The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Sid Sackson Auction

Matthew J. Horn

February, 2003

Where can you get a copy of Kohle, Kies, & Knete, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and stacks of SPI games? The recent Sid Sackson auction. With any luck, you might get them in the same box.

Sid Sackson, one of America's most prolific game designers, stored more than 15,000 games in his house in New Jersey. When his health began to fail, the family auctioned off the game collection to pay for the medical bills that he had accrued during a long illness. Mr. Sackson is perhaps best known for his books, including A Gamut of Games, Beyond Competition, and Beyond Solitaire.

Sid SacksonMr. Sackson's vision was to have the games stored in a museum or all be acquired by a private collector. The family tried to find a single person or institution that would take the entire collection. Failing that, they chose to auction off the collection. They first decided to use the popular board game website, BoardGameGeek, as a central point in which the collection could be sold off piecemeal. The thinking was that this would put the games in the hands of people who would appreciate it... and play with it. Other members of the family struck a deal with an outside auctioneering house.

According to Mary Ellen, Mr. Sackson's daughter-in-law and daughter of the late game designer Claude Soucie, "There was a mix-up with one sibling not knowing what the other was doing and [Mrs. Sackson] thinking we were both referring to the same party." Despite the confusion, the auction came together and North River Auctions in Keyport, New Jersey hosted the event.

One week before the game auction, Mr. Sackson died at the age of 82. It became an estate auction.

Bruce Whitehill & Will ShortzPeople from all over the US and at least two foreign countries came to Keyport to see—and possibly take home—a piece of the huge collection. Some people were game players, others were New York-area antique dealers, and still others were admirers and game designers themselves. Attendees included Will Shortz, NPR Puzzlemaster and New York Times Crossword Editor, Bruce Whitfield, author of American Boxed Games and Their Makers, and Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, co-founders of Games Workshop.

At the height there were about 120 bidders in the auction hall on Saturday for the main event.

Among the boxes were many self-published, unpublished and short-run games. Over the years, people would submit their own games to Mr. Sackson hoping that he would publish them or provide feedback. In other cases, Sid sent letters to game designers and game publishers requesting copies of their works, and promised that these games would one day end up in a museum collection.

Eugene Primoff, a former hobbyist/game designer, put together a game called Beat the Computer, which had a very limited production and distribution. According to Mr. Primoff, "I don't recall the exact number of games I made but I did it all in my New Rochelle basement after getting an order from Brentano's (based on a sample) on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The game was probably sold there."

Dozens of Sid's prototypes were there too, both of unpublished and published games, including Ploy, Venture and Business. There was some confusion over how the prototypes should be handled. Initially, the auctioneers included many of them in the box lots. Later on, a rumour circulated that the family wanted the prototypes back, and some effort was made to get them into the hands of Bernice (Sid's wife) or Sid's daughter, who attended the auction.

After the auction, though, in a letter to the gaming community known as "spielfrieks", Mary Ellen told the buyers to keep what they had bought. If Sid were alive, she noted, the family might have wanted the prototypes back, but after his death, it was open season on his collection. "We don't want it... Many of you got some personal papers fair and square—the same way Sid got his collection. He lucked out at bazaars, estate sales, thrift shops, etc. for decades, and now you've lucked out."

One such prototype sold on eBay for $766.87. The game required that players deduce the location of an atom bomb planted by terrorists before it exploded. This game was later rethemed as a Sherlock Holmes-style detective game published by 3M in 1967 called Sleuth. Yet another of Sid's prototypes, titled Another, sold for $320.01. It was never published.

The collection also included Mr. Sackson's old bills, correspondences, catalogs, and paycheck stubs. One such piece of paper, a 3M royalties check dated Oct 24, 1975, was for the 3M games Acquire, Bazaar, Executive Decision, and the Monad, Venture, and Sleuth gamettes. It sold on eBay for $39.95.

The auction consisted of four phases. The first was a Friday night book auction. Saturday opened with a box lot auction. Later in the day, individual games were auctioned off. These were primarily old games aimed at the antique collector. Finally, the auction concluded with the auctioning of groups of games, mostly in shrink-wrap, stored on the auction hall's shelves. This last group of lots consisted of war games and European-style boardgames.

The auctioneers admitted they did not know what they had on their hands. They boxed items together not really aware of what might get a high bid with what most people would not bother to bid on at all. Often, new copies of Can't Stop, an out of print Sackson classic, mixed in with a group of unwanted children's games and puzzles. A copy of the very rare Crude: The Oil Game was mixed in with the Adverteasing game and Traffic Jam puzzle.

When the auctioneers announced that the box lots would be auctioned off two or three at a time, the confusion and tension mounted.

The auctioneers had done auctions of game collections before, including one about six months prior to the Sackson collection. That auction totaled about 600 games. Mr. Sackson's collection was more than 20 times that size. Auctioneer Mark Csik tried to keep up with requests from the many game collectors who contacted him, and he put together a partial list of lots to entice phone bidders. But with so many games, they just couldn't list it all.

Although the auctioneers would not release details, the number of box lots are estimated at 330, most of which were auctioned off in two or three boxes per lot. That accounted for about 150 or so box lots. The average price for these lots was around $150, but many went for much more. There were about 120 individual games that were mostly bought by antique dealers. These games included old wargames, but also pop culture items such as a couple of Kennedy's games, Reaganomics, and the Daniel Boone Game. Most of these games fetched about $25, but a rare Yankees memorabilia game sold for over $200.

During this part of the auction, the auctioneers also sold off dozens of game boards. Mr. Sackson found that he had no room for all the games he was acquiring, so he would take the components of one game out of its box and put them together with another game. Later on, he separated the contents out, but no longer had the original boxes. One such board was a Wizard of Oz board which went for $160.

The final part of the auction drew an intense amount of interest to old wargamers and spielfriekers alike, as it featured copies of popular games designed by Mr. Sackson, like Acquire, Metropolis, Bazaar, die 1. Million, and many others. Four copies of an early version of Acquire, featuring the world map, sold for $240 each to a single bidder. The highest priced lot featured several unpunched SPI wargames, including War in the Pacific. It was bought by Patrick O'Brien and went for $550. "I wanted a game I could never have afforded as a kid," he said.

Another auction will be held by the North River auction house in the spring. It will include at least 5,000 additional items. The folks at North River assured me that it would not overlap with the 14th Gathering of Friends.

Funagain Games posted a powerful image of Acquire pieces on its homepage. In that game, each of seven buildings represents a chain of high tech companies named America, Zeta, Hydra, Fusion, Phoenix, Quantum, and Sackson. They intentionally left out the Sackson piece.

- Matthew J. Horn

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