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Photo courtesy 1stdibs An early 20th-century gameboard.

There is nothing humble about a game of checkers when the checker board can cost hundreds of dollars. That’s a good reason why they are not only used for their original purpose, but as decorative accessories.

Not just any old game board can fetch big bucks. It should have great, original paint, and unusual and aesthetically appealing designs, as well as be a rarity. Double-sided game boards are considered rare. Hand-made game boards are more valuable if they can be documented to a specific region.

Nineteenth-century game boards were usually made of maple and pine by untrained amateurs as well as skilled artisans. They were rarely signed or dated, and were yet another way for artists to express themselves.

Historically, playing on game boards goes back to antiquity. In those days, lines were probably drawn in the earth. Instead of checkers, bones and shells would have been used. The earliest documented actual game boards go back to the time of Amenemhet III in Egypt (he reigned from 1818 – 1770 BCE). The boards were made of ivory and other luxurious materials.

When Gameboards Become Art

The checker board is one of the earliest game board designs. Some designs had scrollwork and floral motifs.

Part of the appeal of early checker, Parcheesi and backgammon boards is their “primitive,” hand-made look. When bold colors and geometric forms are combined on a board, the initial reaction is that they have the look of modern abstract art. Perhaps they are what inspired artists Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee?

After 1850, commercially made games became popular. As a result, fewer were made by hand. However, many handmade game boards have never stopped being created.

Most game boards were painted. However, an interesting addition to a game board collection would be a carved checker board. They were made for blind players.

CLUES: There are reproductions of early checkers and Parcheesi boards. A careful examination of the paint can determine age. However, fakers these days are very skilled at aging. If buying from a dealer, get signed documentation.

Look for a date incised or painted on the back. Color is important. Boards with blue, red or green paint sell for more than common black and white, or red and black examples. The original design should be in good condition with minimum if any restoration.

Anne Gilbert is a private consultant doing antiques appraisals for a fee. She can be reached at 1811 Renaissance Commons Blvd., Unit 2310, Boynton Beach, FL 33426.

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