Vintage Board Games At The Hay

Still time to check out “Learning Through Play: British and French Tabletop Games from the 18th and 19th Centuries” at the John Hay Library, featuring twenty-three Georgian and Victorian board games, along with jigsaw puzzles and other related items. The exhibit runs through October 11.

As the turn from the 18th to the 19th century approached in Great Britain, parents and teachers embraced a suggestion from the philosopher John Locke that “learning might be made a play and recreation to children.” A market for board games for instruction and delight flourished, but very few examples survive today.

The games are unbelievably dense with text and artwork, and extensive instructions, one wonders how the players managed under candlelight or even gaslight.

I’m not sure if ‘Willy’s Walk to See Grandmamma’ from 1869 was what Locke had in mind. The wall text informs us that in the morality-themed games popular in the 19th century, good behavior was generally rewarded, but in the perverse moral universe of Willy’s Walk “Players are sometimes rewarded for laziness and made to miss turns for good deeds.”

And the game-makers showed little deference in their treatment of the monarchy in the ‘The Royal Game of British Sovereigns.’ The question of Edward the II’s sexual orientation is handled, not in his space but in that naming one of his favorites, Piers Gaveston, titled “The King and Gaveston”; it’s just a crown with a snake crawling through it. And poor Anne Boleyn is depicted with her head falling to the ground post-chop. There are lots of gallows . . . fun for the whole family! I liked it a lot.

Also seen below is “Game of The Star-spangled Banner, or Emigrants to the United States” from 1830. From the wall text: The board depicts enslaved labor and a lynching, described by the instruction booklet as “an odious practice . . .”

The games are hand-colored and the artwork is beautifully detailed.

The exhibition is free and open to the public during the library’s regular hours: After Labor Day, Monday through Thursday, 10am to 6pm, and Friday 10am to 5pm. (Weekends requires access by Brown ID card-swipe.)

In other words: Admission to the general public is only on weekdays.

Now through October 11, John Hay Library, 20 Prospect Street, (directions)


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