AN original Monopoly set offered as part of the toy collection of publisher Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990) and his sons made $120,000 (plus premium) at a recent auction at Sotheby's New York.
Thought to date from 1933, this was the earliest 'Darrow' set
known to survive, the only one of circular shape, and the earliest
to include a carbon typescript rules sheet.
One of more than 200 pieces included in the sale, it was
estimated at $60,000-80,000 on December 17.
Six early editions of Monopoly, a popular game in the
Forbes household, were included in the sale, most of them acquired
by Forbes's sons in homage to their father's love of
The game of Monopoly has a long and complicated history
and an extensive and sometimes contradictory literature. However,
there can be no doubt that it became the cultural phenomenon that
it did because of an unemployed Philadelphia-area heating engineer
by the name of Charles Darrow.
Although Darrow was once supposed to have invented the game of
Monopoly - a supposition he encouraged - it is now
understood that he was introduced by friends in the Philadelphia
area to a home-spun version of the game in early 1933.
Using Atlantic City street names, Monopoly was one of a
number of analogous land-trading games that had a modest following
in the early decades of the 20th century. They included The
Landlord's Game, patented in 1904 by Lizzie J. Magie, a Quaker
from Virginia whose belief in Henry George's single tax theory led
her to create a game that showed that the landlord always won.
However, Darrow saw that he could reproduce and sell 'his' new
game as a way to support his family through the Great Depression,
and he set to work producing sets entirely by hand: drawing and
colouring the playing-surface, typing deeds and draw-cards on index
cards, and cutting houses and hotels from strips of pine.
By this method, Darrow is thought to have produced one or two
sets a day before production moved to a nearby printing works where
a further 5000 sets were created for local distribution.
He copyrighted Monopoly late in 1933 and the following
year, at the second time of asking, sold the game to leading games
publisher Parker Brothers in a deal that would make him a
Parker sensibly bought the rights to The Landlord's
Game for $500 and a yet closer game, Finance, for
$10,000 in order to protect their investment, but one of Darrow's
great innovations had been the codification of the rules of
Monopoly. Certainly future legal cases surrounding the
multi-million dollar Monopoly franchise would see it that
Charles E. Todd, a hotel manager of Germantown, Philadelphia,
who was among the friends who taught the game to Darrow, recalled
in a 1976 court testimony that while learning the game Darrow asked
him, "Don't you have any rules? I said, no, it is just a fun game
for us. He said, will you write me the rules as you remember them
and anything you think ought to be changed or improved? I said, oh,
yes, be glad to help".
The Forbes collection also included the Monopoly set
from which Charles Darrow first learned the game sometime in
February or March 1933.
This version of the game made by Charles Todd originated with
one Ruth Hoskins, who is now credited with applying New Jersey
street names to the game-board. Through a spelling mistake, this
very set introduced a famous and enduring error to the US version
of Monopoly. Todd copied the place-name of Marven Gardens
(a plot of land between Margate and Ventnor Streets in Atlantic
City) as Marvin Gardens. Charles Darrow copied Todd, Parker Bros.
copied Darrow, and the name has been Marvin Gardens ever since.
Charles E. Todd sold this set to the Monopoly historian
Ralph Anspach, who later sold it at Sotheby's New York in December
1992, when it was acquired by Malcolm Forbes. This framed set, in a
traditional square format, sold at $21,000.
By Roland Arkell