The 1920’s and 1930’s were a time of change for this country. Movies gave people, young and old, the sight and sound experience. However, with the economy in flux, movies were a luxury for many just getting by. Instead, family and friends spent time at home listening to big bands on the gramophone, serial soap operas, news and radio plays on the radio and in – wait for it – conversation. Conversation didn’t just happen around the radio.
Movies were great but talking and gossiping during them made you very unpopular.
A new, inexpensive craze was sweeping the nation. Jigsaw puzzles and board games could be enjoyed by all. And when completed, you could trade the puzzles with your neighbors.
From “The Jig is Up” (via http://13909antiques.blogspot.com)
Anne Williams tells us in Jigsaw Puzzles: An Illustrated History and Price Guide that a map maker in England cut up a map and sold it as a game in the late eighteenth century, thus producing the first jigsaw puzzle. Chris McCann wrote the history of the Great Jigsaw Puzzle Panic of 1932-1933 which traces the popularity of this hobby in the Northeast United States. In September of 1932 Viking Manufacturing Company of Boston produced 12,000 puzzles which sold out instantly. In December they sold 200,000. In January one half million puzzles sold at newsstands for twenty-five cents each. Puzzle factories sprang up to compete, adding extra shifts to meet the new demand. Six million puzzles were sold at peak. This craze quieted in March of 1933 when FDR closed the banks for two weeks and people were forced to buy only vital necessities. Today there are an estimated ten million puzzles sold each year.
Early jigsaw puzzles did not have true interlocking pieces and sometimes, no picture to guide you! They covered a variety of subjects including storybook characters, historical scenes, fantasy bucolic visions of homes and gardens .
They brought far-off lands into the home as well as historical scenes used for educational purposes.
As a collectible, vintage jigsaw puzzles are available from $8 to over $100 depending on condition and rarity.
As for board games, Senet, is the earliest known game, created in Egypt, and pictured in a burial fresco from 3300–2700 BC.
Backgammon originated in ancient Persia over is over 5,000 years old.
Flash forward a few millennia and England produced the greyhound racing game. In this game greyhounds race around a track chasing a hare. Two different sized dice are used and the smaller one represents the hare. The players moves their dog in turn, but the hare moves at each throw of the dice.
Two popular games in the 1920’s were American Mahjong, and Billy Whiskers, a loose forerunner of the game Sorry! (1934)
Introduced in 1925, Marseillais Chess is a variant of Chess. It reached its popularity in the late 1930’s with its final game play rules established in 1963! In essence, the game played as regular chess but with each opponent taking 2 turns each round. A rule established in 1963 was an exception to game play to avoid an unfair advantage to the white player.
Pegity, also introduced in 1925, is a version or tic-tac-toe for 2-4 players. The goal is to get four of your game pieces in a row vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
The 1930’s saw Scrabble, Monopoly, Sorry!, The Game of Life, Chutes and Ladders introduced. These games resonated with the public as shown by their continuing popularity.
As board games grew in popularity, Hollywood wanted a part of the action releasing MOVIE MILLIONS, the Glamorous Board Game, a 1930’s studio tie-in.
Vintage board games are a bit more expensive to collect than jigsaw puzzles, Starting at $15, board games can top several hundreds of dollars. Vintage Mahjong sets are among the most costly.
Unfortunately, a host of horribly offensive board games based on negative stereotype of Americans of African descent proliferated at this time. Names so offensive I decline to list them.
So the next time your device fails, the power goes out, or your kids say “there’s nothing to do”, break out a puzzle or board game and dabble in some one-on-one conversation the deco way.
Chris & Anthony (The Freakin’ ‘tiquen Guys)
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