I was contacted recently by two people who own remarkable pieces of early game history. One had a board, but no pieces, and the other had pieces, but no board. Although these items are not from the same set, they are from roughly the same time and place in history, namely the Reading, PA area in the early 1920s.
While the owners wish to remain anonymous, here’s what I can tell you:
The wooden game board, approximately 19 or 20″ square, was made by Virginia Muhlenberg (1898-1999) around 1920. Her brother Charles Muhlenberg brought the game to Reading, PA around 1916, and introduced it to the Thun family (see our previous post Thun Monopoly). Charles Muhlenberg married Wilma Thun.
Like many other early such boards, most of the names of the properties are copied from the original Landlord’s Game. Some have Parisian names. As time went on, more and more early players customized their boards with local street names, culminating in the Atlantic City version which became hugely popular in the 1930s.
On the other hand, we do not know who made or owned the box of early game utensils, dating to about the same period. A few conclusions can be made by studying the various pieces. The owner apparently had two early game boards, since there are two sets of Chance cards, plus eight or so extra property cards. The later set of cards is color coded by property groups, an important development. Originally, the property groups in these games were only identified by a letter (A, B, C, etc.).
The first, and presumably earlier board would have had some customized names on it, and the second board, with a more complete set of cards, had additional changes made relative to Landlord’s. And, as the box indicates, this game was called Monopoly— one of the earliest to do so, at least among surviving sets.
The Chance and property cards were typed. Manual typewriters tended not to have a “1” key, and the capital I was used instead. Some were typed in black ink, others in red. Chances are, not all of these cards were made at the same time.
It was not until later in the 1920s that the game got a second set of cards called Community Chest. In the 1932 game Finance, the first commercialized version of Monopoly, you can gain or lose money with the Chance cards, but since Community Chest was a charity, on those, you always had to pay. Undoubtedly, this was not popular with the players, and in Darrow Monopoly, Community Chest and Chance are pretty much the same thing, and even have some of the same cards. Likewise, later in the 1920s, the Thuns made an innovation with the first Hotels (which I believe they called “apartments”), each one representing four (later five) Houses.
Instructions on the typed cards are minimal, as was common practice. Considering how long it would take to make a set using a typewriter, (try it sometime), this is not surprising. Some cards were made on 3″x5″ index cards, and others were seemingly cut down to size.
Play money was apparently made by using some sort of rubber stamp. It sped up the time it took to make a set, and early game makers continued to make cards using rudimentary printing methods into the early 1930s.
There are no printed rules, and most people probably learned the game as part of an oral tradition.
The rate cards present were made by some photographic process, but one which yielded a reversed image, more like a negative.
The rate card was sufficiently complex to not be easily copied using a typewriter, or even in longhand. Chances are, someone made a “master” copy, and it was reproduced by some early photographic method so that it could be used by many people. Back then, you could have photos printed on postcard paper, which gave it some durability.
What’s missing here, besides the game boards? Well, since the cards pretty much fill up the box they came in, the three denominations of paper money were most likely supplemented by poker chips for the smaller amounts. And there is no sign of any wooden houses or paper “improvements.” (The Landlord’s Game originally had what we would term paper houses, and eventually these changed into the more familiar, and durable wooden ones. Small pieces of paper were probably not durable.)
We may never know who made these pieces, but since one of the property cards is “Wyomessing,” (sic) and there is a town called Wyomissing adjacent to Reading, PA, there is every possibility that the owners of both this board and these pieces may have actually known each other, as well as Louis and Ferdinand Thun. Reading was without a doubt the area with the most early Monopoly players, such that, when Parker Brothers started selling the game in 1935, a local wag opined that part of the fun was in making your own set.
One additional reason I think this set is from the early 1920s is a reference to “war profits” on a Chance card. This seems to suggest it was made after the end of the First World War in 1918. War profits were not as much of a concern before there was a war.
Finding early boards and pieces such as these is quite unusual, and taken together, these items are an important addition to our understanding of how the game Monopoly developed, a decade or more before it was commercialized and became a mass produced product.
PS- To provide some additional contrast, we have included a picture of the Heap board, made circa 1913, which also has some color coding on it.
Property Cards (from two different sets- only the RRs seem to overlap)
A. Coffee Alley – Yellow
A. Nicholas Street – Yellow
B. Temple – White or Light Tan
B. Shillington – White or Light Tan
B. Mohnton – White or Light Tan
C. Plum Street – Light Green
C. Canal Street – Light Green
C. Cotton Street – Light Green
D. Billald Alley – Salmon
D. Gordon Street – Salmon
D. Shiller Street – Salmon
E. Cedar Street – Light Green
E. Mulberry Street – Light Green
E. Seventh Street – Light Green
F. Madison Avenue – Blue
F. Master Street – Blue
F. Spring Garden Street – Blue
F. The Bowery – Salmon*
G. Pennside – Pink
G. Centre Avenue – Pink
G. Wyommessing (sic) – Pink
G. Fifth Avenue – Dark Green*
G. Broadway – Dark Green*
G. Madison Square – Dark Green*
H. Penn Square – Yellow
H. Hill Road – Yellow
H. Grande Boulevard – Light Tan*
H. Wall Street – Light Tan*
M. Con. Gas Co. – Pink
M. Met. Electric Co. – Pink
M. Slambang Trolley – Yellow*
M. Soakum Lighting System – Yellow*
N. Neversink Mtn. RR – Red
N. Mt. Penn RR – Red
N. Royal Rusher RR – Red*
N. Shooting Star RR – Red*