The Collection Mensenkamp

Historical board games from Nuremberg

Set of games from the Mensenkamp CollectionGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

A further treasure from the history of games has recently enriched the holdings of the German Games Archive: the private collection assembled by Dieter Mensenkamp has come to Nuremberg. Mensenkamp (b. 1944), a resident of Detmold, conceived his passion for historical games as an outgrowth of his intense interest in the artistic design of antique children's books.

The collection has grown steadily since he acquired his first game from an antiques dealer in 1986; today it comprises some 5000 games, covering more than 300 years of game history. The items range from 17th-century rarities to 20th-century releases from the postwar era. Every game in the Mensenkamp collection was published somewhere within the German-speaking part of Europe before 1950.

They all have in common that they mirror the era when they were created. The items thus not only tell us a bit about the history of games, but convey a playful impression of the realities of life and the social structures of the past.

Dieter Mensenkamp describes himself as a "universal collector," since his collection provides a detailed overview of the full range of what we call a game. His collection was gifted to the German Games Archive of the Nuremberg Municipal Museums in July 2021. Here they will be able to last for centuries more, and continue to tell their story into the future.

Recording the Mensenkamp Collection in the archivesGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Nuremberg has been a European center for making, buying and selling toys for more than six centuries now. Its tradition goes back to the medieval creators of "Docke" dolls, through makers of fine pewter figurines, to the many tin toy manufacturers of the industrial era. But game publishing also has a long tradition here. The Mensenkamp Collection includes many games from makers who once operated in Nuremberg and its environs.

That list of famous game publishers includes names that were once international fixtures, like Spear, Bing and Klee. This virtual exhibition presents various pieces from these companies and more, ordered chronologically by their publication date, and offering an engaging sample of the breadth of local production. The games provide a unique understanding of local history, and reveal the special traits and continuities of the historic games industry. But they're only a small part of the extensive Mensenkamp Collection. 

Thus this show will serve not just to provide some insight, but also as the first in a series of small exhibitions that will illuminate the diversity of this unique collection from a variety of angles. We hope you'll have a very enjoyable journey time-traveling through the historic Nuremberg of games.

A detailed view of the "Village Swains" game (ca. 1845) by Friedrich Napoleon CampeGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Game production was already flourishing in Nuremberg as the 19th century began. An especially popular product in those days was printed sheets of pictures, whose makers mostly also dealt in art and books. Nuremberg owed its popularity as a site for such products to its long tradition in printing. And one of the best-known names in the publishing industry of the day was Campe.

The picture sheet shown here, bearing the game's title, "The Village Swains," was published around 1845, in the era of the publisher's second generation. The founder of the "Campsche Buch-, Kunst-, Musikalien- und Landkartenhandlung" business was art dealer Friedrich Campe (1777-1846), who in 1807 joined his father-in-law, Johann August Trautner, as an owner of the latter's publishing house. Campe was the sole owner from 1815 onwards.

In contrast to what had become common practice by the time, Campe refused to use lithography to make his game prints, and continued to rely on copperplate engraving and etching. That practice changed under his son and successor, Friedrich Napoleon Campe (1808-1855), who headed the company from (presumably) 1842 until it declared bankruptcy in 1853.

Overall view of the "Village Swains" game (ca. 1845) by Friedrich Napoleon CampeGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

This picture sheet, "The Village Swains," is a lithograph with a delicately detailed image of the concept of the Wheel of Fortune – which in fact was the principle behind this betting game. One player took the role of the Father of the Bride. Up to twelve "bridegrooms" (corresponding to the twelve figures portrayed around the center of the wheel) vied for the bride's hand by placing bets, in the form of tokens. Ultimately, everything was decided by throwing the dice. This kind of parlor game was often played in rather prolonged sessions that included several rounds of the game. 

A bouquet arrangement from the "Realm of the Queen of Flowers" game (ca. 1850) by Peter Carl GeisslerGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Another publisher that specialized in making and selling colored prints of pictures and games was the engraver and watercolorist Peter Carl Geissler (1802-1872), who founded his own publishing house in Nuremberg in 1830. His previous career had included working as an independent contractor for Friedrich Campe. Geissler's company released the picture-matching and peg game "The Realm of the Queen of Flowers" around 1850. It was intended not just for German-speaking buyers, but for  audiences in other countries. The translations of the game and instruction materials into English and French show what an extensive international reach game publishers already enjoyed by this date.

A detail of the "Realm of the Queen of Flowers" peg game (ca. 1850) by Peter Carl GeisslerGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

According to its title, the game was intended for "rational entertainment." The various flowers could be combined together in any number of ways – simply according to preference, or by season, or by the meanings of the blossoms. The directions also suggest arranging the flowers by the initial letters of their names, to create words and riddles. A completed arrangement could also serve as a model for drawings or as a pattern for embroidery.

Thus this game is a prime example of the culture of the Biedermeier era: the post-Napoleonic years of the first half of the 19th century, when the Central European middle class focused on private life and the family, and sought happiness within the home. This game in particular was intended mainly for female players – especially young girls – who would thus be indoctrinated in the "feminine virtues" of the day. These included not only needlework, but aesthetics and literature. 

"Radio" race game (ca. 1925) by Spielefabrik L. Kleefeld & Co. – "Klee" for shortGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Nuremberg's Spielefabrik L. Kleefeld & Co. – "Klee" for short – was founded by Ludwig Kleefeld (1857-1908) in Fürth in 1884. It specialized in parlor games, activity games, and block puzzles, which often played upon contemporary themes from the worlds of technology and sports. It's not surprising, then, that around 1925 the company chose an ultramodern form of entertainment – the radio – as a theme for this classic race game. The rules for the game mention the radio as the "latest invention, which has conquered the world in a brief time." 

The illustrations on the game board follow the same concept, showing people from all over the world listening to the radio together. An ape is a recurring figure, both in these illustrations and as one of the playing tokens. From today's vantage point, the choice of this image, as well as others, can only be viewed critically. While they often were meant merely as an allusion to the remote, exotic nature of various countries, in this context such figures also conveyed a less innocuous message, as symbols for those countries' populations – stereotyping them with implicitly inferior physical, social or cultural attributes. 

A detail of the "Radio" race game (ca. 1925) by Spielefabrik L. Kleefeld & Co. – "Klee" for shortGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

From 1907 onward, Klee was headed by Leopold Bomeisl, the founder Kleefeld's son-in-law. Bomeisl's brother Moritz then joined the firm in 1915. A tragic interruption came with the persecution of the Jews under the National Socialists, when the Bomeisl brothers were forced to surrender the business. It was "Aryanized," and in 1939 was placed in the hands of Max Herbart, a maker of wooden toys from Steinach in Thuringia. Leopold Bomeisl and Marie, his wife, were slain in the Holocaust. Moritz Bomeisl survived the persecution, and headed the company from the time of its restitution until his death in 1951. Ownership of the firm changed several times over the subsequent decades. Today, Klee is one of the game brands of Franckh-Kosmos GmbH. 

"On the Way to School" race game (ca. 1925) by Bing Spiele & Verlag GmbH NürnbergGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

In 1863, Ignaz (1840–1918) and Adolf Bing (1842–1915), members of a Jewish family of crafts people, founded a trading establishment in Nuremberg that originally specialized in housewares and tin toys. By around 1910, "Gebr. Bing A.G." was generating total sales of around 12 million reichsmarks, making it the most important toy factory in Germany. In 1919 the company took over the Ernst Nister & Co publishing house, and in 1921 merged that production branch with the toys department to form a new entity, Bing Spiele & Verlag GmbH Nürnberg. 

The new company also absorbed two smaller firms that had been acquired – J.A. Kithil (cube puzzles) and G. Neiff (activity games). The diverse product range included books, block puzzles, magic sets, stone construction sets, parlor games, "happy families" card games, dice and board games, and cutouts. The Great Depression forced the Bing operation into payment difficulties. Bankruptcy proceedings were initiated in 1932 and ultimately the firm ceased entirely to make toys and games. 

Game sheet and rules for the "On the Way to School" game (ca. 1925) by Bing Spiele & Verlag GmbH NürnbergGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

"On the Way to School" was published around 1925, but the manner of play and the illustrative themes still harken back to the classic tradition of parlor games. The path to or from school was a popular theme for children's race games. On the way, the players encounter all sorts of incidents that may push them ahead or set them back. 

The loser arrives late at the school, which is apparently only for boys, since there are no female figures in this game. Yet the cover design is attuned to the modern artistic trend of the day – the "New Objectivity," which also prevails in the illustration art. The subject matter is reduced to a few salient traits, with appealing broad areas of color, while the typography is pushed into the foreground.

Block Set with Wheels (ca. 1925) by J.A. KithilGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Likewise around 1925, the J.A. Kithil company published a "Block Set with Wheels," which physically incorporated the thematic concept of mobility into the toy itself. This construction set reflects the early 20th century's fascination with the personal motor car and its technical progress. Players could assemble the 35 wooden blocks, printed on their sides with various images, to make either a limousine complete with chauffeur, a truck carrying various goods, or a train.

Wheels and rails made it possible to drive the assembled block "vehicles" around. Here again we see how current topics of the day and technical innovations were quickly absorbed into the world of games.

Detail of the "Block Set with Wheels" (ca. 1925) by J.A. KithilGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

The J.A. Kithil company, founded in 1865, specialized in making block puzzles and wooden building block sets. The maker set a special priority on high-quality looks, and made the employed printed materials in its own publishing house. The wooden parts came from a proprietary sawmill in Lam, in the Bavarian Forest. A special new development from around 1913 was a block puzzle in a box, which could be carried around for play anywhere; another, in the 1920s, was this block set with wheels that could become an automobile. 

The company also made pyramid blocks, mosaic sets and domino sets. The Kithil company temporarily became part of the Bing corporation around 1921/22, but later resumed its independence. The catalog was expanded significantly after that point. Kithil's product lines typically featured complex concepts for play and construction that offered significantly more options that simply assembling pictures.

Karussellspiel (after 1940) by "Porst-Spiele" company – formerly J. W. Spear & SöhneGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

The SPEAR GAMES ARCHIVE is one of the most important collections within the German Games Archive. But what is the relationship of the "Carousel Game" shown here, from the Mensenkamp Collection, to what is probably Nuremberg's most famous game publisher? The Carousel Game stands as a symbol of the fate of a Jewish entrepreneurial family during the Nazi era. From the time the National Socialists seized power in 1933, the Spear family firm was increasingly subjected to antisemitic harassment and boycotts. 

In the course of the forced expulsion of the Jews from German economic life, or "Aryanization," company director Hermann Spear (1890 – 1943) was compelled in 1939 to sell the company for far less than its value. The benefiting profiteer, and the new company head, was Nuremberg entrepreneur Hanns Porst – well known at the time as the founder of the Photo Porst company. Until the plant was destroyed in the war, as "Uncle Hanns" he continued to publish classic Spear games, but also propaganda-infused versions of popular board games. 

He gradually erased the historic Spear name from the company's public face, trying at first to redefine it as an acronym for a slogan, "Spiele, aber richtig" – "play, but the right way." Hermann Spear and eleven members of his family were slain in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. After the war, the company, together with its destroyed factory, was restituted to the family's survivors. Beginning in the 1950s, Spear was finally able to resume its pre-Nazi record of successes with the classic game "Scrabble." The company remained in operation as a family firm into the 1990s. 

Rules for the "Carousel Game" (after 1940) by "Porst-Spiele" company – formerly J. W. Spear & SöhneGerman Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Games published during the Nazi era typically turned presumably harmless children's games into tools of propaganda by peppering them with points of Nazi ideology. Few new ideas for games emerged during this period; many publications were based on long-established patterns. They were repurposed, veneered with the desired symbolism, and used as a medium of propaganda. But the "Carousel Game," published after 1940, shows that games without such direct propaganda symbolism were also still being published during this era. This is a classic race game, reminiscent of time-honored "goose games." 

During this period, the widespread popularity of folk fairs was also reflected in toys and board games. Similarly to a "goose game," the players move around the board in a spiral – though in this case, the spiral runs from the center outwards. Throws of the dice advance the players or set them back, and in a worst case they fall off the carousel. This game dates from the Porst era, when the publishing house had been completely converted to a new identity. The "Porst-Spiele" ("Porst Games") emblem appears on the cover, and the rule book is signed by "Your Uncle Hanns." 

Credits: Story

Idea: Christin Lumme, M.A.
Conception and text: Janina Rummel, M.A.
Implementation: Brigitte List

Literature used:Faber, Marion/ Schwarz, Helmut: Die Spielemacher. J.W. Spear & Söhne – Geschichte einer Spielefabrik (Schriften des Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg, Bd. II), Nürnberg, 1997.

Himmelheber, Georg: Spiele. Gesellschaftsspiele aus einem Jahrtausend/ Kataloge des Bayerischen Nationalmuseums München, Bd. XIV), München, 1972.

Vogel, Heiner: Bilderbogen, Papiersoldat, Würfelspiel und Lebensrad, Leipzig, 1981.

Glonnegger, Erwin/ Voigt, Claus: Das Spiele-Buch. Brett- und Legespiele aus aller Welt – Herkunft, Regeln und Geschichte, Neubearbeitung, Ravensburg, 2009.

Strauss, Thomas: Frühe Spielwelten. Zur Belehrung und Unterhaltung. Die Spielwarenkataloge von Peter Friedrich Catel (1747-1791) und Georg Hieronimus Bestelmeier (1764-1829), Hochwald/ Schweiz, 2015.

Görtz, Sebastian/Pott, Ute/ Zimmermann, Cornelia (Hrsg.): Geselligkeiten im 18. Jahrhundert. Kulturgeschichtliche Überlieferung in Museen und Archiven Sachsen-Anhalts (Sachsen-Anhalt und das 18. Jahrhundert, Bd. 7), Halle (Saale), 2012.

Schädler, Ulrich Hrsg.): Spiele der Menschheit. 5000 Jahre Kulturgeschichte der Gesellschaftsspiele, Darmstadt, 2007.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
From Bach to Bauhaus
Art, sights and history brought to you by over 160 institutions in Germany
View theme
Google apps