Biggest antiques fair shows off games people played

Sunday, October 21, 2001

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Oh, the games people play.

"Monopoly?" "Mouse Trap?" They're johnny-come-latelys compared with some of the 19th century puzzles and games on display this weekend at the Atlantique City antique show.

How about "Characteristics," an 1843 parlor game that featured small playing cards and advertised itself as "a game by a lady." Or "The Mansion of Happiness," another 1840s board game that, like many of its time, rewarded the player whose moves reflected the best morals.

These games -- and 600 others -- are part of "Great Games People Play," a one-of-a-kind display that represents only a small fraction of the colossal annual flea market known as Atlantique City.

Among the exhibitors will be Bruce Whitehill, founder of the 300-member Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors. Whitehill, 55, of Providence, R.I., and two other games collectors have put the best of their collections together for the display. About half the items are for sale; some are too precious to part with.

"Games tell us so much about the culture," said Whitehill, who also answers to the nickname "The Big Game Hunter." "These early ones have such exceptional lithography that they stand as works of art unto themselves. And the games themselves, most of them were morality plays. The idea was that when you do good, you move up and when you're involved in vice instead of virtue, you lose."

In 1866, a man named Milton Bradley marketed the "Game of Life," but it looked far different from the one sold today. It had a traditional square, flat board, with orange and gray squares that included "gambling to ruin," "idleness," and "disgrace," among other pitfalls.

An original is on display at the exhibit, and it's for sale. Price: $300.

Then there's the "Game of Battles: Fun for Boys," a McLoughlin Bros. game later bought by Bradley that features 6-inch tall cardboard soldiers from various nations. Price: $1,800.

The games, which are set up chronologically in glass display cases, give a kind of through-the-ages insight into the player's mindset. They're not all children's games: Included in the display are "Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life," which is based on the old TV show.

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