Inside the game box for What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls I found the original pamphlet from S & R Games. Super bonus points!
Most collectors are excited to find such booklets (even if they aren’t ephemera nuts, like I am), for such paper propaganda still encourages product sales. Such finds are little shopping lists — only you take them to thrift stores and flea markets, enter the game names in Google, or otherwise purchase on the secondary market instead of walking into the local toy store to buy a brand new game.
Even though I’m not always such an organized collector shopping off a list, I can’t resist the discoveries lurking within such booklets. For example, until I saw this booklet, I never knew that games such as Cattlemen, Barbapapa, and Sweet Pickles, an “A to Z Pickle-Picking Game”. Yet here they were, sitting amid the uber-familiar versions of Scrabble and Parcheesi.
While each of those newly discovered games has it’s own intoxicating powers, the discovery of each of them makes my fascination about the game company itself grow. What kind of company is this S & R Games?
S & R Games is Selchow & Righter Co., founded in 1867 by Elisha Selchow, who originally called his game wholesale company E.G. Selchow & Co. Early on Selsho obtained the rights to sell Parcheesi, The Royal Game of India. While just who invented the game of Parcheesi & when is unclear, it’s certain that Selchow purchased the game’s trademark in 1874, making it one of the oldest American game trademarks.
In 1880 Selchow partnered with John Righter and the name of the company changed to Selchow and Righter Co.. The company remained in the wholesale business, as ‘jobbers’ selling other the games from other companies, until sometime after the death of both Selchow and Righter in the early 1900′s. The company remained a family owned game company and by the 1920′s Selchow and Righter Co. had stopped jobbing the games of others and put more efforts into manufacturing Parcheesi, and by the 30′s they were making other games such as Anagrams.
Selchow and Righter became a steady producer of games, but didn’t develop another game so popular that it could really be called a classic like Parcheesi — until Scrabble.
Selchow & Righter were first presented with the game, first called Lexiko then Criss Cross Words, by its creator Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed architect, in 1949. When Selchow & Righter passed, Butts sold the rights to entrepreneur and game-lover James Brunot instead. But when Brunot and his wife couldn’t keep up with the demand for the game, Selchow & Righter took over production of the game in 1952.
Scrabble eventually grew to eclipse Parcheesi, and strong customer demand for the game forced the company to cut back on the development of other products. SelRight, continued to make other games, but the focus was on Scrabble and variations of Scrabble.
Then, in 1983, S & R Games acquired Trivial Pursuit.
That game became one of the best selling games of the century, and in the second half of ’83, S & R sold 1.5 million Trivial Pursuit games — increasing the company’s previous revenues threefold. And demand showed no signs of slowing. Citywide shipments sold out quickly, resulting not only in stores keeping waiting lists but a thriving black market for the game. (Oh, what online auctions could have done!) In August of 1984 the back orders for Trivial Pursuit reached 11 million and it seemed that Selchow & Right would not be able fulfill those orders, let alone keep up with demand. Then, as it happens, just as S & R got production really rolling, the Trivial Pursuit fad died and the company was left with 20 million games it couldn’t move.
Dick Selchow, who was then running the company, found himself not only stuck with a bunch of inventory but no family willing to run the company. So in May 1986, assured that S & R’s current management and employees would be retained, Selchow sold the 119 year old family compay to Coleco. Just seven months later, with Dick Selchow watching as a consultant, Coleco went bankrupt and was taken over by Hasbro. (Which is how Trivial Pursuit ended up under the Parker Brothers name in 1988.) Dick Selchow, heart-broken with what Coleco had done, died less than three years later.
OK, so that’s not exactly the happy ending I like to get to at the end of an ephemera trail; but that’s how things played out in the game board world.
Selchow leaves a wonderful legacy. In 1978 S & R, headed by Dick Selchow, created Scrabble Crossword Game Players Inc. Now known as The National Scrabble Association, the organization works with schools and campaigns for literacy as well as connects the corporate owners of Scrabble with those who play the game competitively.
One imagines that among the die-hard Scrabble competitors, there are equally fierce game collectors.