Life & The Checkered Game of Life (1860)

During the Civil War, the Checkered Game of Life sold an unprecedented 40,000 copies. Its design has evolved quite a bit during its long history; it was originally a modified checkerboard where players used a teetotum instead of dice. Players traveled from one corner to the other, from infancy to adulthood. Like real life, the goal remained to reach old age in a happy state.

Trivial Pursuit & The World’s Educator (1887)

The World’s Educator debuted as an scholarly game for all ages (or as the box says “can by used and enjoyed by the youngest child and oldest person”). It contained over 2,000 quiz questions with answers on 32 large cards. Players answered questions that dealt with history or current events. Quiz games came into prominence during the late 1800s and this game, in its beautiful wooden box, was the most popular offering.

Scrabble & Anagrams (1890)

Scrabble is now found in 1 in 3 homes, but it all started with Anagrams. These letter tiles originated in the Victorian era and a version was created by the big three: Parker Brothers (1890), Milton Bradley (1910), and Selchow and Righter (1934).  Just like modern day Scrabble the goal is to create words from randomly selected tiles – the most words wins the game.

For our readers: tell us about your favorite vintage game!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language