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 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.
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!)
- Find other examples of gameboards in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. (More exist in our holdings which have not yet been digitized.)
- The collections of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress also include gameboards, such as the 1889 Parker Brothers game Office Boy.
- Check out this post about the classic board game Monopoly from Inside Adams, the blog of the Science, Technology and Business Division of the Library of Congress.