MADISON, NJ - If you’ve ever been interested in knowing more about games, learning, and the 19th Century, you're in luck. The Museum of Trades and Crafts in Madison is featuring an exhibit called “The Work of Play: Where Business meets Leisure,” where one can explore both the playful and corporate side of what it means to live, work and play in Madison during the 19th Century.
According to Siobhan Fitzpatrick, curator of Collections and Exhibits at the Museum of Trades and Crafts, the exhibit was chosen to be displayed because of its newness and theme. “The objects that are being showcased now have not been seen by the public,” Fitzpatrick said. “But we also chose this one for the spring/summer because of its playful theme. We thought people would enjoy the display a bit more and that it went with the season.” The objects have been on display since February and will remain there until August.
Operations Manager April Lyzak, spoke about how the event was planned.
“We planned for the exhibit to be out in February and took about 2 weeks to get everything ready,” she said. “We put our material on postcards and sent out emails to make sure people knew about the event.”
The first thing a visitor may notice when he/she walks into the museum, is that of the “playful” feel of the objects before them. What gives the exposition its playful feel are the objects themselves that demonstrate the kinds of activities that Americans enjoyed in their free time. Upon entering the museum, for example, the first objects one will notice are that of children’s games. Everything from dolls to board games to cards, that were used to gamble in taverns, reminds the visitor of the fact that the types of activities enjoyed are not so different from our own today. Old versions of Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders and literary games can be seen behind museum glass, showing the visitor the origin of our board game culture. Most of the popular games that were enjoyed came from Southern Asia and Europe, and as a result Americans began to make their own versions of those models.
Parcheesi originated in India and was the first to be considered acceptable to play on the Sabbath day as it did not involve gambling. A more modern version of the game is Sorry. Chutes and Ladders is a spin off a game called Mansion of Happiness. In this game, players would take turns jumping around different squares on the board that had vices and virtues on them. Before the game became Chutes and Ladders, it was called Snakes and Ladders. Unlike Parcheesi, this is one board game that originated in the United States. Card games and literary games were also a big part of American culture and were enjoyed mostly by adults. Card games and dice were played in taverns all of the days of the week except Sunday, because it was the Sabbath day. While gambling was seen as a vice at the time, it was socially accepted if done in moderation. Literary games with names like “Guess that writer?” were played by adults and children to educate them and test their knowledge of the real world.
Another favorite pastime of the American during the 19th Century was that of reading. Americans were very literate at the time and spent much of their time indulging in books due mostly in part to the printing press. Books provided education and entertainment and often training. Unlike today where everything is digital, there was a process that books had to go through in order to be made. The “publishing team”, consisted of a writer, engraver, illustrator, and printer. Printers often had more than one role- they could be publishers and writers or editors as well. Once a writer finished a book, and the illustrator and an engraver had finished working the details on the book, it would go out into publishing and be sold by shop keepers. The social class one was determined by the kinds of books one read. Members of the working class owned a Bible, religious texts and spellers for children. Individuals that were part of the middle class owned a larger library and with newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Members of the upper class had huge libraries in their houses with books ranging in subjects from philosophy to gardening. Children and teens would usually read books for their education, while adults read anything they desired.
Two of the other pastimes that revolved around social life were that of playing music and visiting taverns. The music industry was big during this time period and evidence of this can be found in American’s daily activities. Because music could only be experiences live, in restaurants or taverns, Americans had to provide music for others. Middle class American families were, therefore, the suppliers of music. Members of a family would purchase instruments and take lessons and eventually have enough practice to perform in public. Instruments were purchased from an instrument maker and the sheet music was written by a successful musician at the time.
When asked what visitors can learn and take from the exhibit, Fitzpatrick said, “They can learn about the aspects of how playing today hasn’t changed much, except for the development of motion picture and how advanced the movie business is nowadays.” The display will be showcased until August 31, 2013 and is available to the entire public.