Lot 232
  • 232


60,000 - 80,000 USD
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  • cloth, paper
A complete game-set, handmade by Charles B. Darrow in Philadelphia about 1933, containing more than 200 pieces, including the manuscript playing-surface, pen-and-ink and gouache on a circular piece of off-white oilcloth (33 1/2 in. diameter); the carbon typescript rules-sheet; and the playing-cards and -pieces (typescript deeds, typescript draw-cards, hotels and houses, bank-notes, and tokens). Partially displayed in a lucite case.


Charles B. Darrow, the maker; given to — J. Barclay Jones, his brother-in-law, of Radnor, Pennsylvania, about 1933; given to — Emily (Bishop) Harvey, his mother-in-law, also of Radnor; given to — Margaret (Bishop) Dawson, her cousin — descended in Dawson's family and sold by the then-owners at Sotheby's New York, 16 December 1992, Lot 222


In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

An orginial Monopoly game-set of circular design, handmade by Charles Darrow, probably in 1933, and descended in his family.

This is the earliest Darrow set known to survive, the only one of circular shape, and the earliest to include rules.

Monopoly has a long and complicated history and an extensive and sometimes contradictory literature. But there can be no doubt that Monopoly became the cultural phenomenon that it did because of Charles Darrow—or that the present circular and handmade game-set is one of the most significant artifacts of this extraordinarily popular game.

Charles Darrow discovered Monopoly in Philadelphia in February or March 1933. He was introduced by friends to a version of the game played by Ruth Hoskins, who had adapted it from a similar game called Finance that she had played in Indianapolis. It was Hoskins—who moved from Indiana to New Jersey—who brought Atlantic City street names to the game, and since this was the version of the game that Darrow learned, "Atlantic City" Monopoly became the version that the rest of the nation would learn from Darrow. (Finance was one of a number of analogous land-trading games that had a modest following in the early decades of the twentieth century, some of which were already called Monopoly and all of which had descended from a didactic English game called The Landlord's Game, which had been copyrighted by Lizzie J. Magie in 1904.)

Darrow was a heating engineer, but like so many others during the Great Depression, he was unemployed. He saw that he could reproduce and sell Monopoly as a way to support his family, and he set to work producing sets entirely by hand: drawing and coloring the playing-surface on oilcloth, typing deeds and draw-cards on index cards, and cutting houses and hotels from strips of pinewood molding. By this method, Darrow is thought to have been able to produce one or two sets a day, and while the marketing of his game-sets was strictly word-of-mouth, he soon found himself unable to keep up with demand. By the end of the year, Darrow had contracted with a local job printer to produce the playing-surface, cards, deeds, and rules. He copyrighted Monopoly in 1933 and the following year he offered the game to Parker Bros., a leading games publisher. Parker Bros. felt that Monopoly might be too complicated for a wide audience, however, and they decided not to acquire it.

Undeterred, Darrow had his printers produce fully printed sets of the game (he had continued to hand-color the playing boards prior to this), which he sold to a number of retailers, including Wanamaker's in Philadelphia and F.A.O. Schwarz in New York. The following year, Parker Bros. reconsidered their earlier decision and purchased the game of Monopoly from Darrow. Shortly afterwards the company also bought the rights to Finance and the then-current version of The Landlord's Game in order to protect its investment.

One of Darrow's great innovations was the codification of rules of Monopoly. Charles E. Todd of Germantown, one of the friends who taught the game to Darrow recalled in 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" (Anti-Monopoly Inc v. General Mills Fun Group Inc.).  Darrow's request for written rules where none had been needed before—and his decision to supply them with the game-sets he made—marks the very moment when he first conceived of a market for Monopoly; and this, in turn, places the present set at the pivotal moment when Darrow created the cultural icon that Monopoly remains today.