Antique games

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

TIDDLYWINKS, old maid, Uncle Wiggley. . . . Do these names evoke memories of childhood, a wave of nostalgia? At Ellen Liman's Manhattan home, these are just a few of several hundred antique games a visitor finds, many of them displayed on the bookshelves of her wood-paneled library.

She is arranging her new game acquisitions on the specially lighted shelves of a former closet in the same room. The door has been removed from the closet to convert it into an attractive display area opposite the bookshelves.

''They are fairly sturdy, but most of the games are of paper, so I try to be careful about dust and extremes of light and temperature where I display them,'' she explains. ''If children or adult friends want to play with them, I warn them to handle them with great care.''

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Mrs. Liman, who is an interior designer and the author of many books on how to use interior space, sees her antique games, made of paper, cardboard, and wood, as ''works of art and as making wonderful decorative accents in rooms.''

Their graphics are delightful, she finds, as are the subtle colors of their lithography. There is a mellow softness and articulateness about them that she finds very charming.

Despite their value, she says, ''I always sit down myself and play each new game that I acquire to make sure I understand exactly how it works.''

In addition to their visual appeal, the games never fail to provoke stimulating conversation and intriguing inquiries. The games of the 19th century are historically interesting, she says, because they were used to teach children and not just for fun.

Mrs. Liman looks for antique games wherever she travels. She has found many of her best specimens in out-of-the-way antique shops and roadside emporiums, or in Paris flea markets and London auction houses.

Her chief criterion is that the games be in mint condition, although she sometimes has to settle for those that aren't so well preserved but have intrinsic interest. She has paid from $5 up to $200 for most of her games.

The first game she acquired was a 19th-century British map jigsaw puzzle, which started her on a path of specializing in 19th-century games of England, France, and America. Now she is beginning to edit her collection and to work out trades for better ones.

Like most collectors, Mrs. Liman has established her own network of other game collectors, dealers, and auction houses and keeps working to expand it. She advises interested collectors to watch ads in magazines such as Antique Monthly, Collectibles, Antique Toy World, Yankee, Hobbies, Spinning Wheeland local publications. She also recommends visits to a museum called The Game Preserve at 110 Spring Road, Peterborough, N.H., and the Perelman Antique Toy Museum at 270 South Second, Philadelphia, Pa.

''I have framed two of my game boards,'' this collector says, ''but I do not recommend it as a general practice, because framing does decrease their value.''

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