Forbes passes go, snatches up old 'Monopoly' sets for its gallery collection


November 28, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers Solis-Cohen Enterprises Peter R. Solis-Cohen contributed to this article.

The Forbes Magazine Collection has a monopoly on old hand-made "Monopoly" games. It passed all other bidders and collected the prizes at a Sotheby's auction in New York earlier this month, buying three properties for $11,500, $17,250 and $23,000 each. It already owned an early-round version for which it paid $71,500 at Sotheby's in December 1992.

"We thought the 'Monopoly' games were appropriate for the collection of a magazine about money," said Mary Ellen Sinko, a Forbes curator. "We will display them at the Forbes Magazine Galleries during the Christmas season." The Forbes Galleries are located at 62 Fifth Ave., at the corner of 12th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011. For hours and visitor information, call (212) 206-5548.

Thanks to some of our readers, game experts and Sotheby's auction catalog, what appears to be the true history of "Monopoly" has been pieced together.

The loser is one of the biggest myths of the century: that Charles Darrow, an unemployed heating engineer, invented the board game in 1933 while sitting at his kitchen table in Philadelphia. He did copyright the game that year and sell it to Parker Brothers of Salem, Mass., in 1935.

"Thank goodness the true story of the game of 'Monopoly' finally is seeing the light of day and beginning to rightfully supersede the Charles Darrow myth," said Patrice E. McFarland, a graphic designer and game collector from Averill Park, N.Y. She is working on a biography of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Magie Phillips, who in 1904 invented the "Landlord's Game," on which "Monopoly" was based.

There's no question that Darrow brought "Monopoly" to market, and that his version is the one known worldwide that has sold more than 80 million copies. But careful scrutiny of Forbes' acquisitions and auction catalog entries makes clear that although Darrow may have hit the jackpot, he owed a huge debt to others for his good fortune.

First roll of the dice

The Rosetta stone to understanding "Monopoly's" evolution is the handmade set that cost Forbes $17,250. (It carried a $25,000-$40,000 presale estimate.) It's laid out on a 22-inch square of blue-glazed fabric, with the properties marked with colored triangles at the bottom (instead of colored bars at the top like the game has today), and accompanied by gray houses and hotels with painted tops, deeds, chance cards and play money.

The set was created in 1932 by Charles E. Todd of Philadelphia. According to the Sotheby's catalog, it's the set from which Darrow first learned the game in February or March 1933, and "possibly the most important 'Monopoly' game-set in existence, as it is the very one from which all future 'Monopoly' boards descend."

Jay Dillon of Sotheby's, who cataloged the sale, points out that the proof is in a spelling mistake. When Todd made his board, he misspelled "Marven Gardens" as "Marvin Gardens." Darrow copied Todd's spelling, Parker Brothers copied Darrow, and it has been "Marvin Gardens" ever since. The area adjoining Atlantic City, N.J., between Margate and Ventnor, actually is Marven Gardens, a contraction of Margate and Ventnor -- spelled with an "e," not an "i."

Go to court

The $17,250 Todd set was used as evidence in a 1975 lawsuit, "Anti-Monopoly Inc. vs. General Mills Fun Group Inc., et al," tried in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Ralph Anspach, an economics professor and publisher of the "Anti-Monopoly" game, was sued for infringement by the General Mills division, which then owned Parker Brothers. In preparing their defense, Mr. Anspach's lawyers found Charles Todd, who testified that he had taught Charles Darrow the game that Darrow sold to Parker Brothers as his own, and from which Darrow's surviving children still collect royalties. Mr. Anspach initially lost the case, appealed and came away the winner. When Todd died several years later, Mr. Anspach was left with Todd's game set. Now retired and living in France, he consigned it to Sotheby's.

Testimony from the lawsuit, cited in Sotheby's catalog, revealed how a young woman named Ruth Hoskins had learned to play a version of the "Landlord's Game" called "Finance," in Indianapolis in 1929, from her brother, who had learned it at college. She moved East to teach at the Atlantic City Friends School, and in 1930 played the game with a fellow teacher, Cyril Harvey, and his wife.

According to game collector Ms. McFarland, Mrs. Harvey then drew the first "Monopoly" game board with Atlantic City street names.

The Harveys played the game with their friends, Jesse and Dorothea Raiford. The Raifords and Harveys lent their games to fellow Quakers visiting at Atlantic City hotels, and taught friends and relatives to play; they, in turn, taught Olive and Charles Todd. The Todds taught Esther and Charles Darrow. Todd testified that Darrow asked him for the rules, and that his secretary typed a dozen copies for Darrow.

Sell and collect $23,000

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