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Milton Bradley factory 1890’s
Springfield, Massachusetts

One of the legends of the toy business, Milton Bradley (1836-1911) was a pioneer in the gaming industry.  Bradley was originally a lithographer by trade, and set up his first lithography shop in Springfield, Massachusetts while just a young man.

In 1860, Milton Bradley decided America needed a new game, and so he created a modern blend of the old-fashioned morality games and the simple checkerboard. The result: The Checkered Game of Life.

Born in Vienna, Maine, in 1836, Bradley grew up in Lowell, Mass., and later moved to Springfield. He initially worked as a lithographer, but in 1860 he hit it big with the new game.

Game board from the Checkered Game of Life by Milton Bradley

Bradley’s creation was a departure from most children’s games of the day. They featured more overt religious overtones. In the game Mansion of Bliss, for instance, players navigated the board by moving their game pieces along a track covered with spaces such as: chastity, truth and prudence — which allowed the player to advance. Cruelty, immodesty or ingratitude would force the player backwards. Events such as failing to honor the Sabbath would send the player to the ‘Whipping Post.’ The goal of the game was to reach the ‘Mansion of Bliss,’ heaven.

Illustrated to look like a theater framing the scenes, complete with audience members watching from the balconies, the box originally came with tickets for “attendees” as well as an educational lecture to accompany the show. A Historiscope might look antiquated in today’s market of tablet-inspired gadgets for toddlers, but for many 19th century children it was their first introduction to moving, color pictures. Below you can watch a video of an authentic Historiscope from the Huntington Library’s art collection in San Marino, California.

In addition to founding the iconic board game company, Milton Bradley was also an experienced lithographer and influential proponent of early childhood education. These passions came together in his “Historiscope,” a beautifully illustrated toy meant to be a fun and educational tool for young children.

“The Historiscope: A Panorama and History of America” uses colorful lithograph prints to outline U.S. history, or at least history as it was understood when it was made around the year 1870. The toy consists of an eight-inch box containing a panoramic paper scroll. As the paper rolls along, history unfolds.

Lot 59. Children’s from Catalog 483 is a nice example of early toys made by Milton Bradley.

View lot 59 here for more information.

By Louise Harlow

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