In 1953, when Lee and RAlly Dennis purchased an ornately carved Victorian card table, they found bits and pieces of three early board games inside one of the drawers. With their curiosity stirred by the lovely old lithographed covers , wooden markers, and fanciful titles, they went on to acquire one of the largest and choicest collections of antique board games in the US.
Today the old table sits in a focal point in their cozy living room, several of their favorite games resting on top. On the wall behind it, the oldest American board game, the Mansion of Happiness, manufactured in 1840, is displayed in a hermetically sealed frame. Its vibrant colors and graphics still beckon one to spread it out on the carpet for a few turns around the board.
What is unique about the Dennis collection is not the games themselves, as varied and colorful as they are, but the way it is displayed and shared with the public. Much of the floor and wall space of their Peterborough home has been claimed by their 750 games, charmingly arranged to form a private museum aptly called the Game Preserve.
Although the couple laments that the evergrowing collection usurps more of their home each year, they clearly enjoy living with it. They also enjoy the visitors who come to tour. "To me the joy, in fact the whole point, of having a collection or hobby is to share it with other people," says Mrs. Dennis.
What visitors to the Game Preserve primarily see are games manufactured in the US from 1840 to 1929. Most are board games, examples of the endless varieties that firms such as Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers turned out for an enthusiastic public. But different nooks and crannies also reveal card games , particularly the Old Maid in several of her sour guises; an early Punch and Judy; Ping Pong paddles made of vellum or embossed with the portrait of a Gibson Girl; a miniature general store with an array of miniature wares; and a host of other playful antiques.