Tag Archives: Fortune game

The Fortunes of “Fortune”

The short-lived 1935 Parker Brothers game Fortune is a rare and historically important early Monopoly variant, as it was briefly an essential piece in a chess game over control of property trading games, which were quickly becoming a national craze.

Why did Parker introduce a new Monopoly clone, just a few months after they took over Monopoly from Charles Darrow? Fortune was introduced after the Monopoly patent was filed on August 31, 1935. The earliest version of Fortune says, “Patent Pending.”

Shortly after filing this patent (eventually issued as #2026082 on December 31, 1935), Parker was informed by the US Patent Office that this would be considered as an improvement of the second Landlord’s Game patent #1509312, issued to Elizabeth Magie Phillips in 1924. So, to “monopolize” Monopoly, they would need to obtain the rights to her patent.

Negotiations were undertaken with Mrs. Phillips, who had also been contacted by both Milton Bradley (makers of Easy Money) and Knapp Electric (Finance). She eventually sold her patent to Parker Brothers in November 1935, after meeting with George S. Parker, the “King of Games.”

Mrs. Phillips could certainly have demanded a royalty on each Monopoly game sold– a royalty that Parker was already paying to Charles Darrow, who had falsely claimed to be the “inventor.” She did not do so, as this would have violated her Georgist beliefs. She filed her patents in order to receive proper credit for her inventions, not money.

For what is a patent, if not a legalized monopoly? And Henry George was opposed to monopolies.

The sole purpose of Fortune, then, was to put a property trading game on the market that owed nothing to Charles Darrow and his supposed improvements to Monopoly. If Parker had to suddenly cut Darrow out of the picture, they would have a game they could sell to take its place. Comparing the two games, we can see just what it is that Parker thought was Darrow’s intellectual property.

First there is the name. While he did not create the game Monopoly, Darrow was certainly the first to try marketing it on a wide scale. As an alternative, Fortune is an excellent, strong choice.

Second, there was Darrow’s board design and the iconic cartoonlike illustrations he created. Parker Brothers appreciated their importance to Monopoly’s success, and therefore, Fortune had different cartoons of its own.

Third, were the Hotels. Fortune does not have any, using 40 Houses instead. But Hotels were not a Darrow innovation– they were introduced to Monopoly some years earlier by the Thuns in their version. (See our earlier post Thun Monopoly, May 10, 2017.)

As things played out, Parker Brothers bought the second Landlord’s patent, which set other things into motion. Milton Bradley had to negotiate changes to their lookalike Easy Money game so Parker Brothers would grant them a license. (In 1937, perhaps in response to this, Milton Bradley issued the game Carnival, which was based on the earlier, expired first Landlord’s Game patent.)

Knapp Electric sold Finance to Parker Brothers in January 1936. During 1936, Parker Brothers offered a revised version of Finance through a dummy, the Finance Game Corporation, based out of their New York office. While it is not clear why they did it this way, they may have wanted to distance themselves from the Knapp transaction for various reasons.

Knapp’s Finance had been on the market since 1932, more or less at the same time, or even before, Charles Darrow had claimed he invented Monopoly. A connection with Parker Brothers would undermine that story, and therefore, undermine the Monopoly patent.

Fortune has both Chance and Community Chest cards as these were also present in the 1932 version of Finance. Darrow could not credibly claim to have added Community Chest cards to the game. (Chance cards were introduced as early as the 1906 version of The Landlord’s Game.)

In addition, in Spring 1936, Parker placed trade ads, advertising how they were now licensing their two patents to Easy Money (through Milton Bradley) and Finance (through the Finance Game Company). Fortune was discontinued.

Parker eventually sued Rudy Copeland over his Inflation game, charging that it was infringing, but this soon backfired on them. Copeland found many early Monopoly players who would testify on his behalf, and Parker was forced to settle out of court, paying for Copeland’s legal fees and granting him a license to the two patents.

Charles Darrow was forced to accept a lower royalty rate, but in turn, licensed Parker Brothers for international sales, which was a “win-win” in the long run for both parties.

Parker’s main concern in 1935 was establishing as much right to Monopoly as possible, to keep their competitors from flooding the market with knock-offs, which had happened a decade earlier during the Mah Jongg craze.

1936, the peak Monopoly year, was the focus of their activities. They fully expected the Monopoly craze to fade after that, as had happened with so many other games– but we know that history took a different turn. It did fade, but not to the point where Parker ever stopped producing and selling Monopoly. Eventually, sales picked up again.

Soon, Parker began selling Finance under their own name, and added the name Fortune, resulting in Finance and Fortune.  Perhaps eventually realizing they were wasting a good name, they used Fortune again in the 1950s for an unrelated marbles game.

I assembled this now-complete Fortune set from two different auctions, with an overall value of $1450. That might seem like a lot of money (it is), but as they say, try to find another one.

-David Sadowski

Interestingly, Parker put the Fortune board logo on a diagonal, many years before this was done with Monopoly.

Interestingly, Parker put the Fortune board logo on a diagonal, many years before this was done with Monopoly.

This 1935 Fortune board and utensils box have been reunited at last, making this a complete set.

This 1935 Fortune board and utensils box have been reunited at last, making this a complete set.

Darrow Type 2 play money was used. The total amount was $9,000-- the same as the Darrow and early Parker Brothers sets.

Darrow Type 2 play money was used. The total amount was $9,000– the same as the Darrow and early Parker Brothers sets.

Fortune's rules were nearly identical to Monopoly but were somewhat rewritten by the Parker staff, at around the same time that revisions were being made to help clarify the Monopoly rules.

Fortune’s rules were nearly identical to Monopoly but were somewhat rewritten by the Parker staff, at around the same time that revisions were being made to help clarify the Monopoly rules.

Parker Brothers saved money on colored ink, and simplified the printing process for these Title Cards, which use symbols instead of colors to denote the various property groups. Parker also began using symbols on their Monopoly rules sheets in 1936, to identify to their employees which set went with which version.

Parker Brothers saved money on colored ink, and simplified the printing process for these Title Cards, which use symbols instead of colors to denote the various property groups. Parker also began using symbols on their Monopoly rules sheets in 1936, to identify to their employees which set went with which version.

There are 16 Chance and 16 Community Chest cards.

There are 16 Chance and 16 Community Chest cards.

Standard turned wood tokens were used. These are also found in other contemporary Parker Brothers sets.

Standard turned wood tokens were used. These are also found in other contemporary Parker Brothers sets.

Fortune's utensils box is smaller than a contemporary Parker Brothers Monopoly box, but larger than a Darrow Black Box.

Fortune’s utensils box is smaller than a contemporary Parker Brothers Monopoly box, but larger than a Darrow Black Box.

The Fortune board compared to a Darrow Black Box board.

The Fortune board compared to a Darrow Black Box board.

1936 Monopoly Origins Document

MonopolyOrigins

I recently stumbled upon a very interesting document on an obscure blog, where Brian Sutton-Smith explains:

Today, the “real story” behind the invention of Monopoly, America’s most iconic board game, is well-known. But, as the game’s popularity began to intensify, executives at Parker Brothers wanted to keep the origin of Monopoly a secret. LeRoy Howard, a game designer and developer at Parker Brothers, advised George S. Parker about purchasing Monopoly from Charles Darrow in 1935. During the acquisition, Parker Brothers learned that Darrow’s commercially-produced version of the board game was based on Elizabeth M. Phillips’s previously-patented creation, The Landlord’s Game. In the end, Parker Brothers purchased the original patent from Phillips for $500. The document, titled “The Origin of the Game of Monopoly,” includes a handwritten annotation that reads “Not for Publication, L.H.” and was originally marked “Confidential.”

I can shed some additional light on this. Although this 1936 document was not published, it must have been prepared by Parker Brothers as press release material that could have appeared in magazines or newspapers. Similar accounts, although not as lengthy, did in fact appear in the press around this time.

In light of the Anti-Monopoly case and various events that took place after 1948, it may surprise some to learn that this was, in fact, the official Parker Brother position on the origins of Monopoly. From early 1936 until Mrs. Elizabeth Magie Phillips died in 1948, Parker Brothers credited her and Charles Darrow as the co-creators of Monopoly.

By this time, Parker Brothers had obtained a virtual monopoly on the rights to Monopoly, so far as they were able to do so at the time. As we know today, the basic game of Monopoly derives from The Landlord’s Game, which Elizabeth Magie patented in 1904. By the time this article was written, however, her original patent had expired, and therefore it is not mentioned here.

Competitors such as Milton Bradley were certainly aware of it, however, as they issued the game Carnival in 1937, based on just that expired Landlord’s Game patent. But Parker Brothers did not want to mention it here, as it would have tended to undermine their legal claims to Monopoly, serving to have the Monopoly patent invalidated.

No mention, of course, is made of the various early Monopoly players such as the Thuns, Daniel Layman, Ruth Hoskins, Eugene Raiford, et al who made various contributions to the game before Charles Darrow learned it from Charles Todd. Therefore, Parker ascribes any and all such improvements to Darrow.

Charles Darrow, while certainly not the inventor of Monopoly, was certainly instrumental in developing the game to the point where it became successful. He brought it over the finish line, so to speak.

In order to consider what were the aspects of Monopoly that Parker Brothers considered to be Darrow’s intellectual property, one has only to compare the 1935 patent application with the similar game Fortune they issued the same year. This can be considered as Parker’s backup plan, a game that they could quickly popularize if it turned out that Charles Darrow was not the true inventor of Monopoly.

If Parker was forced to terminate their contract with Darrow and cease paying him a royalty, they would have gotten behind Fortune instead. Fortune is almost identical to Monopoly, but with a different name.

There are also different property names and, of course, this game did not use Darrow’s iconic illustrations or the distinctive metal tokens made by Dowst.

Interestingly, the 1935 Fortune has only houses, not hotels, and they apparently credited this innovation to Darrow.* But it does have both Chance and Community Chest cards. By the time this game came out, Parker Brothers apparently knew that these were not introduced by Darrow.

The 1936 Parker Brothers document summarizes, in a fairly factual way, the true origins of the game Monopoly, but leaves out anything that would have tended to undermine their legal position regarding the game. It is very complimentary to Mrs. Elizabeth Magie Phillips, who surely could have insisted on collecting a royalty on Monopoly but who, instead, sold her second Landlord’s patent to Parker for $500.

The “conventional wisdom” today is that she was cheated out of a fortune, but the real situation is more nuanced and certainly more interesting. As a dedicated follower of economist Henry George, Mrs. Phillips took out patents on her inventions in order to receive proper credit and recognition, but Georgists would have considered it unseemly for her to have profited financially from such a legalized government monopoly.

By 1935, she was already well off through her marriage to Albert Phillips, who was a successful publisher. Although she kept abreast of game patents through her connections at the patent office, Mrs. Phillips never made any attempt to benefit financially from any of her various patents. She made no attempt to stop earlier commercialized games based on her invention such as the 1932-35 Finance, which was about 90% the same as Monopoly.

In 1935, she was being courted by three different game makers regarding her 1924 patent– Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, and Knapp Electric. But there was never any doubt in her mind that she would make a deal with Parker Brothers, although she insisted on dealing directly with company founder George S. Parker, who she considered the “King of Games.”

History belongs to the living, and therefore it should be no surprise that Parker Brothers stuck to the narrative as outlined in the above document at least until Mrs. Phillips died in 1948. The very deferential tone towards her stands in contrast to the stance Parker took before buying her patent. A brief mention of Monopoly in a 1935 issue of Fortune magazine includes a denial that the game was invented by Henry George.

This kind of slight, and Parker’s subsequent building up of Darrow as a game inventor, rankled her to the point where she gave some press interviews in early 1936 that mentioned her 1904 patent. As a result, Parker Brothers took additional steps to mollify her. They agreed to publish two more of her games (Bargain Day and King’s Men) and crafted this very carefully worded narrative.

The problem is, they forgot the parts about Elizabeth Magie Phillips from their press pronouncements after she died. It was not until the early 1970s that she once again received her due as the true inventor of Monopoly, and this is in large part through the efforts of Dr. Ralph Anspach and the Anti-Monopoly case, without which much of the game’s origins would have been lost in the mists of time.

-Clarence B. Darwin

*Pictures of the game on the Board Game Geek web site show hotels, but these must have been imported later from some Monopoly set. The copyrighted rules only mention houses.