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Games for Research: The ephemera of games

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.


Rules for playing Wallis's New Game of the Panorama of Europe, around 1815

Rule books often went far beyond directions for playing, incorporating mini textbooks.

Rules for playing Wallis's New Game of the Panorama of Europe, [c. 1815]

JJColl Games

Fish counters

Fish counters from the Ballam Collection

Bone fish counters from the Ballam Collection

Advertisements, Trade Cards, Rules etc

Advertisement for Tregoning at the Falmouth Museum It is often difficult to establish the context of games, especially when the rules have not survived with the game.  The John Johnson Collection includes some rules, with and without the corresponding games and also trade cards and advertisements which show how games were marketed alongside books and other products.  This rare information is invaluable to historians of material culture.

Trade cards in the John Johnson Collection have been indexed in considerable detail. Notably, all trades and products  are catalogued (select the subject/ products/ trades from the scrollbar). The Indoor Games boxes, which include rules of games, have been indexed (but not catalogued).

Prospectuses of books also contain references to games.

Trade card for Grayhurst's hardware and toymenAdvertisement for Harris (late Newbery) describing New year's gifts, including games, around 1815


Game pieces

Typically, games were played with a teetotum and counters. Dice were associated with gambling, so rarely used for children's games. Games could be bought without these generic pieces and therefore boxes rarely contain space for them. The game Historical Tetotums is an exception. Conversely, teetotums could be purchased separately (as in the upper example).Tetotum in box, with 'British sovereigns written in manuscript on label

The game Historical Tetotums showing box with cards, pieces and tetotums

Top: Tetotum in box, with 'B[ritish] sovereigns in Mss on label. Ballam Collection: 1840s (4)

Bottom: Ballam Collection: 1850s (8)