An article by Milton Bradley, the now widely known game manufacturer, published in 1894 by Good Housekeeping. Few realize that Milton Bradley was a publisher, manufacturer of games, an author, and even developed a system for teaching color in schools known as the Bradley system. This article specifically deals with a certain stigma that was evidently attached to games esp in some New England communities. His article is interesting as it sheds light into the thinking of the time.
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The return of long winter evenings brings to light the stores of games and fireside amusements which have rested in the archives of the homes of the land during the reign of outdoor sports. The card and board games will now take the place of tennis, croquet baseball and the cycle, and supplement the magazine and latest books of story, history and travel in the amusement and instruction of the family circle.
Because of the great increase in the number and popularity of educational and other social games, the subject has come to have an importance in our home life not awarded it fifty years ago, when the boys resorted to the secrecy of the haymow to play ” Highlow-Jack ” on rainy afternoons, and some of the older men enjoyed the same sport evenings in the rear part of the village store by the dim light of the tallow-dip, because “cards” were the synonym for all that was low and wicked.
The general prevalence of games in our social life gives interest to an exhibit pertaining to Ancient Religions, Games and Folk Lore at the World’s Fair in a department of Ethnology, in charge of Mr. Stewart Culin of Pennsylvania University. This very interesting exhibit showed, among other things, that there is nothing new under the sun.
The Fifteen puzzle was described by an English writer some two hundred years ago. The game of Tip-cat, as played by the boys in our streets, is duplicated by a specimen from Egypt of the date 2800 B. C, and the ball as an implement of sport appears associated with objects in another game in Egypt at least 4700 years ago. Fox and Geese and other similar sports are traced to the Japanese of the sixteenth century. The Zuni Indians of Mexico have a wonderful game, called The Priest of the Bow, which is very similar to an ancient Egyptian game which has come down from 1600 B. C. Mr. Culin thinks the Zuni game may be regarded as in advance of any other board game, even of our own civilization, until we come to the true game of Chess. He says, ” Chess stands alone among games. We do not find the links that connect it with lower forms of board games.”
Playing cards were exhibited in great variety and it is demonstrated that they were invented by the Chinese and evolved from the dominoes, which in turn came from dice, a domino-block representing a pair of dice side by side. The dice in turn are traced from China to India, one being shown which belongs to 600 B. C. The dice are traced to ” Knuckle Bones ” used in the games of Old Egypt, ivory specimens of which are shown as having been found in the tomb of Queen Hatasu, B. C. 1600. The knuckle bones, which were the originals of the ivory and pottery ones used later, were derived from the right and left legs of the sheep, and called Kab by the Arabs, meaning ankle bones. Backgammon appeared in classical history. It was played in the Roman empire, and with little change through medieval Europe under the name “tables.”
“Dice-backgammon makes its appearance plainly in classic history. The game of ‘twelve lines’ (duodecim scripta) was played throughout the Roman empire and passed on, with little change, through medieval Europe, carrying its name of tabulae, tables; its modern representation being French tric track, English backgammon, etc. Among the ancient Greeks Kubeia, or ‘ dice playing,’ is shown by various classical passages to be of the nature of backgammon.”
Thus we see that the playing of games has always been among the chief amusements of all ages, and we may safely infer that it always will be. Therefore may we not profitably consider the reason why the playing of games, and especially games of cards, has, in the olden times at least, been considered degrading and positively wicked in many communities, especially in New England? The writer remembers distinctly when, at a very early age, he secretly played the game of Dr. Busby with a chum who had become possessed of a set of these cards, and that the pleasure of the game was seriously marred by the feeling that as the game consisted of cards it must in some way be very sinful.
The regular “High-low-Jack” playing cards, checkers, and fox and geese, and possibly home-made dominoes, were practically the only fireside games known in that vicinity, and of these the cards were by the best families considered as among the devices of the evil one, while checkers was the staple game always found chalked on the head of a flour barrel in the village store. One good deacon, the father of a family of grown-up sons and daughters, steadfastly forbade a pack of cards in the house, but aided in the making of numerous sets of dominoes, and in his agreeable moods joined with the younger children in their games with the dotted blocks. All this when analyzed is most unreasonable, because every one must allow that there is per se nothing more sinful or degrading in a few spotted cards than in a number of dotted blocks, and therefore the cause for objection to cards in the minds of the best people of the past generations must be found in the use made of the materials.
In those days “playing cards ” were chiefly used in gaming for stakes, and were intimately connected with hard cider and New England rum. Therefore there was a very natural prejudice against the cards as the means of the act. At present, dominoes may be as closely associated with beer drinking, the drinks being the stakes.
Another parent, of a later generation, was wiser than the before-named deacon and did not draw any line between the kinds of games that were indulged in, but required that they should always be played “fair,” and never for stakes. The boy in this family was forbidden to play marbles “for keeps,” but was supplied with the necessary pennies with which to purchase a reasonable stock of marbles for the amusement of himself and friends. In this family, parents and children could join in any game involving cubes of ivory, blocks of wood, cards of paper or what not, observing only the two limitations above named, not even the paying for a quart of peanuts being allowed to depend on the result of one or more games.
These are merely illustrations of a feeling among the better classes in New England communities less than fifty years ago, and it is not necessary to go back to the first half of this century for examples of the same impressions, even if they are not to be found at the present time. Twenty-five years ago, when the game of Authors was the popular forerunner of the multitude of innocent home games which now pervade every household, the publishers of this and other similar games were considered as rather dangerous to the future well-being of the young people, because, forsooth, if they should acquire the habit of handling cards of any kind, they would soon want the real old-fashioned bugbear in all its natural sinfulness. Probably this notion has very largely worn off, and yet there is enough remaining at present to render the subject worthy of careful thought.
In the consideration of the amusements for either the young or old, is it not more logical to base the selection on the methods, practices and influence of a given game or sport, than upon the name of the sport or the materials with which it is played? Is it not possible that the playing of marbles “for keeps,”‘ dominoes for drinks, or cards for money, and the gaming they represent, has so demoralized the public mind that no game of chance or skill or contest of physical powers by man or beast can be enjoyed by the public with the keenest zest without the stimulating effect of a wager on the result? Have the same practices rendered it necessary to have prizes of considerable value at stake in order to render popular the social game of progressive euchre, or drive whist in our private parlors? Have the public habitually become so demoralized that a trial of the speed of the noblest animal that serves man must be managed on principles which violate the laws of the state, and that this violation of the laws is upheld by eminent men of good moral training and high legal standing in our communities? “Tall oaks from little acorns grow,” and it may be just possible that some of the vital questions that are vexing our legal tribunals, legislative bodies and faithful and devoted parents are referable for solution to playing marbles “for keeps.”
Are not these questions worthy our careful attention, purely as matters of good morals and good government? –Milton Bradley.