Collections of Games held by National Museums & other Large Public Institions

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Here's a list of public institutions and larger museums that have interesting collections of games.

The Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London A reasonable collection of boxed and other Victorian and later indoor games plus a good collection of earlier printed table games from the print department of the V and A. We hope to list these as a future project.
The Victoria & Albert Museum In the meantime on the V & A website if you go to Collections then Search the Collections with “game” you get 230 results! Also research in the Map Library is said to be fruitful.

The British Museum

British Museum Collections Database

The two high profile jewels in the crown here are the Royal Game of Ur (yes, the real thing) and the Lewis Chessmen. Gaming matters at the British Museum tend to be overseen by the inimitable Irving Finkel.

An extremely successful travelling exhibition “Across the Board” was enthusiastically staged in 2005/6 by Irving Finkel including board games from ancient Rome Egypt and India and from around the world throughout the ages. This highlighted the need for a British national museum or archive of games and games information.

The Bodleian Library, Oxford

The Oxford Digital Library image includes images from the John Johnson collection.

 

The Bodleian holds several repositories of games, not all of which are immediately apparent, but all are shown below. Most should be viewable by appointment. Some items have been digitised and are available online namely "Writing Blanks, Board Games, and Other Educational Games of the 18th and 19th centuries from the John Johnson and Harding Collections".

An exhibition “Children’s Games and Pastimes” was held from Nov 2005 to April 2006 showing items from the John Johnson, Opie and Harding collections. ”

 

The H.J.R. Murray Papers. Harold James R Murray (d1955), author of History of chess (1913), bequeathed a collection of books on chess, plus newspaper cuttings, book catalogues, prospectuses of books etc. The papers were given to the Library with a collection of printed books and Oriental manuscripts in 1955.

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. The John Johnson Collection is one of the most important collections of printed ephemera in the world. It was assembled by John de Monins Johnson between c.1923 and 1956 and was housed at the Oxford University Press (where it was called The Constance Meade Collection of Ephemeral Printing) until its transfer to the Bodleian Library in 1968. Johnson collected retrospectively, establishing 1939 as his terminus ante quem (although there are exceptions). While the majority of material dates from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, there is ephemera dating back to 1508. There are over 1 million items in the original collection but additions have been made since. The material is principally British.

Mary Gardiner Collection of Happy Families and other card games. Mary Gardiner, a schoolteacher from Northleach, came to the John Johnson Collection in search of Happy Families card games and, finding only one or two packs new to her, bequeathed her collection to the John Johnson Collection in 2002.

The Jessel Collection of Playing Card Literature. Frederic Henry Jessel (d. 1934), author of "A bibliography of works in English on playing cards and gaming" (1905), bequeathed, in 1934, to the Bodleian c 3,400 vols relating to the history and use of playing cards, card games, games of chance, gaming at casinos, fortune-telling by cards, and card-tricks. They include satires and tracts on the social aspects of gaming; novels, poems and plays in which card-playing figures; Acts of Parliament directed towards the control of gaming and lotteries, extracts from periodicals, newspaper cuttings, packs of cards etc. There are some practically complete sets of editions of some of the most important works on the subject, both English and foreign.

The Opie Collection of Books for children. A collection of works written or published for children, or related thereto, mainly British, totalling c. 20,000 items, put together from the mid 1940s to the early 1980s as a private research resource by Iona (1923- ) and Peter Mason (1918-1982) Opie. Accompanying the collection are records of the books: catalogue cards, accession diaries, notes loosely inserted into books, etc. Acquired by the Bodleian in 1988 after a public appeal, Iona Opie donating half the value of the collection. The Opies also collected some important children’s games. A good selection can be seen in “Treasures of Childhood”, Pavilion Books Ltd and U.S. Edition by Arcade Publishing Inc 1989/90.

The Ballam Collection of Board Games. Much of this collection has been documented in GARD on this website. The printed games from this collection are now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford and are being added to the catalogue there.

 

The Museum of London  
The British Library

The Britsh Library's Map Room holds a fair number of geographical games, mostly map-based, and the map-room collection can be searched separately by selecting ‘cartographic items’ from the catalogue subset menu on the website (although there are no images).

The British Library incorporates the National Archive of Newspapers and periodicals at Colindale.

Joconde, France

Translates as "Mona Lisa".

Catalogue des collections des musees de France.

Click on 'Recherche avancée' (Advanced Search) and search for 'Jeu'.

Atlas van Stolk, Holland.

The Atlas Van Stolk is a collection of over 150,000 prints and drawings. Laid out in chronological order, they would make, as it were, a documentary showing the history of the Netherlands.

There is an English version - click on the Union flag. Search for ‘spel’.

Museu del Joguet de Catalunya The Museum´s exhibits include over 4.000 items; mostly toys but including "games our grandparents played" and games for the blind. The website doesn't mention games much but pictures of games from the museum are evident on the web and so there must be a significant archive.
The Flemish Games Archive A non-profit organization for board and company games, domestic and foreign. A collection of over 20,000 games, hundreds of books and magazines housed in the VIVES Game Archives and can be studied by appointment. Including the collection of Dutch games collector, Fred Horn.
Musee Suisse du Jeu, La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland A large international collection directed by Ulrich Staedler.
   

If you know of other significant game collections that we should include, please contact us to let us know.