Chapter 418 Learning about Ephemera, Or, Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly

I’ve signed on to do a new book and ephemera fair in San Francisco’s gorgeous Golden Gate Park in October, 2009. My inventory consists mainly of books, but I have a small and growing collection of ephemera, much of which is (unsurprisingly) still uncatalogued and will be offered for sale for the first time at this fair. My collecting of ephemera is largely serendipitous: I don’t seek it out so much as I buy things with which I fall in love when I happen upon them. 🙂 I expect to buy as well as to sell at this fair, and I will be keeping my eyes open for anything new and different. The fair provides me with an opportunity to discipline my buying habits and to expand my knowledge about ephemera. I will, of course, share what I learn about ephemera here at the blog. I’ve even added a Category called Ephemera on the right sidebar. In the future, you will find any and all posts about ephemera there.

In the quest for knowledge of this new (to me) subject, I’ve found a useful resource: Encyclopedia of Ephemera, by Maurice Rickards (Routledge, 2000). I got my copy from Oak Knoll some time ago, but am only now starting to read through its 400+ pages thoroughly.

Ephemera, as loosely defined by the author, is made up of the “minor, transient documents of everyday life”. Though there are certainly exceptions to this rule, this definition “has stood the test of time better than any other”. The plural form of the Greek word ephemeron (epi=on, about, round; hemera=day), ephemera literally refers to something that lasts about a day.

To my mind, ephemera includes any printed matter that is not a book — from manuscripts and letters to train tickets and trade cards — I think the unifying factor among these diverse items is that they provide a link to the past and can give a broader view of a particular time or subject. My Dante catalogue, for example (going to the printer in mid-June — really), contains both books and ephemera. I added the ephemeral items to the catalogue because they demonstrate the way Dante and his work were perceived by popular culture throughout the centuries. I also added the ephemera because I think most Dante collectors focus only on the grandeur of the “high spot” books and the illustrations; I think they’ve overlooked the fact that Dante’s work was so familiar to and so easily understood by the average person that it was used to market mundane items to the everyday person, items like cigarettes, soup, and chocolate. In the case of the Dante catalogue, the addition of the ephemeral items helps to expand the scope of the collection and the way in which a collector can understand the significance and influence of Dante throughout the centuries.

Ephemera can be found in bookshops now and then. It can also be found at antiques shows, vintage paper shows, yard sales, and antique stores. In short, I ascribe the same motto to interesting ephemera that I do to good books: “Anything can be anywhere.” I decided to scout for ephemera at an antique collective today (a shop where several dealers — in this case 20 or 30 — each have stalls with antiques, mostly furniture). I spent over an hour skulking about the first and second floors of the shop. The search for ephemera yielded many run-of-the-mill vintage postcards, greeting cards, and even photographs. Though they were all pretty to look at, I didn’t see anything I thought worth buying. Almost ready to leave, I entered the last stall and found this item:


I saw the name “Nellie Bly” and knew that it might be applicable to my collection of books by or about American women. Nellie Bly (1864-1922) was a pioneering journalist, author, industrialist, and charity worker. In addition to faking insanity to write an expose of a mental institution from within (Ten Days in a Mad-House), she is best known for a record-breaking trip around the world. Look what I found when I unfolded the plain black board:


The board was a gameboard called “Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly”. Even though the original box and playing pieces are missing, the price on this colorful beauty was right. I bought it, figuring that if it turned out to have little resale value, it would still look good framed and hanging near the books by or about American women.

Here are a few close-ups of the game.

Nellie Bly:
nellie bly

Jules Verne (Nellie Bly challenged the journey in his book Around the World in 80 Days, and circled the Earth in 72 1/2 days, a world record at the time.)
jules verne

Speeding Across the Atlantic:
speeding across


Each day of Nellie Bly’s journey appears in a spiral track on the board:

The center of the spiral — “All records broken”:

Under the entry for “boardgames”, the Encyclopedia of Ephemera has a lengthy entry, which I plan to read closely tomorrow. I’ll probably try to locate some books by or about Nellie Bly to place her in the proper historical context. I also found this website, which claims that after first appearing in the New York World newspaper (how I’d love to find that issue!), the game was published by McLoughlin Brothers in several different styles from the 1890s until the 1920s. I am most curious to find out whether “Round the World with Nellie Bly” is one of the earliest board games to be based on an actual American woman. From my quite cursory research this evening, it seems most early board games were either made for gambling or were made to teach the players about maps, wars, and morals. I did not see mention of many games based on historical figures, let alone female historical figures. Though it may take me a while to find out whether this game is one of the first to be based on a woman, that’s the first approach I’m going to take to researching it, because that’s the part I find most interesting at this point. I’ll keep you posted as to what I find out and how I discover it. Look for more fun ephemera finds soon.

See you in the stacks!


Filed under Ephemera

16 responses to “Chapter 418 Learning about Ephemera, Or, Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly

  1. Oooooo! That would also be nice in my 19th C. American Newspapering collection. She was a fascinating person!

  2. Thanks! It’s a fun find, and I look forward to researching it. I would absolutely LOVE to find the issue of the New York World that first printed the game.

  3. WJM

    That is just SCREAMING for a facsimile edition!

    And, in the absence of the authentic original game play pieces, you can go nuts inventing your own!

  4. Glad you like it. I am now on a quest to find the complete game.

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  7. Ray

    Have you checked out the entry for the game on BoardGameGeek? :

  8. Thanks for the link to Board Game Geek, a site of which I was unaware. It’s got great images of “Round the World with Nellie Bly” in many of its different issues — first in the newspaper and then the later board game boards. Nice. Thanks, too, for reading the blog. I appreciate it.

  9. Pingback: The Spark: Around the World in 72.25 Days | Damxe

  10. Look for more info on Nellie Bly at Biographical information, pictures, even downloadable copies of her articles.

  11. Randy Holst

    I have this game too. Mine still has the spinner. What did you pay for yours? How much are they worth now? Great site! I learned a lot about this game today.

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  13. Pat Fisher

    I have this game too!

    My sister bought it for me as a Christmas gift in 1981, at an antiques sale at a local Arts Center, in Billings, Montana.

    I have the original box but it’s not in great condition… fair to poor. I also have the spinner and game pieces. Condition of the board is fantastic. Tucked inside was a newspaper article about Nellie Bly. But I don’t now recall what newspaper, or the date.. probably from the ’70’s.

    She paid only $10 for it.
    Later I showed it to a local antique dealer. I had no intention of selling it but wanted to know the value, and how old it was. She went right to one of her books on toys, and then to the section on board games. It was the most valuable game in the entire list (of about 100-150 listings). Value was $275, and that was about 12 years ago!

    I’ve thought about framing the board, but over time that would cause damage… fading from the sunlight.

    I’m curious about just how many of these still exist.
    Anyway, it’s a beautiful and wonderfully historical piece, and I feel lucky to have it!

    • Hi Pat,

      Thanks for letting me know about your game. It’s amazing that it had the box, the spinner and the game pieces. The fact that it is complete substantially adds to its value. I have yet to see a complete set of this game, and mine was only the board itself. I don’t know how many still exist, but I have seen the board for the game for sale twice. I sold mine a while ago.

  14. Heather

    They play this game in an episode of Boardwalk Empire!

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