A Look Back at Board Games

Like many kids – and lots of adults – I love playing board games. I’ve spent many an hour rolling dice and moving around a board in a race against my opponents to either the finish line or to some other goal, like accumulating the most wealth or properties. But I have not yet tried to reach The Mansion of Happiness or take The Road to Washington, or win the New Game of the Steeple Chase. These are also board games, though of a much earlier era, and their lively gameboards are part of the Prints and Photographs Division’s collections.

Take a look at the 1843 gameboard for The Mansion of Happiness: An Instructive, Moral & Entertaining Amusement, which was one of the first board games ever published in the United States. Click the image to access larger digital files:

The mansion of happiness, an instructive, moral & entertaining amusement. Lithograph published by B. W. Thayer & Co., 1843. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05133

The mansion of happiness, an instructive, moral & entertaining amusement. Lithograph published by B. W. Thayer & Co., 1843. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05133

Clockwise from top left: Road to Folly, Prudence, Sincerity, Honesty. Details from The mansion of happiness. Lithograph published by B. W. Thayer & Co., 1843. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05133

Clockwise from top left: Road to Folly, Prudence, Sincerity, Honesty. Details from The mansion of happiness. Lithograph published by B. W. Thayer & Co., 1843. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05133

The game leads players through a series of virtues, vices, rewards, and punishments. As you can guess, the vices set you back and the virtues let you move forward to the ultimate goal: the Mansion of Happiness. From the instructions for the game: Rule 8: Whoever gets into the ROAD TO FOLLY must return to PRUDENCE while Rule 3 instructs those with HONESTY or SINCERITY to advance six spaces forward. Try your hand at this game by downloading the original instructions (below). This game was played with a teetotum, a numbered spinning top, but can easily be played with a die today.

Instructions for The mansion of happiness. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05133

Instructions for The mansion of happiness. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g05133

Not all early board games had a moral lesson in mind. Some offered clever ways to gamble, such as the aforementioned New Game of the Steeple Chase, where players start by putting in their stake and try to win the whole pot. Many others simply seem to be a way to pass the time and enjoy the often colorful and detailed illustrations.  Explore this selection of board games, most of which include the instructions directly on the page, though not always in English! (This first one is all in French, and charmingly depicts all manner of Paris street vendors from the turn of the 19th century. See if you can figure out what products they are selling!)

Nouveau jeu des cris de Paris. Hand-colored etching, ca. 1805. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03870

Nouveau jeu des cris de Paris. Hand-colored etching, ca. 1805. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03870

New game of the steeple chase. Hand-colored print by Jules Blondeau. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03542

New game of the steeple chase. Hand-colored print by Jules Blondeau. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03542

The road to Washington. Chromolithograph copyrighted by Jasper H. Singer, 1884. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.04154

The road to Washington. Chromolithograph copyrighted by Jasper H. Singer, 1884. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.04154

Detail of New game of the steeple chase. Hand-colored print by Jules Blondeau. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03542

Detail of New game of the steeple chase. Hand-colored print by Jules Blondeau. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.03542

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10 Comments

  1. Deb Shaw
    April 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I LOVE this. I collect board games. My Uncle Arthur M. Dritz invented games. May I send you photos and a paper?

  2. williamgsmith@yahoo.com
    April 3, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Across the board, multicolor facsimile reproductions are irresistable.

    Yours Truly,

    Self

  3. Audrey Fischer
    April 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    I enjoyed your post. I’d recommend you read “Mansion of Happiness: A HIstory of Life and Death” by Jill Lepore.
    .

  4. Katie D.
    April 4, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Are any of these on display? We’re taking a tour at the end of this month, and I’d love to see them. I’m a huge board game enthusiast!

  5. Kristi Finefield
    April 10, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Hello Deb Shaw, Thanks so much for your comment. I’ll get in touch with you about your uncle’s games via email to learn more about his work. What a fun job it must be to invent games!

  6. Kristi Finefield
    April 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Hello Audrey Fischer, Thanks for commenting! I ran across mentions of that book when I was working on the post. I’ll definitely check it out!

  7. Kristi Finefield
    April 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Hello Katie D., None of these games are on display, unfortunately, but all can be downloaded in digital form to your home computer. I hope you take advantage of doing so, and perhaps even try printing them out to attempt to play the games. I’ll get in touch with you via email to give you more information before your visit. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing these board games!

  8. Rob Crowder
    April 15, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    Do you know how many numbers were on the tetotum for The Mansion of Happiness?

  9. Kristi Finefield
    May 2, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Hello Rob Crowder,

    Thanks for your question. Our copy of the Mansion of Happiness does not include its tetotum and the instruction sheet does not describe it. Despite some research through published histories of board games, I was not able to confirm the numbers which appeared on the tetotum that came with the 1843 edition. The Wikipedia article on the Mansion of Happiness reads: “Its teetotum was an ivory dowel sharpened to a point at the bottom end inserted in an octagonal ivory plate. This type of teetotum was referred to as a pin and plate teetotum.” I was not able to find a published source that confirmed this fact despite tracking down many of the references in the Wikipedia article. If it is accurate, an octagonal tetotum does not necessarily mean the numbers were 1 through 8. I’ve seen an image of an octagonal tetotum with 0,1,1,2,2,3,3 & 4 in the eight spaces. An example of that kind of tetotum can be found in the American Board and Table Games collection of the New York Historical Society. Search for ‘teetotum’ (spelling varies, as you can see) on the linked page to see the example. I hope this information proves useful!

  10. Charmaine Doggett
    May 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Hi there, You have done a great job. I

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