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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Parchessi board; two-sided; wood; with cloud pattern decoration; 21 inches by 33 inches; $2,300. Photo courtesy of Cyr Auction Company.
I learned a lot about winning and losing in life by playing games like Parchessi as a kid. On long, muggy summer afternoons my friends and I played for hours on the front porch as the days turned into nights. Parchessi was a childhood rite of passage for me like learning to ride a bike.

When I come across old painted, wooden Parchessi game boards from the 19th century now, I realize kids aren’t all that different.

If these old game boards could talk what might they say about where they’ve been hiding all these years and what happened to the kids who played with them? Most of the colorful paint is long gone on these old relics of the play room but the energy of childhood and children seems to remain.

In archeological sites throughout India and Southeast Asia boards for a similar game to Parchessi called Pachisi have been unearthed. At one time Pachisi was the traditional game of India. Some 2000 years later, the game is as popular as ever.

The Indian word “pacis” means 25, the highest score possible when cowry shells are thrown. A related game, Chaupar, has also been dug up in Asia.

In India, Pachisi boards were typically made of fabric for easy storage. In affluent families they might be velvet with gold threads. Six cowry shells were thrown to determine the moves in the game and counters consisted of beehive-shaped wooden pieces.

Like bread, variations of the game we call Parchessi appeared all over the world. Mayan ruins reveal a similar pastime and Native Americans still play a Cross and Circle race game.

Parcheesi as its known today was copyrighted in the United States by E.G. Selchow & Co., in 1869. A few years later it became Selchow & Righter then Hasbro Inc., and today it’s Milton Bradley.

The game looks pretty much the same as it did 50-years ago. The box changed a bit as public taste changed.

The fun of collecting these old treasures of the game room is obvious. It’s pure nostalgia. It doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby either.

Thrift stores and yard sales can be treasure troves for missing pieces. If you’re buying for value, condition is everything. Very good to excellent condition is critical.

Especially the box, any tears are bad news. If you think the old Monopoly game you still have from the ‘50s is valuable, you’re probably wrong. There were many made and many are still available. With games, rarity is often more important than age.

In terms of collecting themes, it’s limitless. Some collectors go with pre-WWII games or children’s games from a particular company, television-themed games, or cartoon-themed versions.

Storing old games in cool, dry places is also important in preserving them. If you want to know the value of your old games, price guides can be useful, but they’re often outdated. A more useful approach would be to search eBay’s completed auctions.

On Jan. 4, 2006, Cyr Auction Co., in Gray, Maine, featured a selection of game boards in its Americana, Folk Art and Stoneware auction. Here are some current values.

Vintage Game Boards

Game board; red-and-blue; wood; 22 inches by 11 inches; $288.

Game board; yellow-and-black; wood; 16 inches by 17 inches; $345.

Parchessi board; wood; red-black and gray; 28 inches by 17 1/2 inches; $805.

Checker and Backgammon board; folding; wood; 16 inches by 16 inches; $1,150.

Parchessi board; two-sided; wood; black, blue, orange and green; 27 inches by 27 inches; $1,495.

Parchessi board; two-sided; wood; with cloud pattern decoration; 21 inches by 33 inches; $2,300.

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