Oldest known Monopoly Board sells for $146,000.00

original monopoly board
The only known suviving original Monopoly board

Earlier this year (or possibly late December, 2010, I’m not really sure) the oldest known Monopoly board sold at a Sotheby’s auction for £90,000, which converts to about $146,000. The Strong National Museum of Play was the high bidder for the board and it will go on display at the museum in Rochester, New York.

This board is the only known surviving example of around 5,000 that were hand-crafted by the games "inventor", Charles Darrow. It is circular rather than the familiar square board and it’s hand-drawn on oilcloth. Darrow drew the properties and his wife and son colored in the spaces.

There is some controversy over the origins of the game. It is certainly known that the game is based on a game created by Elizabeth Magie in 1903 called The Landlord’s Game which was more of a political statement rather than a game. She wanted to draw attention to the way in which rents enriched property owners and impoverished tenants. At least one version of The Landlord’s game is known to exist, which would pre-date the Monopoly board that just sold.

After Lizzie Magie invented the game it was used by various professors for instructional purposes and became popular with Quakers (who eliminated the auction rule because they didn’t believe in it). The streets were mostly around the city of Chicago at that time.

monopoly board
A closeup view of the original board

In the 1920’s the game was apparently popular in Reading Pennsylvania, mostly through fraternities at Williams College.

Ruth Hoskins became aware of the game in Indianapolis and took it back to Atlantic city, where it took on the Atlantic City street names. This version was taught to Charles Todd, who taught Esther Darrow, the wife of Charles Darrow who then began to distribute the game as "Monopoly" with the hand-drawn boards which were reportedly the exact size of his dining room table. (Whew!)

marven gardens
Sign at the real Marven Gardens

You may know that the streets on the Monopoly Board are all in Atlantic City, but did you know that one of them, Marvin Gardens, is both not actually in Atlantic City and is misspelled? The actual location, Marven Gardens, is a housing area in Margate City New Jersey and is said to be a combination of Margate City and Ventnor City due to it’s location between them. Charles Darrow made the original mistake of misspelling it on his circular boards and it has never been corrected.

The history of Monopoly is as complicated as the game itself. The issues surrounding the origination of the game led to various law suits which were not finally settled until 1985 a change in the trademark laws, lobbied by Parker Brothers, allowed them to again claim ownership of the trademark name "Monopoly".

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