March 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Grolier Club Plays Host to a "Beautiful Board Games" Colloquium

Grolier-Goose Game copy.jpgBoard games may have been an overlooked area in the history of graphic design, but not anymore. In addition to an exhibit, The Royal Game of the Goose, showcasing more than seventy historic game boards, the Grolier Club will also welcome gamers to a colloquium on April 5 from 1-5 p.m., during Rare Book Week in New York.

What follows is a schedule for "Some Beautiful Board Games," courtesy of the Grolier Club, as well as information about each of the speakers. Adrian Seville, whose private collection forms the basis of the GC's current exhibit, will focus his talk on the medieval game of the goose and its variants.   

1:00 - 1:15 PM: G. Scott Clemons, Welcome by the President of the Grolier Club & Andrea Immel, Introduction
1:15 - 1:45 PM: Irving Finkel, The Royal Game of Ur
1:45 - 2:15 PM: Anne Dunn-Vaturi, Hounds and Jackals
2:15 - 2:45 PM: Alex De Voogt, Mancala
2:45 - 3:15 PM: Break
3:15 - 3:45 PM: Adrian Seville, Two Fine Goose boards
3:45 - 4:15 PM: Andrea Immel, The Game of the Dolphin
4:15 - 4:45 PM: Margaret K. Hofer, Bulls and Bears: the Great Wall Street Game
4:45 PM: Closing
5:00 PM: Reception

Irving Finkel is Assistant Keeper in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum London where he has responsibility for cuneiform inscriptions. He also works extensively on ancient board games. The Game of Twenty Squares - or the Royal Game of Ur - is an ideal subject for ludological enquiry, since its distribution across a major stretch of the ancient world and its sheer durability anticipates that of chess.  This lecture will offer a survey in support of that claim, consider the ancient playing rules that have survived from the second century BC, and seek to identify the intrinsic qualities in the game that ensured its international success and survival down to modern times

Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi is Hagop Kevorkian Research Associate in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, and has been documenting the provenance of the Ancient Near Eastern Art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 2009. She is now working on ancient board games from the Near East and Egypt, currently preparing the catalogue of such games for the Musée du Louvre. She is pursuing PhD research on the game of Hounds and Jackals, the topic of her paper today. The game of Hounds and Jackals originated in Egypt at the turn of the second millennium BC and spread to Sudan and the Near East where it is attested until the mid-first millennium BC. Playing scenes are extensively described in ancient Egypt but some representations of the game seem to have gone unnoticed and will be presented for the first time here.

Alex de Voogt is an assistant curator of African Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History and has published widely on board games, in particular mancala games. Alex will be presenting on the largest mancala games known today and how their size affects the modes of play and their identification in the absence of players. Mancala games are characterized by rows of cup-shaped depressions and a proportionate number of playing counters. Variations of these games are found throughout Africa, the Middle East as well as Central, South and South-East Asia. Later introductions to the Americas during the slave trade and twentieth century commercial versions in Europe and North America have made this group of games one of the most wide-spread in the world.

Adrian Seville specializes in research on printed board games, especially the medieval Game of the Goose and its many variants over the centuries. He was educated as a Physicist before joining City University, London, where he became Academic Registrar. His research is supported by his private collection of over 500 games, forming the basis for the current Grolier Club exhibition. Two contrasting boards for the Game of Goose will be presented. The first is a board from Adrian's multiple games table by Vaugeois of Paris, probably commissioned by Napoleon's second empress, Marie Louise, around 1813. This classic version of the game will be contrasted with the MET Museum's splendid 16th century board, which has a remarkable decorative scheme and shows intriguing differences from the classic game.

Andrea Immel is Curator of the Cotsen Children's Library in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections of the Princeton University Library.   She is interested in the intersections between print, visual, and material cultures of childhood and those for adults 1660-1839. The focus of this talk will be The Royal Game of the Dolphin, one of a handful of unusual board games published by William Darton, junior, in the early 1820s.  Collectors consider these Darton games especially desirable because so beautiful.  Andrea will try to answer the large question of how much fun would children have had playing these early examples of non-competitive games? 

Margaret K. Hofer is Vice President and Museum Director at the New-York Historical Society, where she has worked since 1993. As Curator of Decorative Arts, Margi curated exhibitions on a wide range of topics, including American board games. Her publications include Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman (2015); Stories in Sterling: Four Centuries of Silver in New York (2011); A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls (2007); and The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games (2003). Margi Hofer will discuss "Bulls and Bears: The Great Wall Street Game," produced in 1883 by McLoughlin Bros., the leading American board game manufacturer of the late 19th century. The game board's dark, cynical illustrations of rapacious robber barons represent a departure from the imagery of rosy-cheeked, go-getting Americans typically found on games of the period. The sources for the illustrations, which were lifted from satirical cartoons in the popular press, will be identified and examined. 

Registration is $75 per person, $25 for students. To reserve, please call Maev Brennan at 212-838-6690 or email

                                                                                                                                              The exhibit will remain on view through May 14.

Image: THE ROYAL GAME OF GOOSE. London: E[dward] Wallis; printed by W. Lake, 50 Old Bailey, [c. 1840]. Hand-colored lithograph, 38 ? 46 cm. Collection of Adrian Seville, courtesy of the Grolier Club.