Indiana University Bloomington



"Games are an art form as well as symbols of our cultural history." — Bruce Whitehill

At the turn of the 20th century, parlor games had become a traditional form of popular entertainment in American households. A newly emerging middle–class could begin to afford to purchase games, as well as spend time in pursuit of leisure activities, gathering the family for an evening's delight. The box cover for Parker Brothers' game Pillow–Dex offers an idyllic glimpse into the American parlor at the turn of the century.

Pillow Dex Game
Pillow-Dex. Salem: Parker Brothers, 1896. Private Collection.

Attitudes toward what was deemed appropriate for children had changed from 18th century Puritanical thought when playing cards were judged "works of the devil" (Orbanes). Play and amusement became appropriate forms of pastime for young learners a century later. With the advent of nonsense books, such as the 1865 phenomenon Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written specifically for the amusement of children, publications were no longer strictly educational or moral in nature.

Early 19th century games were primarily produced by stationers and booksellers. Advances in papermaking, printing and chromolithography resulted in mass production of elaborate game boards and game boxes, as well as bright, beautiful artwork. Important game companies whose success resulted from these innovations included McLoughlin Brothers, Parker Brothers, and Selchow and Richter.


Books and literary characters have always been popular subjects for children's games. Delightful characters from favorite stories, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, juvenile fiction, and popular literary figures could be found portrayed on board and card games across the country. Loosely enforced copyright, as well as a lack of proximity to British and Continental publishing houses, allowed American game companies to 'borrow' from popular literature.

The exhibition concerns children's games in the Lilly Library collection that were inspired by popular literature and literary figures. For each topic, a game is featured alongside selections from the books on which they were based. Subjects include such beloved classics as Mother Goose, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz, as well as more classical works like The Bible and Shakespearian plays.

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Last Updated: 1 June 2009
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