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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Collectibles > Expert Tip: Edwardian Parlour Games

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Edwardian Parlour Games


 The innocent pastimes of an Edwardian childhood still have the power to beguile young and old alike.

 Anyone who's ever had to occupy their children while they were housebound by the lashing rain of an English summer will appreciate the importance of indoor amusements.

 Nowadays, television, video recorders and computer games usually fit the bill, but these were not available to Victorian and Edwardian households.

 There was also more leisure time for adults, and the period between 1880 and the start of World War 1 was the heyday of parlour games.

 There were all sorts to choose from, from genteel board games to slightly more raucous pursuits, and they were all designed to appeal to children and adults alike.

 Middle-class families enjoyed long summer holidays, and no packing was complete without indoor bowls and croquet sets.

 These scaled-down versions of outdoor games were favourites with adults in particular and it was the lucky child who managed to get a go.

 Wood was a favoured material for lots of games and toys. Richly coloured and figured woods such as beech, mahogany, Indonesian amboyna, walnut and rosewood were commonly used in making parlour toys.

 Their good looks make them excellent material for collection and display.


 Carpet bowls were usually ceramic, rather than wooden, and were beautifully decorated.  Sometimes the patterns were applied with sponges or hind painted, and sometimes the decoration was transfer printed.

 A children's version of carpet howls, known as 'German Balls', contained an octagonal jack with numbers printed on each face.  The idea was to hit it with your bowl and score the number that fell uppermost after impact.

 There were many games less energetic than table croquet and carpet bowls.

 Wooden solitaire boards, complete with pretty Nailsea marbles, are worth looking out for, as are miniature roulette wheels.

 A really good buy for games lovers would be a compendium games set.  A complete one will have a good selection of games such as draughts, dominoes and chess, as well as boards, dice and dice cups to go with them.

 Good examples will be housed in a stout wooden box, possibly made of mahogany.

 The game of mah-jong, like many other oriental things, enjoyed a vogue at this time. Very handsome sets may still be found with tiles made of bone and bamboo or even ivory.
Card games and word games were the staple of long afternoons and evenings indoors before the outbreak of World War 1.


 Good quality Victorian and Edwardian parlour games, especially those well-made in wood are very collectable, and therefore the most likely places to look for them are in specialist shops and auction rooms.

 You may also find some in antiques markets and antique fairs.  Flea markets, jumble sales and car boot sales are far less likely hunting grounds, but it is worth keeping your eyes open if you are going to these anyway.

 It is possible to make a themed collection of games. German games and toys, for instance, were noted for their inventiveness and craftsmanship.

 German balls and German billiards, a miniature ancestor of the pin-ball machine hat is still produced today, are both fine inventions.

 Puzzle collections are also great fun; you could include simple but decorative ones, such as puzzle bricks, alongside jigsaws and other brain teasers.

 You must examine games that have lots of pieces of items of equipment very carefully before buying; missing pieces will reduce the value.

 Make sure, at the same time, that all the bits and pieces actually do all belong to the same set. It is not unusual for sets to be made up from various different sources.

 Close examination should reveal impostors. Mah jong, chess and draught sets are particularly prone to missing or damaged pieces and uneasy marriages.

 Toys and games made for and used by children are more likely to have missing bits.  Jigsaws are particularly vulnerable.  Always insist on seeing them made up.

 Solitaire sets with pretty Nailsea or other colourful marbles are also likely to have received childish attentions; once again, set the board up to make sure it is complete.


 Games like table croquet, carpet bowls and mah-jong, as well as compendiums, were usually sold originally in handsome wooden boxes.

 Make sure that boxes and containers are perfect. The brass fittings - hinges, corners hooks and locks - should all be in good condition. It is not essential that the lock comes complete with a key, although it helps.  It is essential, however, that the box closes properly and that the key has not been turned and then lost.

 Remember that any re-sale may well depend on the condition of the original container, as this is often what first attracts a buyer to the object.


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