Skip to main content

Games for Research: The three Rs

The John Johnson Collection contains many games and has recently been considerably enriched by the donation by Richard Ballam of his collection of games and pastimes. This guide explores the relevance of games to academic research.

Children playing with alphabet blocks

Ballam Games: Ogilvy

More than arithmetic

This Ogivly game titled Puzzlewigs comic game of the multiplication table uses verse incorporating comments on society as an aid to remembering multiplication tables. Ballam Games: Ogilvy (14)

Learning through play

The basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic can be made more palatable by play.

Alphabet games abound, in various formats. Beyond the simple ABCs, are the words and images associated with each letter. The Darton alphabet (left) from 1821 fails to find words not only for X, but for J and U too! Some letters are strongly associated with a word, while others change with each alphabet, reflecting the times, the context, or theme or the whim of the publisher. Illustrations show more or less skill, but are interesting for their encapsulation of a word and their representation of the commonplace (dress, styles of architecture, human activities). The alphabet cards on the right show the preoccupations of the beginning of the 19th century: B for Buonaparte, N for Nelson and E for Enslave. The Slave Act of 1807 had outlawed the slave trade, but not slavery itself.

[Alphabet sheet]. No. 23. London William Darton, 1821 Opie G 12a (left)

[Alphabet cards]. London. William and Thomas Darton, [c. 1810] Ballam Collection: 1810s (2) (right)

Subject Guide

Julie Anne Lambert's picture
Julie Anne Lambert
John Johnson Collection
Bodleian Libraries
Broad Street
+44 (0)1865 277047

Mechanical multiplication

A method of calculation from the 1880s. JJColl: Games