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History of the Cribbage Board

Article one focused on the basics of collecting cribbage boards - what is considered a collection and board values. It also outlined the goals of the Cribbage Board Collectors Society, of which I am the Founder. In article two, we again reviewed board values and then did a review of a favorite board - the Curtis Cribbage Counter. In order to increase your knowledge about collecting cribbage boards - and boards that you may own, these articles will review a different manufacturer most of the time.

The history of the cribbage board is quite interesting, for we have information which takes us back nearly 2,000 years, long before the game of "Cribbidge" was invented by Sir John Suckling in the early 1600's. During the era of the great kings of Egypt, a game called Dogs and Jackals (also known as the Game of Fifty Eight Holes) was being played. The board which was used for play featured an ivory or bone top which contained 58 holes grouped in sets of five. This combination of holes intrigues cribbage board collectors, for it is identical to the grouping of holes found on our modern cribbage board. This leads us to believe that Sir John had access to information about the ancient game when inventing the game of "Cribbidge". Samples of the Dogs and Jackals board and game pieces, by the way, can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The first cribbage board which was used by Sir John supposedly looked like a ship's course charter (traverse board), but it was soon replaced by a more conventional twice around board style much like the ones in use to this day. Many samples of early cribbage boards have been recovered and are housed in museums or in individual collections. These boards all have the traditional six sets of double five holes for each player. Many boards, old or new, do not contain starter holes or Games Won holes, so we have come to the conclusion that they were placed on boards at the discretion of the craftsman. That flexibility continues to this day.

A discussion of the changes in the number of points needed for Game Win naturally must follow the previous comments. I hate to give away all my trade secrets, but for the sake of the cause, here goes. The information has a direct bearing on the various designs of the cribbage boards which are used. From the time that Sir John invented the game of "Cribbidge", the game was played to 61 points for the Game Win. This practice continued to the early 1900's, when foursomes gradually began to play to 121 points for the Game Win. The exact timing for this conversion isn't known yet, but indications are that it will eventually surface. A review of rules printed by C. W. Le Count and written by E. C. Hazard in the 1890's, identified Game Win as 61. Just a few years later, Hoyle rules which were copyrighted in 1915 show Game Win to be at 61 or 121 points for 2 players. This evidence takes us back 20 years from what was previously known about the 121 point game, which until recently was considered to be the mid-1930's. Ironically, all other rules contained with boards dating up to the mid-1930's continue to address 61 as Game Win.

Once-Around Cribbage Boards

Why are the points for Game Win valuable information for the cribbage board collector? Think about it. We have all these wonderful boards in our collections, but the older ones contain only 60 holes per player (six sets of double five holes). I looked lovingly and naively at my boards and hundreds of photos for several years before I began to question why we didn't have any old boards with 120 holes. I sent letters to many collectors, and nobody had an answer. After much research, I determined that Game play to 121 points was a gradual conversion from 61 points, and it had its strongest thrust in the late 1930's. Naturally, the next puzzle which I found myself trying to answer was the identity of the first 120 hole board to be manufactured. There are several boards which fit into this category, and there still is no clear-cut answer. Documentation, however, leads me to believe that the board called "Saves Argument", which was patented June 11, 1940 by S. C. Eddy, is probably the winner. Other boards which should not be eliminated from consideration are:

  1. Crib-Derby by the Crib-Derby Company. A wooden board which was later manufactured in a plastic version by E.S. Lowe Co. after they purchased the Crib-Derby Co.
  2. EEZEE Cribbage Score Board by W. C. Horn Bro. & Co.
  3. Model 1505 by E. S. Lowe Co. If not the earliest 120 hole board, it probably qualifies as the earliest board with the "S" track.
  4. Several Canadian models

What is the most popular 120 hole board to ever be produced? Any person who has ever played an ACC-sanctioned cribbage tournament will reply - the Tournament Long Board! But how many of you know the history of this popular board?

According to Joseph Petrus Wergin, who was one of the Founders of the ACC and its President for many years, the Tournament Long Board was developed by officials of the Masters Cribbage Classic for use in major tournaments. The original boards were stamped "Copyright 1979 by Joseph Petrus Wergin Inc." Eventually, Drueke and Sons took over the manufacture of these boards, and they continue to be manufactured to this day by the purchaser of the Drueke Co., which is the Carrom Company.

A story about the crafting of the long board was conveyed to me several years ago by Jack Wunderlich of Lincoln, Nebraska, and it is a wonderful tribute to a long-time member of the ACC called Ray Dalton . Ray, who died in 1992, was handicapped at an early age as the result of an auto accident, and he was a great craftsman of wood products. When the long boards were first introduced, someone asked Ray if he would like to drill a few of them, which he did, using scraps of particle board obtained from a local factory. Ray apparently enjoyed the challenge and before he was finished, he had drilled over 375 long boards for use in the Great Plains Cribbage Tournaments. I hope that these boards are well preserved, for they serve as a wonderful tribute to a man who dedicated his talents to an important piece of the history of modern-day cribbage.

In summary, the evolution of the rules of game play in Cribbage serve as a focus to the style of boards held in our collections. We continue to find answers to puzzling questions about our boards through the research of all materials, including the rules of game play!

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