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Hunt the Slipper

Hunt the Slipper

Girl’s Own Games
From Girl’s Own Book by L. Maria Child, 1834

“All the  players but one are placed in a circle; that one remains outside to hunt the slipper, which is passed from hand to hand very rapidly in the circle.  The hunter cannot judge where it is, because all the players keep their hands moving all the time, as if they were passing it.  

The one in whose hands it is caught becomes the hunter, and pays a forfeit.  Usually, I believe, little girls play it sitting side by side, very close to each other, on low stools, or resting upon their feet.

If the company is sufficiently numerous, it is better to have two circles, one within another, sitting face to face, resting on their feet, with their knees bent forward so as to meet each other; in this way a sort of concealed arch is formed, through which the the slipper may be passed unperceived.  

There should be two slight openings in the circle, one on each side, and the other opposite.  When the slipper is passing through these openings, the player who passes it should tap it on the floor, to let the hunter know where it is.  She springs to seize it; but it is flying round so rapidly, and all hands are moving so fast, that she loses it, and in less than an instant, perhaps, she hears it tapping on the other side.

This game may be played rudely, and it may be played politely.  If little girls are rude, they are in great danger of knocking each other down in trying to catch the slipper:  for squatting upon their feet, as they do in this game, they easily lose their balance.  

It is best for the hunter never to try to catch the slipper except at the two openings in the circle; then there is no danger of tumbling each other down.  Some prefer playing this game with a thimble or a marble, because it is not so likely to be seen as a slipper.  It any one happens to drop the slipper in passing it, she must pay a forfeit.”

Homemade Picture Puzzles 1880s


Picture Puzzle

Picture Puzzle

Candy Pull



Let the children have an occasional "candy-pull," a time of nut-cracking, corn-popping and apple-roasting:  life will move more smoothly for the whole family by the help of such occasions of mirth and social pleasure.

Anonymous, mid-19th century.

Children at Play

Children and toys 19th century

Victorian era children posed with their favorite toys:  wooden blocks and a doll.

Toys have a history as old as human civilization itself. Toys and games have been unearthed from the sites of ancient civilizations and they have been written about in some of our oldest literature. Toys excavated from the Indus valley civilization (3000-1500 BCE) include small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and toy monkeys which could slide down a string. The earliest toys were made from materials found in nature, such as rocks, sticks, and clay. Thousands of years ago, Egyptian children played with dolls that had wigs and movable limbs which were made from stone, pottery, and wood.

Victorian Parlor Games

More Victorian Parlor Games

The host shows everyone a little knick-knack in the room. All the guests are to leave while the host hides it. When they return, everyone is to look for the item until they spot it. They then sit down. The last one to find it loses (or has to be "it"). It makes it a bit more difficult if guests continue to mill for a few seconds before they sit down.

Throwing the Smile
In this game the object is to win by NOT smiling. Everyone will form a circle. The chosen person will stand in the middle going about with a smile on his face, trying desperately hard to make someone else laugh or giggle. Then he will hurriedly wipe the smile from off his face and quickly throw his straight look toward someone trying to get them to laugh. This will continue until he can make someone laugh. Whom ever laughs must sit out the rest of the game.

Blindman's Bluff
One person is blindfolded, and all other guests scatter around the room. When the blindfolded person catches someone, they then have to tell who it is they have captured or the prisoner is freed and the blindman continues his/her pursuit until he/she can identify the person caught.

Classic Victorian game that remains familiar and popular today.
One person is chosen to leave the room. All the other guests must "forfeit" a special item that belongs to them. All of these items are placed in the center of the room and then the "auctioneer" is brought back in. He/she picks up an item and tries to describe it as one would an item about to be sold. In order not to forfeit the item, the owner must "fess-up" and do something amusing/embarrassing to win back the item (sing, dance, do an imitation, recitation, tell a joke, etc.)

The Name Game
Provide each guest with 10 small pieces of paper, and a pen or pencil. Ask them to write down the names of 10 famous people, leaders, movie stars, authors, sports figures, politicians, artists, inventors, scientists, etc. Encourage them not to make it too easy! Fold the papers, and put them into a hat, bowl, or basket.  Ask guests to sit in a large circle. Each round is limited to 30 seconds, and it is good to keep time with a second hand. Player One pulls out a name, and tries to get the person beside him/her to guess the name by giving clues, but never actually saying the name or what it starts with. Gestures are not allowed. After the name is guessed, the clue giver can continue pulling names out of the hat until time is up. The guesser gets to keep their pieces of paper, and the clue giver gets credit also. The bowl is the passed to the next person and the clue giver now becomes the guesser and there is a new clue giver. The bowl proceeds around the circle until everyone has guessed and everyone has given clues. The one with the most correct guesses wins.

I'm Thinking of Something

One person picks something and commits it to memory (Mount Rushmore, the ocean, an item in the room). They do not tell what this item is but they say, for example, "I'm thinking of something large." The guests are then allowed to ask yes or no questions. "Is it a building?" "No" "Is it an animal" "No." "Is it a monument?" "Yes." "Is it in Europe?" "No" and so on until one person guesses the item correctly. If the person guesses incorrectly the game still ends and the wrong person must choose a new item. Players should never guess until they are completely sure they know the answer.

Squeak, Piggy, Squeak!
This was a popular game with the Victorians. Amongst a group of people one person was chosen, blindfolded then they were handed a pillow. The other's sat in a circle as the blindfolded fellow stood in the center and was spun around. After he had lost all sense of direction he placed the pillow on someone's lap and said, "Squeak, Piggy, Squeak!" The person would squeak and then the blindfolded player had to guess whose lap he was sitting on, then he or she became the next player.

Game of Fox & Geese

Game of Fox & Geese

Fox and GeeseIn the 18th century board games were played by young and old alike.  Peg games such as Solitaire, Fox and Geese, and Nine Men’s Morris were favorites in the taverns.  A wide variety of boards were used to play these peg games, some finely crafted of exotic woods with pearl or ivory inlay while others crudely fashioned of inexpensive materials. 

Fox and Geese was known to have been played as early as the 14th century and originally played on a thirty-three-hole board.  When the Solitaire version (see below) was invented in the later part of the 18th century, however, Fox and Geese was transferred to the thirty-seven-hole Solitaire board. 

The number of geese pitted against the fox has varied over the years, increasing from thirteen geese in the 17th century to twenty-two in the 19th.  In the 18th century the number of geese varied from fifteen to seventeen.  Using seventeen geese and a representative version of the 18th century game, the rules of play are as follows:

To Begin:  The black peg is the fox and the white pegs are the geese.  The board should be laid out according to the diagram below:

 Fox and Geese

The geese have the first move.

The fox moves one hole on each turn, either forward, backward, or sideways.  Diagonal moves are not allowed.  The fox can eliminate a goose from play by jumping over it and landing in a vacant hole on the other side.  A skillful fox can “slay” two or more geese in one move by a series of short leaps. 

One goose moves on each turn, either forward or sideways.  No diagonal or backward moves allowed.  Geese cannot jump other pegs.

To Win:  The geese win by surrounding the fox.  The geese move steadily forward to hem in the fox by maintaining a line that the fox cannot break past.  The fox wins by slaying so many geese that they can no longer surround him, or by breaking through the line of geese to safety behind them. 

The Graces

"The Graces"

The GracesThis game is played with two small hoops and four sticks.  The hoops are to be bound with silk or ribbons, according to fancy.

Each player takes a pair of sticks and a hoop and then stands a little distance away from the other.  The sticks are held straight, three or four inches apart, when trying to catch the hoop; when the hoop is thrown, the sticks are crossed like a pair of scissors and sharply drawn asunder to drive the hoop toward the other player who endeavors to catch it.

To become so dexterous as always to catch the hoop requires considerable practice.  Beginners, however, had better practice with a single hoop.  More advanced players toss over one hoop and then catch the other hoop tossed by the opponent.  The hoops are thus alternately thrown backwards and forwards and received on the points of the sticks.

Every time the hoop is successfully caught, without being allowed to fall to the ground, counts one; the player with the highest count when the game is over wins.

This little game affords very good and healthful exercise, and when well played is extremely graceful.

The American Girl's Book 1831

19th Century Children's Games - Buzz Saw

Buzz Saw

Buzz SawThe sound of the whirling disk lends this toy its common name of “Buzzer” although its appears in English literature as early as 1686 under the general name for spinning toys, “Whirligig.”  In many cultures and throughout history, buzzers have been made by and for children from a variety of materials and in different shapes and sizes.

In North America, buzzers made of bones and clay have been discovered in Native American cliff dwelling ruins, and coin buzzers have been excavated from early American military camp, plantation and town sites; folk toy buzzers are often described as made of a wooden disk, or even a large button.

The scalloped edge of this buzzer toy identifies it more particularly as a Buzz Saw.  In past times the edge was often sharply cut into a sawtooth pattern, but a Buzz Saw with any shaped edge will still produce an impressive loud, whizzing noise when it reaches full speed.


19th Century Children's Games - Tabletop Ninepins

Tabletop Ninepins

Tabletop NinepinsAccording to Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia:

"A variety of pins, ball and rules of play developed as bowling game popular since ancient times evolved into the games we know today as skittles, duckpins, lawn bowls, bocce, pentanque and tenpins.

Ninepins can be played with 2 or more players.  Players agree on when the game will end, usually after a specified number of rounds have been played.  The object of the game is to knock down as many of the wooden pins as possible with each roll of the ball.  The pins are set up on the table or floor to form a circle, a diamond or a row.  A mark is then established on the floor where the players will stand while bowling the balls.  Each player bowls both balls, tallies the score, replaces the pins and passes the balls along to the next player in turn."

Ninepins has been a popular sport in North America since the Dutch settlers brought it with them to the Hudson River Valley in the 17th century. Known as Dutch Pins, this game eventually became the ubiquitous "Ten Pin Bowling."  It is one of many forms of bowling games played in Europe since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. In colonial America, men and women of all ages enjoyed the popular pastime of ninepins and it remained a popular sport until tenpins became well established in the late 19th century.

Skittles or Nine Pins has long been played in the Inns of England. In general, players take turns to throw wooden balls down a lane at the end of which are several wooden skittles in an attempt to knock them all over.  There are a number of skittle games across England and there have been many more in the past.  In Germany, in the 3rd or 4th century monks played a game with a kegel which was a club carried for self-defense.  In the game, the kegel represented a sin or temptation and the monks would throw stones at it until they knocked it over.  The modern German term for skittles is Kegelen.

Illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries show a player throwing or rolling the ball while standing right next to the pin diamond. This is usually not a mistake or an illustrative convenience; in fact many games allowed the players to first aim from distance and then take their final throw at point blank range. This last technique is called "tipping" and this form of the game may still be played in France.

During the 19th century, there were four common versions of the game:
Skittles - involved both throwing at distance and "tipping" and simply scored by counting the pins toppled; winner being first to reach a certain total.
Nine Pins - played at an agreed distance; goal was to knock down all pins in least number of throws.
Dutch Pins - involved both rolling from distance as well as "tipping" but was distinguished by the use of finger holes in the balls (like ten-pin bowling), by the pins being taller and thinner and by the use of a kingpin - a single skittle that stood higher than the others and was usually required to be knocked over first.
Rolly Polly - bowl with huge bias is used and the ball rolled at 12 pins in a circle; the catch being that the bowl must go past the circle of pins and another pin a bit further away before returning, due to the bias, in the reverse direction.

19th Century Children's Games - Bilbo Catcher

Bilbo Catcher

Bilbo Catcher

“The bilbo catcher was among the ‘curious’ assortment of toys advertised for sale by colonial merchants and was described as a favorite in children’s books in the late 1800s; modern times have introduced the toy with other names, but the fundamental design remains the same.

Also known as a bilboquet, the bilbo catcher is a toy of the cup and ball family with a history going back many centuries in Europe and the Americas.  In simple cup and ball toys, the ball is tossed and caught in a cup on the end of a stick.

In a more difficult version, the ball is caught on the tip of a spindle by a hole drilled in the ball opposite the string.”  Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

19th Century Children's Games - Pick up sticks

Pick-Up Sticks

Pick up SticksMost of us recognize this bundle of sticks as the very popular game of “Pick-Up Sticks” and most likely played it during our childhood.  Just how old is this game?  Stick games are ancient and prevalent in all cultures:

India:  c. 563-483 BC
Scythians:  450 BC
China:  12th century
Japan:  16th century

The version played in China involved intricately carved ivory sticks and play was based on collecting the figures with the higher point value.  British traders in China discovered this game, brought it back to Britain and gave it the name “Spellicans.” 

When the British colonized America, they took the popular game across the Atlantic and somehow the name changed to “Spilikins.”  The sticks were now being made from colored or painted wheat straw and the name changed to “Jackstraws.”  Another theory is that Pick-Up Sticks was originated by American Indians and taught to westward bound pioneers.  France has a version called “Jonchets,” in Sweden the game is known as “Plockepinn,” and Israel calls the game “Dukim.”

Regardless of the name, the concept of the game is quite simple:  The bundle of sticks is held in one hand with the bottoms touching a flat surface. The sticks are then released to fall in a pile.  The first player picks up as many sticks as possible, one at a time, without disturbing another stick in the pile.  The black stick is often used as a “helper” to carefully maneuver sticks without incident. 

Typically the winner is decided by the point value of different colors.  Often bonus points apply for more challenging maneuvers.  The rules need to be determined prior to play.

The Girl's Own Book by Lydia Maria Child, 1833 about the game of Jackstraws:
"A large number of straws, or fine splinters of wood, of equal length, are placed in a pile, standing up so as to meet at the top and spread out at the bottom, like a tent, or hay-stack; two of the sticks reserved, and on these are placed little crooked pins, or some small delicate kind of hook. 

Each one, in turn, takes these hooks and tries to remove one from the pile, without shaking any other straw.  The one who succeeds in removing a straw upon these difficult conditions, takes it to herself and counts one.  Those who gain the most straws win the game.

Sometimes they cut little notches, or they black the heads of three, which they call king, queen, and bishop:  the king counts four, the queen three, and the bishop two."

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