Tips for Collecting Board Games
- Many of the earliest and most valuable board games date back to the Victorian era and were produced by McLoughlin Bros.
- High values are reserved for games in excellent condition, including boxes and boards, and with all pieces present. If the corners on a box aren’t perfect, the game isn’t in “mint” condition.
- Monopoly, America’s most popular board game, first came on the market during the Great Depression.
- Modern games made from the ‘40s through the ‘70s are popular with collectors because they are more readily found today.
- Childhood icons from comic strips, movies, television, and radio shows spawned a host of board games selling for respectable prices today.
"Do not pass go, do not collect $200." How many times have you said that phrase since you were a kid?
Symbols from America's favorite board game, like the "Get Out of Jail Free" card and landing on Park Place and Boardwalk, have become an undeniable part of our culture. Most children have learned to recognize these Monopoly references by the age of 10 or 12 since the game first came on the market during the Great Depression.
Of course, the earliest commercial board games played by yesterday's children actually date back to the Victorian era. The beautifully lithographed boxes housing these playthings are avidly sought today and often garner more attention than the games inside. One desirable name to look for in older board games is McLoughlin Bros.
"The McLoughlin name on a game is enough to ensure that it has a high level of value," according to a Collecting Channel article no longer online. In fact, a McLoughlin game dating back to the late 1800s can run into the hundreds, if not thousands, in some cases. Don't be surprised to see McLoughlin's Bulls and Bears game selling in the $13,000 range, if you can even find one.
Popular Modern Board Games
Since the oldest games don't come on the market very often, some of the most popular board games with collectors are more modern. This is especially true for those produced between 1946 and 1999 featuring licensed characters from comic strips, movies, television, and radio shows.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find the likeness of Hopalong Cassidy or another cowboy hero printed on a game box. Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy also found their way into games, as did many comic book superheroes. Most of these games from the '40s and '50s sell for several hundred dollars each nowadays.
Even board games from the 1970s attract collectors. One of the reasons these games have become so popular is the relatively low price commanded in comparison to those made a decade earlier.
For example, a Game Gems Gilligan's Island board set might sell for as much as $600, while you'd be lucky to get $25-50 for a Partridge Family game of similar quality. Most of the 1970s games remain undervalued, but don't expect that to last. Prices will continue to go up in value as demand increases over time.
In actuality, most any child's game can be considered collectible, even the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey party games so popular during the '40s, '50s and '60s. These games don't cost much right now, usually $5-10, so you can definitely put together a nice collection reasonably. Special editions of ever-popular games like Scrabble can also be valuable to the right person.
And that right person might just be a celebrity collector. It's been reported that writer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino enjoys playing and collecting board games.
More on Condition and Value
To learn more about collecting board games, check out American Games by Alex G. Malloy (Krause Publishing). This reference guide lists and values more than 9,000 games, with about 1,000 of the most popular amusements illustrated within the text.
The highest prices noted in Malloy’s book (and in the paragraphs above) only apply to games in excellent condition with boxes intact and all pieces present. Anything less brings the value down considerably. In a Krause online article, Malloy offered some suggestions for collectors just encountering the hobby's "chutes and ladders."
Carefully examining the pointed corners on a box will reveal a lot about the condition of the game. If the corners aren't perfect, the game's not in mint condition. All pieces must also be present to get a mint rating, according to the author. To help with this task, his book offers listings of the items that should be included with each game.
Since most families tend to hold on to board games, you might even have a rare example hiding right there in your own home. Maybe it's time to rummage around and see what types of playful pastimes wait to be rediscovered in an out-of-the-way closet.
Board Game Price Points
- Boris Karloff's Monster Game, 1965 - $521.77
- Mickey Mouse Snakes and Ladders, 1930s - $484
- The Twilight Zone, unused, 1964 - $382
- GI Joe Dangerous Assignment, 1976 - $338
- Land of the Giants, 1968 - $305
- Newport Yacht Race, McLoughlin, late-1800s - $250
(eBay prices realized - August 2013)