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Due to refurbishment works in the Sydney Jones Library, Special Collections and Archives is closed to users from Monday 3 June until Monday 16 September (inclusive). We're still available for your enquiries via email.

Special Collections & Archives: Puzzles, Poetry and Playground Gamesaccredited archive service logo

SC&A includes manuscripts and archives, medieval to modern; early and finely printed books, and science fiction collections.

Puzzles, Poetry and Playground Games

An exhibition highlighting some of the more unusual items from our collections: those relating to games and pastimes, for children and adults, from the 18th to 20th centuries.

Image showing tarot cardsGames in the earlier years of this period were commonly intended to be educative and improving as well as entertaining – teaching the young facts and figures, moral values and good behaviour. Indeed, as the items on display indicate,  games have been put to a strikingly wide variety of purposes: used to promote physical fitness, advertise products, encourage creative writing, analyse the mind of a “juvenile delinquent” - and, of course, to make the lives of old and young alike “brighter, more joyful, and less monotonous”!

Many of the games depicted here – played on boards, with cards, in playgrounds, on ships, in books – may be unfamiliar to us today. In an age in which entertainment can often appear dominated by screens, this exhibition hopefully provides an insight into the games and pastimes favoured in a pre-digital era. And as these activities disappear from our schools and streets, the objects exhibited help to ensure that knowledge of them is not lost forever.

The exhibition draws particularly on the former Education Library collections (Children, JUV, Osborne), but ranges widely across the University Archive, the Cunard Archive and Special Collections donated by lawyers, treasurers and architects, showing that we were all young once.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Queen Mary jigsaw, 1936
  • Siemens Game of Wizard Electric, c.1920
  • Lewis Carroll, The game of logic, 1887
  • Wallis’s locomotive game of railroad adventures, 1838?