"Do not pass go; do not collect $200." How many times have you said that phrase since you were a kid?
Symbols from America's favorite board game, like the "Get Out of Jail Free" card and landing on Park Place and Boardwalk, have become an undeniable part of our culture. Most children have learned to recognize these Monopoly references by the age of 10 or 12 since the game first came on the market during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Of course, the earliest commercial board games played by yesterday's children actually date back to the Victorian era. The beautifully lithographed boxes housing these playthings are avidly sought today. One desirable name to look for in older board games is McLoughlin Bros.
"The McLoughlin name on a game is enough to ensure that it has a high level of value," according to a Collecting Channel article no longer online. In fact, a McLoughlin game dating back to the late 1800s can run into the hundreds, if not thousands, in some cases. Don't be surprised to see McLoughlin's Bulls and Bears game selling in the $13,000 range, if you can even find one. A McLoughlin Santa Car Race game dating to 1904 will also set you back several thousand.
Popular Modern Board Games
Some of the most popular board games with collectors are more modern. This is especially true for those produced between 1946 and 1999 featuring licensed characters from comic strips, movies, television, and radio shows.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find the likeness of Hopalong Cassidy or another cowboy hero printed on a game box. Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy also found their way into games, as did many comic book superheroes. Most games from the '40s and '50s sell for several hundred dollars each nowadays.
Even board games from the 1970s attract collectors. One reason these games have become so popular is the relatively low price compared to those made a decade earlier. A Game Gems Gilligan's Island board set might sell for as much as $600, while you'd be lucky to get a fraction of that for a Partridge Family game of similar quality. Most of the 1970s games remain undervalued but don't expect that to last. Prices will continue to go up as demand increases over time.
In actuality, most any child's game can be considered collectible, even the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey party games so popular during the '40s, '50s, and '60s. These games don't cost much right now, usually $5-10, so you can definitely put together a nice collection reasonably. Special editions of ever-popular games like Scrabble can also be valuable to the right person.
And that right person might just be a celebrity collector. It's been reported that writer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino enjoys playing and collecting board games.
To learn more about collecting board games, check out American Games by Alex G. Malloy (Krause Publishing). This reference guide lists and values more than 9,000 games, with about 1,000 of the most popular amusements illustrated within the text.
The highest prices noted in Malloy’s book (and in the paragraphs above) only apply to games in excellent condition with boxes intact and all pieces present. Anything less brings the value down considerably. In a Krause online article, Malloy offered some suggestions for collectors just encountering the hobby's "chutes and ladders."
Carefully examining the pointed corners on a box will reveal a lot about the condition of the game. If the corners aren't perfect, the game's not in mint condition. All pieces must also be present to get a mint rating, according to the author. To help with this task, his book offers listings of the items that should be included with each game.
Since most families tend to hold on to board games, you might even have a rare example hiding right there in your own home. Maybe it's time to rummage around and see what types of playful pastimes wait to be rediscovered in an out-of-the-way closet.