A traditional game from India, Pachisi - (meaning "25" in English) - is thought to be of great antiquity and is played throughout southeastern Asia. In it's original form, it is a game for 4 people on a special board as in the photograph on the left. The traditional "chance" device used in the game were cowrie shells.
David Parlett (Oxford History of Board Games - p.42) indicates that the original game is "a relatively skill-demanding partnership game, rather like four-handed Backgammon." He reminds us that this traditional game should not be confused with it's American counterpart - Parcheesi; or it's European counterpart - Ludo.
The photograph at the left is of a handmade Pachisi Board in the collection. It was made by community volunteers (in the 1980s) based upon games of this type which they brought to North America from their homes in India.
This typical cruciform board is made of felt, with each playing square hand stitched on a thicker felt backing. The four playing counters for each player are handmade of cardboard and paint. The volunteers reported that in more traditional families, girls were taught to make games of this type for inclusion in their trousseau.
The boards were made of fabric, so they could easily be folded and stored, much like household linens. While some contemporary ethnographers report that the game is now played mostly by children and women, this was not always the case.
Some earlier references indicate that the game was played by a couple on their honeymoon! Consequently, in more affluent families, the boards were made of such materials as velvet and gold threads. as can be seen in the photograph on the right of another board in the collection.
Throughout India and southeast Asia, boards for Pachisi and the related game of Chaupar can be found at a number of archeological sites. Partlett (p. 43) states:
The golden age of Chaupar coincided with the Mogul dynasty (1526-1857), as apparent from the large boards marked out with inlaid marble on palace courtyards at Agra and Allahabad. The Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) played the game on this scale, directing from a central dais the movements of sixteen slave-girls from the harem dressed in the traditional four colours of the various pieces.
The photograph at the left was given to the Museum for the collection. The woman standing on the palace courtyard Chaupar board is Kay Nelson, a faculty member at Columbia University who was in India teaching a course in the 1960s and her host took this photograph of her at that time. In the photograph, Professor Nelson is illustrating how one of the slave-girls, acting as a "game piece", would be standing on a square on the gameboard.
According to Whitehill, the game of Parcheesi was first copyrighted in the United States by E.G. Selchow & Co. (NYC) in 1869. When Selchow merged with Righter a few years later to become Selchow & Righter Co. (NYC) the game was again copyrighted in 1874, 1929, 1942. Subsequent edition were issued - probably under one of these copyrights. A few years ago, the Selchow & Righter Company was bought by Hasbro, Inc. - who now owns the U.S. license for the game and produces the game of Parcheesi for the North American market. There has been little change in the gameboard design with each edition, however, the box has been somewhat changed to keep up with changing public tastes.
The photograph at the right is of a commercial Parcheesi board in the collection. It was copyrighted by Selchow & Righter Company in 1938, thought it is difficult to tell when it was actually produced. The board (46.4cm square) is made of printed cardboard, folds in half, and the design is typical of many editions of the game produced for the North American market by Selchow and Righter Company over the years. The center square is labeled "home", and within the design it includes a series of copyright and patent dates.
A version in the collection (picutured on the right) was made by the Mennonite Central Committee in St. Jacobs, Ontario, Canada in 1981. The 61cm square board and the 30cm long bag are made of burlap, and the counters and dice are made of wood. The title printed on the bag is "Game of Ludo".
Many versions of the game of Pachisi were published in Europe over the years under the name of Ludo, for example, by Kleefield (Bavaria, Germany) 1927. In England, according to Parlett, Pachisi first appeared in 1863. Counterparts can also be found in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany.
Woolson Spice Co. (Toledo, OH) published a game called "Pachesi" sometime around 1894. Whitman Publishing Co. (Racine, WI) published the game of Parchesi - A Game of India in 1939. The National Games Co. (Portland, OR) published Pachisi - The Game of India about 1940.
The photograph at the left is the box top for the game under this name. It is 28.5cm square x 2.7cm high. It was produced by the Milton Bradley Company (Springfield, Mass.) in 1936. The board itself is the bottom of the box. All of these versions of the game use standard dice as the "chance" device. In the collection copy, the dice are made of tin, counters (green, red, yellow, and blue) are made of wood, and the board is printed cardboard.
Over the years there were a number of other games based upon Pachisi. Parker Brothers produced one using the novel Pollyanna as the basis for its game. First written by an American, Eleanor H. Porter in 1913, the story is about a girl who always looks at the bright side of things. Thus the word "pollyanna" has become a synonym for a fatuous, irrepressible, optimist. Porter wrote Pollyanna Grows Up in 1915, and other writers wrote sequels over the years. The photograph at the right is the colorful 47.5cm square board from the Parker Brothers game in the collection. The pictures on the board are characters from Porter's novel - upper right is John Pendleton, upper left is Nancy, lower right is Aunt Polly, and lower left is Jim. Pollyanna is pictured in the middle of the board.
Last update March 5, 2010