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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

More than arithmetic

Four cards from Puzzlewigs comic game of the multiplication table, Ballam Collection, Bodleian Library

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 Collection: 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 games that associate words and images 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 particular words, while for other words such associations change with each alphabet, reflecting the times, the context, a given theme or the whim of the publisher. Illustrations show more or less skill, but are interesting not only for their encapsulation of a word but also their representations of the commonplace: dress, styles of architecture, human activities, etc. 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, number 23. London William Darton, 1821 Opie CollectionDarton alphabet cards, c.1810. Ballam Collection, Bodleian Library

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

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


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Julie Anne Lambert
John Johnson Collection
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Mechanical multiplication

Mechanical multiplication (game), 1880s. John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library

A method of calculation from the 1880s. JJColl: Games 16 (3)