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Sid Sackson collection

 Collection — Box: 1-48
Identifier: 2016.sackson
The Sid Sackson collection is essentially the complete professional archive of Sid Sackson. Materials in this collection include diaries, correspondence, game descriptions and rules, writings, publications, newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, and some photographs. This archival collection documents Sackson’s life and activities as a game designer, collector, consultant, and author during the 1960s through the 1990s. (Magazines and trade catalogs from Sackson have been transferred to the library’s holdings. Any published games or game prototypes that were donated to the museum with the Sackson material have been cataloged individually in the museum’s Argus database and are housed in museum collections’ storage.)

The Sid Sackson collection is arranged into four series, one of which has been further divided into subseries. The collection is housed in 48 archival document boxes.

Dates

  • 1867 - 2003
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1995

Creator

Language

The materials in this collection are primarily in English. There are some instances of additional languages, including German, French, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish; these are denoted in the Contents List section of this finding aid.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open to research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. Intellectual property rights to the donated materials are held by the Sackson heirs or assignees. Anyone who would like to develop and publish a game using the ideas found in the papers should contact Ms. Dale Friedman (624 Birch Avenue, River Vale, New Jersey, 07675) for permission.

Extent

36 Linear Feet (48 boxes)

Abstract

The Sid Sackson collection is a compilation of diaries, correspondence, notes, game descriptions, and publications created or used by Sid Sackson during his lengthy career in the toy and game industry. The bulk of the materials are from between 1960 and 1995.

Biographical Note

Sid Sackson was born in Chicago, Illinois, on February 4, 1920. He was fascinated by games from a very early age, with his mother buying him a new game every week. As a small child, he worked on improving the games he received. His first effort involved modifying his Uncle Wiggily game until it became a war game with soldiers and cannon. He found the Lotto game dull, so he turned it into a solitaire game of historical empires. During the 1930s Sackson’s family moved from city to city (including Gary, Indiana, and Philadelphia) as his father searched for employment. The young boy spent many hours creating, modifying, and playing games alone or with his father. Young Sid also developed an interest in ballroom dancing and served as the editor of his high school newspaper.

In 1937, he entered City College of New York, from which he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He became a professionally licensed civil engineer. Among other projects, he worked on the battleship Missouri, the aircraft carrier Yorktown, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the World Trade Center. He established his residence in the Bronx with his wife Bernice, whom he married in 1941, and eventually their son and daughter. The Sacksons did jigsaw puzzles together but quickly switched to board games. They developed a circle of friends who were also game fans, and many evenings were spent playing games. As Sackson developed his passion for creating games, his family and friends often play-tested his efforts. His first published game was Poke, a poker variation that he submitted to Esquire in 1946. A two-handed version of bridge, called Slam, was published in a syndicated bridge column in 1951. Although he invented scores of games, he did not sell any during this time.

In 1958, Sackson met a game inventor who was demonstrating his products in Gimbel’s Department Store. The inventor introduced Sackson to his agent, who agreed to try to place some of Sackson’s games with manufacturers. Milton Bradley finally agreed to buy Sackson’s game High Spirits in 1962. To Sackson’s disappointment, the firm changed the adult game into a mediocre children’s game, High Spirits with Calvin and the Colonel, named after a television program. However, during that time he had modified his early solitaire game based on Lotto into a multi-player game that he called Acquire. He sold that game to 3M Company, which successfully published it and five other Sackson games in the 1960s and early 1970s. Sackson considered Acquire one of his best and most successful games.

During the 1960s, Sackson and his wife traveled to Europe several times, meeting game enthusiasts and purchasing items for Sackson’s growing collection of board games and reference works on games. Sackson’s collection of over 15,000 games eventually filled three rooms and the basement of his house, with games stacked from floor to ceiling. File cabinets contained reproductions and detailed descriptions of rules for thousands of games. He also kept daily work diaries, many meticulously indexed, of all his game-related activities, contacts, and ideas.

Sackson wrote A Gamut of Games, a collection of card, board, and party games that was published by Random House in 1969. The book contained games developed by Sackson and several of his friends, as well as a few classics. It also included an appendix of short reviews of “games in print.” The book became popular among game enthusiasts, was reprinted in several editions over the next 15 years, and is considered a classic work. Patterns, a game of inductive logic that Sackson had created for A Gamut of Games, was featured in Martin Gardner’s November 1969 column in Scientific American and appeared on the issue’s cover. The column attracted considerable interest in the scientific community and garnered wide publicity for Sackson.

By 1970, Sackson was making more money from his games than from his engineering job. His need for flexibility to continue inventing games and writing game reviews for Strategy & Tactics magazine prompted him to quit the engineering field and devote all his time to his passion during the next 25 years. Sackson ultimately created over 500 games; about 50 were marketed. Among his most notable were Acquire, Can’t Stop, Sleuth, Focus (Domination), Bazaar, Metropolis, Monad, Take Five, and Venture. Foreign editions of his games were published, particularly in Germany where his games found a wide audience in the 1980s and 1990s. His games received several European awards. Some games have been reissued in special editions since his death. Sackson wrote game reviews for Strategy & Tactics, Games magazine, and the Gamers Alliance Report. Many of his games were published in Games issues, while Pantheon published five books of Sackson games and Prentice-Hall published a Sackson book, Playing Cards Around the World. He corresponded with professional game designers as well as amateurs who developed ideas for games and asked him for advice and critiques. Annual visits to the Toy Fair in New York City were opportunities to meet colleagues and to acquire more games and reference materials for his huge collections. By the mid-1990s Sackson’s health was declining. His final years were spent in a nursing home, and he died on November 6, 2002. (His vast collection of games was auctioned off to game fans and collectors in 2002 and 2003.)

Sackson believed the inspiration for designing a game was simple: he just built on something he found interesting. He liked to play games because his brain felt good after a mental workout, and “it’s fun to show how smart you are.” He enjoyed the companionship involved in playing games, which was a key reason he didn’t enjoy computer games: “there is no human face across the table.” Sackson played games to win but didn’t especially care if he won or lost, believing “it’s only important that the game was interesting.”

System of Arrangement

Series I: Diaries, 1963-1997

Series II: Correspondence, 1951-2002

Series III: Game descriptions and rules, 1867-2003

Series IV: Writings and publications, 1913-2000

Subseries A: Books by Sid Sackson
Subseries B: Articles and miscellaneous items by and about Sid Sackson
Subseries C: Miscellaneous publications related to games

Custodial History

The Strong received the Sid Sackson collection in three separate donations: the first (Object ID 106.604) from Dale Friedman, Sid Sackson’s daughter, in May 2006; the second (Object ID 106.1637) from the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors (AGPC) in August 2006; and the third (Object ID 115.2647) from Phil and Dale Friedman in October 2015. These donations were combined into one collection for the purposes of arrangement, description, and storage.

• The 2006 Friedman donation contained the bulk of the collection. It had been maintained by the Sackson family and was transferred in approximately twenty record-storage boxes. The donation came to the museum through arrangements with Herb Levy, president of Gamers Alliance, which had temporary custody of the materials.

• The 2006 AGPC donation was received by the museum in four record-storage boxes. According to Anne Williams, former AGPC archivist, the organization received the materials in 2003 from Sackson’s widow, who gave his diaries specifically to AGPC along with materials in file folders. Correspondence appeared to be randomly selected for donation. The manuscript and related materials for Sackson’s book A Gamut of Games were purchased at auction by Dan Blum and subsequently donated by him to the AGPC.

• The 2015 Friedman donation came directly to The Strong from Phil and Dale Friedman.

Revision Note

This finding aid was revised in April 2013 to ensure consistency in terminology and formatting across finding aids. In December 2016, additional revisions were completed on this finding aid to include the third accession of materials and reformatting of box/folder numbers and note fields. The resource identifier was updated to 2016.sackson.

Processed by

Originally processed by Doris C. Sturzenberger and Carol Sandler, 2010, with minor additions and formatting revisions done by Julia Novakovic in December 2016.

Creator

Title
Finding Aid to the Sid Sackson Collection, 1867-2003
Status
completed
Author
Julia Novakovic
Date
21 December 2016
Description rules
dacs

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

Contact:
The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.263.2700
585.423.1886 (Fax)