Sunday, March 3, 2013

19th Century Parlor Games

In the days before television and video games, entertainment was both simpler and more complicated. There were a lot of games that today's children might find more "educational" and "cerebral" than what they're used to. Games were easier to play, however, and required little or no specialized equipment.

Blindman's Bluff:

One person is blindfolded. The other guests scatter around the room, and the "blindman" must try to find them and identify who he or she has caught without looking. The person correctly identified is "it" and a new game commences.

Board Games:

There were many varieties of popular board games available in the 19th Century. Checkers and Chess were the most popular, as today. A game similar to Tic-Tac-Toe, called Nine Man's Morris, was also popular, as was Fox and Geese. Each of these games relies on "capturing" an opponent's pieces to win.

"The Mansion of Happiness" was "An Instructive Moral and Entertaining Amusement," where players moved their pieces about a board marked with "vices" and "virtues." Instructions at each landing spot either advanced the player further (virtues) or sent them backwards (vices) until they reached the "Mansion of Happiness" at the center of the board and won the game.


The classic Victorian game, still popular today, of trying to act out a word or phrase so that it can be guessed without a word being spoken. The person who guesses correctly is "it," and acts out a new word or phrase.


One person is chosen to be the "auctioneer" and asked to leave the room. The other guests must "forfeit" a special item of theirs, and all items are placed in the center of the room. The "auctioneer" then returns and pretends to sell off each item, describing it as it would be done at an actual sale. In order to "buy" their items back, the guests must do something embarrassing such as sing a song, dance, do an imitation, etc.


This was a girl's game, thought to teach grace and poise. The girls sat in a circle, and used a pair of wooden rods to toss a be-ribboned hoop to her partner, who tried to catch it on her rods. The girls who were the most graceful would win. This is, of course, similar to many of the popular "toss and catch" games played by people of all ages.

I'm Thinking of Something:

The person who is "it" picks something specific, such as Mount Rushmore, a person everyone would know, an animal, or an item in the room. They give hints, such as "I'm thinking of something large," and the guests ask questions about the item, such as "Is it an animal?" or "Is it in Europe?". This continues until someone thinks they know the answer and makes a guess. If they guess correctly, they become "it" and think of a new item. If they guess incorrectly, the original person is still "it" and picks a new item.

I Spy:

This is a variation of "I'm Thinking Of Something" where the item in question must be within eyesight of the person who is "it."

Jackstraws, or Pick-Up-Sticks:

A bundle of "sticks," usually specially-made wooden rods, are held over the table and released to fall into a pile. Each guest removes one stick, trying not to disturb the remaining ones in the pile. If the other sticks move, the player must lose that turn. The object is to collect the most sticks.


The host picks some small item and shows it to everyone in the room. All guests then leave the room while the host hides the item "in plain sight" among the other items in the room. The guests then return and try to spot the item, but say nothing when they find it. Instead, they sit down once they have located the item. The last person standing is "it" and must hide the next item.

Squeak, Piggy, Squeak:

One person is blindfolded and given a pillow. The other guests sit at the person's feet. "It" is spun around until he or she doesn't know which direction they are facing, then they drop the pillow and say "Squeak, piggy, squeak!" The person who catches the pillow, or into whose lap it falls, must squeak or squeal like a pig, and "it" must try to guess who the person is. If they guessed correctly, the "piggy" then became "it."

Throwing the Smile:

The object of this game is NOT to smile. Everyone forms a circle, with "it" standing in the middle. "It" can either smile broadly, or can "wipe off" his smile and look mock-serious in an attempt to make the others smile or laugh, at which point they are "out." In some games, the person then has to "pay a forfeit" such as hand over a small item, or do something embarrassing. The game continues until only one person is left facing "it," at which point they become the new "it."

The Name Game:

Each guest is provided with a pencil or pen and ten slips of paper. They write down the names of ten famous people (the object was to try not to make them too easy to guess). The papers are then folded and placed into a large container, and everyone forms a circle. Each round of guessing lasts 30 seconds. The first player picks one name and tries to get the person on their left to guess the name by giving clues without saying what the name is or what the letters are. Gestures are not allowed. If the person guesses correctly before the round is over, another name is drawn and the same team continues until the time is up. The guesser keeps the paper slips and shares credit with the clue giver. The bowl is then passed to the guesser, and the game continues until everyone has guessed and given at least one clue -- or until the bowl is empty. The person with the most correct guesses wins the game.


  1. Excellent blog, sir! I would like to play some of these games myself!

  2. I like this blog, it is very helpful for my american studies class.

  3. Thanks for your fine collection of info~

  4. Quite interesting games of the past which have mostly become instinct now in a fast paced world. I think they should be revived as they are good source of social togetherness.

  5. We used to play board games and blindman’s bluff. You have revived childhood memories. I think today children will find these games boring. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I have an early 1900’s table game. May I send you a pic to see if you’re familiar with it?

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