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Early Monopoly Games

by Bob Brooke

Monopoly Second Edition board game.The story of the game of Monopoly is the stuff legends are made of, full of intrigue and a myriad of coincidences. Like the game, itself, the almighty dollar drove its production and distribution, causing Parker Brothers, the company who manufactured it, to fabricate an all-American history to go with it–that Charles B. Darrow was its inventor.

A diagram of a game that was the forerunner of Monopoly.The real story begins with Elizabeth Magie Phillips, who created "The Landlord’s Game"in 1904. Played on college campuses coast to coast and in Europe under different names, the Game came in two parts. The first was like Monopoly, a game in which there’s only one winner. Part two employs the same capitalistic principles but mixes them with a healthy dose of tax reform, to prevent the evils of monopolistic ownership, and then transforms all the players into enlightened winners. Phillips wanted to change the world. As a proponent of the economic ideas of Henry George, she designed her game to teach the single-tax theory as an antidote to the evils inherent in monopolistic land ownership.

The board for Phillips' game bears a striking resemblance to the one for Monopoly, except that names, drawings, colors and the like are different. It’s painted with blocks for rental properties such as "Poverty Place" (rent $50), "Easy Street" (rent $100) and "Lord Blueblood's Estate " (no trespassing - go to jail). There are banks, a poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the "Soakum Lighting System" ($50 for landing it) and the "PDQ Railroad" (fare $100). And, of course, there’s the famous "Jail" block. Players could only rent properties on Phillips's board, not acquire them. Otherwise, there’s little difference between The Landlord’s Game and the Monopoly of today.

The Mystery Unfolds
Charles Darrow actually knocked off his Monopoly from a game played by a group of Atlantic City Quaker teachers. Like previous monopoly players, they had personalized their game after being introduced to it by players from Indianapolis. They used their own personal objects as playing pieces and played their game on homemade oil cloth game boards.

How the original Monopoly board looked.Ruth Hoskins, a young Indiana Quaker woman, came to teach at the Atlantic City Friends School in the Fall of 1929. Earlier that year, she learned to play a version of the Landlord's Game, called Auction Monopoly, from her brother, who learned it at college. Early in 1930, Hoskins taught it to her fellow teacher Cyril Harvey and his wife, Ruth, and the Harveys played it with their friends Jesse and Dorothea Raiford. It was Ruth Harvey who drew the first Atlantic City Monopoly board with Atlantic City street names.

The Harveys lent their games to Quakers staying at Atlantic City hotels and also taught their relatives, Ruth and Eugene Raiford, who, in turn taught their friend, Charles Todd, a manager of one of the hotels. Todd then taught the game to his hotel guests Esther and Charles Darrow. In fact, Darrow asked Todd for a dozen copies of the rules.

But there’s one flaw in Darrow’s version of Monopoly. Most players are unaware that the property known as Marvin Gardens should actually be spelled Marven Gardens. It's a well-kept residential section of $50,000 homes, built in the mid-20s by Frank J. Pedrick & Sons. Since it’s located at the edge of Margate City just across Fredericksburg Avenue from Ventnor City, two suburbs of Atlantic City, Pedrick took the first three letters of each name, Mar and Ven, and put them together to make it Marven Gardens. And that's the way Ruth Hoskins and her friends put it on the original Atlantic City Monopoly board, which was completed late in 1930.

There’s no question Darrow commercialized the game, and his version with the locomotive trademark is the one most widely known, but he was not the inventor.

1935 edition of Monopoly.Unfortunately, Parker Brothers still sticks to the story that one evening in 1930, Darrow sat down at his kitchen table in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and sketched out some of the street names of Atlantic City on the round piece of oilcloth that covered the table. He included the three railroads that carried the wealthy vacationers to the resort, and the utility companies that serviced them, as well as the parcels of real estate of varying prices. He wanted a fourth railroad to make his board symmetrical, so he added the Short Line: actually it was a freight-carrying bus company that had a depot in Atlantic City. A local paint store gave him free samples of several colors, and he used them to color his game board. A new game began to take form in his mind.

He showed his game, which he called Monopoly, to the executives at Parker Brothers in 1934. They rejected the game because of numerous design flaws. But this didn’t daunt Darrow. The game's exciting promise of fame and fortune inspired him to produce it on his own.

The Commercialization of Monopoly
With help from a printer friend, Darrow produced 5,000 handmade sets and sold them to Wanamaker’s, a Philadelphia department store, and F.A.O. Schwartz, the famous New York toy store. Demand grew until he couldn't keep up with the orders.

In the meantime, a friend telephoned Sally Barton, daughter of Parker Brothers' founder George Parker, to rave about a new game called Monopoly which she had purchased at F. A. O. Schwarz. Barton told her husband, Robert B. M. Barton, the company president, about the game. He purchased a copy from F. A. O. Schwarz, took it home and wound up playing it until 1 A.M. The next day, Barton wrote to Darrow, and three days later they met at Parker Brothers' New York sales office. Parker Brothers offered to buy the game outright, giving Darrow royalties on all sets sold.

The royalties from sales of Monopoly soon made Darrow a millionaire. Newspapers and magazines wrote up Darrow as the poverty-stricken genius who invented it. "Another Germantown First; Monopoly Invented Here," read the front-page headline of the Germantown Bulletin of Feb. 13, 1936. The story beneath it explained how Darrow got the idea for Monopoly by reading a book about a boy in a commercial school where students "were given scrip and allowed to purchase stock with this make-believe money. A little bit of that book stuck in his mind. The more he thought about it, the more ideas he got, until finally, he went to work in his cellar, working out the game which was soon to be Monopoly." Magazines and newspapers throughout the county repeated this story making Darrow a folk hero and a winner just like in Monopoly.

Parker Brothers executives took advantage of Darrow’s notoriety and produced the "Definitive Monopoly Book" by Maxine Brady, a member of their publicity department.

In the early days of Monopoly, players who wanted their own copies of the board took a piece of oil cloth and copied it in crayon. Many replaced the properties designated by Phillips with those in their own cities. This made playing the game more realistic. It was considered a point of honor not to sell it to a commercial manufacturer, since it had been worked out by a group of idealist taxpayers who were anxious to defeat the capitalist system.

Eventually, players changed the title of Phillips’ "Landlord's Game" to "Auction Monopoly" and then to just "Monopoly."

Monopoly game tokens.The Monopoly game tokens have come to reflect the character of each player. Each token embodies a distinct personality, from the regal top hat to the more practical thimble–and, of course, the fast-moving race car. Other tokens included the battleship, cannon, iron, race car, shoe, thimble, and top hat. In the early 1950s, Parker Brothers added the dog, wheelbarrow and horse and rider.

High Profile Sets
The original White Box edition, mass produced by Darrow and sold at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia in the early 1930’s, is the forerunner of the game first produced by Parker Brothers. There are no numbers in the corners of the money, only in the center. There are no tokens as the instructions say to provide each player with their own token. And there are no values showing on the squares on the board.

Forbes Magazine purchased three early monopoly sets at auction. One had a square board, like the printed Parker Brothers' games and a price tag of $23,000. It came with unpainted houses and hotels cut from pine molding, old chips, scrip, and typed Chance and Community Chest cards, deeds, and a set of rules typed on the same typewriter as the rules that accompanied the set Forbes purchased in December 1992. That set has a circular oilcloth board, probably an earlier version made for use on Darrow's round dining table.

A $500 bill from the 1935 Monopoly game.Another set, and a key one in the development of Monopoly cost $17, 250. It’s laid out on a 22-inch square of pale blue glazed fabric with properties marked by colored triangles at the bottom, instead of bars at the top. It came with red-roofed, gray-painted houses and hotels, Chance cards, deeds, and money. It belonged to Charles E. Todd, who taught Darrow the game.

A third set, a wooden hand-painted square game board that cost $11,500 at auction, is probably earlier than the others. It has 40 board divisions like the Atlantic City sets, but the place names are for real estate in the counties surrounding Philadelphia: Kimberton, Trappe, Ambler, Valley Forge, etc. More closely related to the original Landlord’s Game, it has one corner marked "Mother Earth" instead of "GO," and another corner square reads "Government Grant, No Rents, No Taxes, Rest in Peace, and Depart" instead of "Free Parking." Joseph A. Buckwalter made this game in the 1920s.

Success
A modern version of the classic Monopoly Game.Today, Monopoly is the best-selling board game in the world, licensed or sold in 80 countries and produced in 26 languages including Croatian. It’s so much a part of today's popular culture that Parker Brothers have trademarked many of its graphic elements, including the tokens, Railroad, Community Chest, Chance, and Title Deed designs, as well as Boardwalk and all four gameboard corners.

Many editions of Monopoly exist beyond the standard one. There are anniversary editions, luxury editions with solid mahogany boards with drawers to store the playing pieces, European editions, classic editions, standard editions, travel editions, junior editions, etc. Classic editions are re-issues of earlier versions, namely those that came in a black box with a separate board.

Standard editions are the most frequent occurring sets, although the appearance continuously changes, depending on the time of issue. In the early days, Parker Brothers issued many nearly equal but slightly different versions, and since they bear no reference numbers it’s very hard to distinguish and catalogue them.

Who Collects Monopoly
A small but enthusiastic group of collectors collect Monopoly games. They collect the "official" Parker Brothers’ games as well as the "related" games like the States, Cities and University games, and Medical Monopoly (USA).

Collectors should use copyright dates printed on the board to date their games. Even though Parker Brothers’ earliest date is 1935, they left "Charles Darrow 1933" on the jail square in eight successive sets. Earlier games didn’t have property prices printed on the board. Also, Chance, Community Chest, and Luxury Tax cards have only text and no illustrations. The property cards are also blank on older sets. Originally, the rent for Marvin Gardens was $22 but was later changed to $24.

The Monopoly Market
While most monopoly games are worth a modest sum, some of the rarer editions have sold for five figures. The Forbes magazine collection has a monopoly on old Monopoly games. They acquired three of them in 1994 for $11,500, $17, 250 and. $23,000, adding to the one they bought in December 1992 for $71,500. But most early standard games sell for around $100 in perfect condition.

The playing pieces sell for anywhere from $2 to $20 each. One of the rarest tokens is the purse, found in only very early editions. It sells now for $19. The original set sold by Parker Brothers retailed for $2. Today, these same sets can go for $100 or higher , with the game boards alone selling for at least $50 in good condition.

Since 1935, its first year under Parker Brothers’ ownership, Monopoly has been played by an estimated 500 million people. Today, many versions exist, with over 200 million games having been sold worldwide. A set made by Alfred Dunhill, with gold houses and silver hotels, sold for $25,000. The longest game in history lasted 70 straight days. The longest game in a bathtub lasted 99 hours!

To read more articles by Bob Brooke, please visit his Web site.

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