Monthly Archives: March 2014

War Games

It’s not just contemporary video games that engage our children (boys) in virtual warfare: their paper predecessors had the very same focus. The majestic monarchs and large professional armies and navies of the eighteenth century inspired the transformation of traditional games of the goose into more strategic games of fortifications and war, and nineteenth-century manufacturing and marketing techniques intensified this shift, along with contemporary ideas about nationalism and education. Four things inspired me to dig into this topic:  André Hellé’s Alphabet de la Grande Guerre, which I featured in my last post, the discovery of a board game dating from and “playing” the Crimean War of 1853-56 (too topical), a recent New York Times “Opinionator” column about “The Myriopticon”, a Civil-War parlor game which was “immensely popular with boys”, and an advertisement for Salem’s own Parker Brothers’ Spanish-American War games, The War in Cuba and The Battle of Manila. And then I discovered the Victoria & Albert’s Museum of Childhood “War Games” exhibit, which is closing at the end of the week.

ABC Great War Games

War Games Crimea V and A

War Games

War Games Parker Brothers

I find these games a little disarming. I understand that the ABC was intended for “the children of our soldiers”, but do these children really need to see pictures of trenches and tanks (no gas masks, thankfully)? I’m just nervous about the Crimea. And Milton Bradley produced the Myriopticon during the Civil War (or Great Rebellion), a tactic that was followed by Parker Brothers at the end of the century. Both World War I and World War II challenged the glorification of war in many ways, but they did not put an end to war games; if anything, the intensifying competitive nationalism and focus on propaganda made them even more popular. The latter are of the bombs away variety, but games of the Great War seem particularly and personally destructive: German children targeted Britain with their toy u-boats, while the object of British children was to get rid of the Huns.

War Games U Boat

War Games Sink the Huns

Get Rid of Huns Maze Puzzle, c. 1916, Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood.


Artistic Alphabets

A good friend of mine recently “published” a digital alphabet book app called The Curious Alphabet and as I was checking it out, I thought, wow, this is a creation that is very, very new and a genre that is quite old:  nothing is more traditional than an ABC book, but now it has broken free of its paper chains. Alphabet books are absolutely fundamental, but at the same time they have certainly inspired successions of artists, everyone from Albrecht Dürer in the sixteenth century to Man Ray in the twentieth and Steve Martin in the twenty-first.

Alphabet Curious Cover

Alphabet Curious

Screen Shots of A Curious Alphabet by Julie Shaw Lutts:  available here.

The publishers of alphabet books were always among the first to take advantage of new technologies: in addition to bibles and prayer books, ABCs constitute the most popular titles of the first century of print. Primers were not exclusively children’s books until several centuries later–and Dürer’s letter books are really more about the construction of letters than the instruction of the alphabet–but from at least 1800 a succession of artists seem to have felt free to indulge their whimsical appreciation of the alphabet, ostensibly for the sake of the children.

ABC Seller BnF

Durer-CRL-spreads

Alphabet Diabolique 1825

Alphabet Royal 1822

Alphabet Universel Anglais et Francais 1830

ABC of the Great War

PicMonkey Collage

ABC Book Falls

ABC Martineau A is for Alarm

ABC 3d Marion Bataille

A Portfolio of Primers:  Street Hawker selling ABC books in early sixteenth-century France, from the Anciens cris de Paris, Bibliotheque national de France; Albrecht Dürer, The Construction of Roman Letters, Dunster House 1924 edition, designed by Bruce Rogers; A page from the “Devilish Alphabet” engraved by Delannois, 1825, Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratif;  Royal Alphabet, or History of an Apple Pie, 1822; Alphabet Universel: Anglais et Francais, c. 1830; Andre Hellé, Alphabet de la Grande Guerre, 1914-1916; Jean Saudé (Miarko), Capital letters W and O from L’Art Croquis d’Animaux, c. 1920; ABC Book with woodcut illustrations by C.B. Falls, Doubleday & Co., 1923; “A is for Alarm” from Every Girl‘s Alphabet (2006) by Luke Martineau and Kate Bingham; Marion Bataille, ABC 3D (2009).


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