At Christmastime, probably in the early evening on a cooler winter’s evening, one of my kids will say “Who fancies a game of Monopoly?”
We actually have three Monopoly sets, an old “back-box” set dating from the 1940’s, a newer London set and a Paris set from the early 1980’s – a long story – but particularly the black box set with its quarter folded board always sends me spiralling back through to my early teenage years. My family loved board and similar games.
My mother’s Mother, particularly loved Monopoly – in fact the 1940’s set was hers – but also, when we were much younger, we’d play Mousetrap, Cluedo with her, and a game she called “Halma” – which we knew by the name of a variant “Chinese Chequers” – that was invented in 1883/4 by George Howard Monks, a US thoracic surgeon at Harvard Medical School. She was a devoted and hugely patient Grandmother.
Later we graduated to Scrabble and Mahjong – an aunt had bought back a set for her brother, my Dad, after being stationed with the RAF in Singapore.
Drinks would be served and an old green baize card table was a perfect playing surface.
I can still hear my Mother’s groans, when someone suggested a game of Monopoly. She wasn’t that fond of the game and above all, as a mother, she really didn’t like the slavering capitalism, collusion and cheating (or should I say “house-rules”) that the game seemed to provoke in some though, of course, not me, of her relatives and offspring!
My sister and I loved the increasingly less crisp bank notes and novel playing tokens which I suspect were cast in poisonous lead – a Brookland’s Bentlyesque car, a thimble, a boot and a top-hat. The earlier Monopoly set had green and red wooden houses and hotels that we would accumulate on our acquired properties and we’d take great pleasure in charging other players through the roof once hotels had been constructed often taking the title deeds to neighbouring properties in exchange for the charges levied where the former owner could not afford to settle them.
The railway stations and the utility companies were nice cash cows and, above all, we hated going to jail unless we had been lucky enough to acquire a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card or to have bought one from a less minted player.
The enduring challenge of Monopoly continues to capture the imagination of my family today and I wanted to take a look to see what I could find out about this iconic board game.
There seems to be some level of mystery – and vested interests – but the received knowledge is that Monopoly originated in the United States in 1903, devised to demonstrate how an economy rewards wealth creation as opposed to the stifling of enterprise under monopolistic conditions. First patented in 1904 by American anti-monopolist Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips as “The Landlord’s Game” it was released in early 1906 with variants of the original game being developed until the early 1930’s including a version by contributor, Charles Darrow.
The most recognised current incarnation of Monopoly was first published by Parker Brothers in 1935 – having been developed in 1933 – and subtitled “The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game. Launched on February 6th 1935, the Parker Brother’s version, in my view, seems to sit at odds with Ms Magie’s vision of the game; as it is now won by acquiring the most property and driving all other players into bankruptcy!
The original name of the dollar waiving little Mr Monopoly character on the black box was “Rich Uncle Pennybags”
In early 1935, before the game had been put into production in the US, Parker Brothers sent over a copy of Monopoly to John Waddington Ltd., a firm of printers from Leeds (Yorkshire) who had the ambition to branch out into card games. Norman Watson, the son of the then Waddington’s MD, was so impressed by the game that he persuaded his father to telephone Parker Brothers in the US – at a time when transatlantic calls were very rare. This call resulted in Waddingtons being appointed a Parker Brother’s licensee tasked with producing and marketing the game outside of the United States and to devise a London-version of the Monopoly board with London’s landmarks, railway stations and street names.
Since the board game was first commercially sold it has firmly become part of popular culture – and my family’s Christmases. It has been licensed in more than 103 countries, printed in more than 100 different editions and in more than thirty-seven languages.
Despite its court tested nature as ‘generic’ Parker Brothers and its current parent company, Hasbro, holds valid trademarks for the game – and consequently the word – “Monopoly”.