- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

An unusual category of Americana has been accorded a fun-and-games exhibition at the New York Historical Society that reflects the nation's cultural history from the 1840s to 1910.
"The Games We Played," on display through April 14, brought together 150 examples of board games that entertained Americans of all ages in evenings at home before the advent of radio and television.
The show is offbeat, and the games make a colorful though quaint display. Three play stations allow visitors to try their hands at antique games.
Just as the origins of such contemporary board games as "Monopoly" and "Star Wars" can be found in cutthroat capitalistic pursuits and the conquest of territorial space, the inspiration for Victorian- and Edwardian-era games is often about reaching the top of the corporate ladder or America's imperial "manifest destiny." After all, games are all about competition.
This particular collection was assembled by Arthur Liman, the late New York trial lawyer who had investigated the Iran-Contra affair, and his wife, Ellen, an author of books on collecting.
Mrs. Liman recently gave 500 American board games to the historical society, many of them manufactured by McLoughlin Brothers, which was absorbed by Milton Bradley in 1920.
The earliest game on display, "The Game of Dr. Busby," was the first popular card game in the United States based on European games using "suits" of cards, in this case suits comprising members of the Busby family. It was published by a W. & S.B. Ives, a Salem, Mass., chromo print company in 1843, and the printed cards were hand-painted with watercolor.
By the 1870s, color prints had displaced hand coloring, resulting in brighter and bolder graphics and eye-catching printed packaging. John McLoughlin was a pioneer chromolithographer, and his family firm dominated the games field for years.
In those days, card games sold for 25 cents and elaborately boxed board games for $3, considered affordable by most middle-class families.
Game sales took an upturn during the Civil War. It is a usual phenomenon during war.
The Spanish-American war inspired publication of a series of patriotic games, especially by Chaffee & Selchow, a New York firm.
Many of these games published in 1898 and 1899 focused on Theodore Roosevelt's exploits at San Juan Hill in Cuba at the head of U.S. Cavalry volunteers he called his "Rough Riders." On exhibit are games titled "Rough Rider Ten Pins," "Roosevelt at San Juan" and "Uncle Sam at War with Spain," as well as "Mimic War" and "War at Sea or Don't Give Up the Ship."
Games based on the popular Horatio Alger stories about achieving success through hard work and the right financial investments were big sellers.
Some of these suggested that happiness resulted from living a morally good life. More often than not, happiness was equated to material success as in Milton Bradley's "The Checkered Game of Life." It sold an unprecedented 40,000 copies in 1866 and was reissued in 1960 as "The Game of Life."

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