Most vintage dexterity games were made in Europe and the bulk were produced in Germany, France and the UK. During the first part of the 20th century the US also produced these kind of games, often with a patriotic wartime theme. The Germans made a huge number of vintage dexterity games and the 20th century examples were usually housed in tinplate frames – this was less expensive and easier to produce than paper-covered wooden boxes.
If you find a paper covered wooden box example it is likely to be of an earlier date and more valuable. Paper coverings that have been printed or embossed are of particular interest and these often have finely printed graphic cards inside. Examine the number of colours used and the details in the themes as well as moving features – this often means the game is older and of higher quality.
The theme itself is important to desirability as well as value. Themes based around the home, farmyard animals and the circus are among the most common. You can buy a game from between 1910-1930, metal framed, with one of these themes for between £3-£15. Prices for the rarer themes are more expensive as they are harder to find. A similar game from the same period featuring a motorist in an early motorcar cound fetch around £30-£40. As this would be of interest to collectors of dexterity games as well as collectors of automobilia the price will be driven up.
Among the most sought after are advertising themes and values depend on the populairty of the brand. Look for games where the brand is displayed large or display the particular style of the day, such as Art Deco. Although the games can often be dated by the style of the artwork you should also look out for any addtional marks. If you see ‘Germany’ displayed, this indicates a date between1910-1930, and ‘Made in US Zone Germany’ will show that the game was made during the late 1940s to early 1950s during the post war occupation.
Most games are only marked with the country, but some are marked with the maker. Look out for R Journet whose games are often marked ‘RJ’. Robert Journet started his first toy shop in Paddington in London in 1878. His father was making high quality paper covered wood framed games during the 1890s and they became very popular. After exhibiting at international trade fairs they began to export and the US became a major market. Frames were covered with bright yellow paper which became the hallmark of the company, but it also used embossed, gilded and red paper. The bright cards inside displayed vibrant, well-printed artwork.
Journet’s games are also remarkable for their inventiveness in terms of the game itself. Rather than just having to simply move balls into small holes or indentations, many featured rings, coloured objects or novelty shapes, such as mice which have to be placed into colour co-ordinated slots or positions.
Journet’s games are quite expensive and can cost between £20-£100. The more colour and interest there is, the more valuable a game is likely to be. A good example is The Brooch Puzzle. Here, the aim is to move the ‘8’ shaped rings into the die-cut shaped slot and fill each section with a differently coloured ball to create the brooch. You would have to pay up to £50 for this. The Green Eyed Kitty Puzzle is also very popular – here a coloured printed paper covered die-cut wooden cat stands above the yellow background. The aim is to get as many of the coloured plastic small rings onto his tail as possible. This particular game was part of a series of 12 made for Woolworth.
Journet’s high quality games have become a niche collecting area and collectors vie to own an example of every one produced. Many of the games have a list of other games available at the time printed on the back of the box, which is a handy guide for collectors.
As dexterity games were made to be played with, condition is important to the collector. Stained, torn or damaged paper coverings can reduce value by 50 per cent or more, whereas a mint condition, brightly coloured example could double the price. Cracked glass will reduce the value, although this can easily be replaced on the tinplate framed examples. Be careful if the glass is missing, balls or other components may have been lost or the printed artwork may be damaged. Turn the piece over as many backs contained small mirrors, if these are undamaged it will add to the desirability.
Dexterity games are easy to find and you will get the best from dealers specialising in antique toys and games. You might also want to check out your local car boot sales.