National Museum of Play Acquires Earliest Known Darrow Monopoly Game Set

One of the most significant and rare artifacts in toy history—the oldest known version of Monopoly, handmade by Charles Darrow around 1933—has been acquired by the National Museum of Play at the Strong in Rochester, New York.

This Monopoly set, created with pen-and-ink and gouache on a circular piece of oilcloth, was handmade by Darrow in Philadelphia and rumored to be the size and shape of Darrow’s dining room table. The handmade set contains more than 200 pieces, including a rules sheet, playing cards, and playing pieces such as draw-cards, hotels and houses, banknotes, and tokens. This Darrow Monopoly game was acquired from the Forbes Toy Collection auction at Sotheby’s in New York City on December 17.

Strong President and CEO G. Rollie Adams said of the game, “We are extremely excited and pleased to add this highly important, unique set to the National Museum of Play’s premier collection of other Monopoly sets and predecessor games. This artifact represents a singular creative event in game and play history, and it belongs here, where it can be preserved and exhibited for future generations within the context of the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of dolls, toys, and other games.”

While some controversy swirls around the creation of Monopoly, there is no doubt that Darrow popularized the game and played a pivotal role in making it the cultural icon it is today. Monopoly, the most popular board game in history, began life as The Landlord’s Game in 1904. Elizabeth Magie devised the game to point out the social pitfalls of unequal wealth among people. Players soon discovered that a few changes made the game a lot more fun as they greedily collected huge piles of money and property, and delighted in opponents’ financial troubles. The game initially circulated by word of mouth and was informally named “Monopoly.” People made their own boards, cards, and pieces to facilitate their play. Prior to the commercial version, Darrow, an unemployed heating engineer, produced sets entirely by hand, first for family and friends—and then, for sale—drawing and coloring the playing surface on oilcloth. Spurred on by the enthusiasm of players, Darrow produced 5,000 copies of Monopoly at his own expense and sold them through a Philadelphia department store. Hearing of his success, Parker Brothers bought the rights in 1935 and sales soared.

At the height of the Great Depression, Monopoly was the best selling game in the country. Since then, Monopoly has appeared in 111 countries and 43 foreign languages. The original game used property names familiar to residents of Atlantic City, New Jersey. But after 1994, Parker Brothers began producing versions representing major cities throughout the country.

The National Museum of Play owns approximately 65 additional Monopoly sets and related games; among them are a second rare, early version from Darrow’s initial run of 5,000, hand-colored on oilcloth rollup board, and a rare, early handmade Monopoly game created by a member of the Heap family between 1910 and 1917. The latter is one of the oldest handmade versions of the Monopoly game and the only one with all its playing pieces intact.

The museum (which also houses the National Toy Hall of Fame) is planning future interpretive displays of its early Monopoly sets including during its annual National Toy Hall of Fame induction next November.

The National Museum of Play is the only museum in the world devoted to the study of play and is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of play-related objects including games, toys, dolls, and electronic games. You can learn more about the museum and visit its online collections at

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