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Dimensions (inches): 28.5" square x 1.5" d
This brightly painted, rare, and interesting gameboard is of a design patented by cabinetmaker Edward Mikkelson. Called “The Owl Game Board,” Mikkelson produced it in two versions, of which this is the more elaborate. Generically speaking, it is a Carrom or Crokinole board, with a Fox & Geese board on one side and a checkerboard on the reverse. On it, however, 100 different games could be played and it was sold as “100 game boards in 1.”

The graphics of the paint-decorated and lithographed design is what makes it so wonderful. On the obverse are four large and very detailed owls, perched on crossed cue sticks and rings for the Carrom game, each with the words “The Owl” emblazoned across their middle. These are set within a ring of red dots and 6-pointed, greenish-gold stars, flanked in each corner by much larger 6-pointed stars that look a good deal like sheriff badges. Numbered 1-4, these are set upon green, circular medallions with dotted borders and are flanked by scrollwork on either side. A small star and more red dots, of descending size, run from here towards the center, at which there is a green and red crosshatch for a solitaire jumping game. This doubles as the “home” space for a Parcheesi type game--represented by all of the stars and dots--called “The Star Game.” The interior of the dotted ring is decorated with more filigree. Each corner of the board contains a rope-strung pocket for Carrom.

The checkerboard on the reverse has floral-like, geometric spaces in red and green, on a greenish gold ground. The same colors are used to create a Old Mill game (a.k.a., Nine Men’s Morris) around the perimeter, decorated with fleur-de-lis and scrollwork. To the left and right are pips for Backgammon with Arts & Crafts movement inspired artistry. In the top center, painted in red, are the words “patented Sept 24th, 1901.” At the bottom, in the same location, is a small, red, green, and greenish gold owl, with red lettering that reads: “The Owl Game Board; Trade Mark; Chicago.”

Mikkelson had been working in Chicago since emigrating there from Denmark in 1879. Together with Hungarian business partner John Gabel, the two conspired to make some of the earliest music and slot machines. Gabel had been in the business of doing so previously and Mikkelson provided the cabinetry, even after the two parted ways. Today Gabel slot machines and music boxes are some of the most valuable and collected.

Why the owl? According to a July 15th, 2020 article by Gary Wasielewski, writing for a game enthusiast publication called “The Crokinole Cronicals,” it was probably borrowed from Gabel. “Interestingly,” says Wasielewski, “the owl name and imagery were used by gambling machine maker, the Mills Novelty Company, who Gabel worked for, and by Gabel himself, when he began making machines, when he set out with Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen who built the cabinets, knew the machine names and saw the graphics being used, and must have liked the images too and used them for his games. Since there wasn’t any direct competition between a slot machine designed for saloons and a family oriented parlor game, there was probably no issue in its use.” A devastating fire burnt Mikkelson’s business to the ground in 1911. Though he leased a new space, production of the Owl Board appears to have ended by 1913. Mikkelson passed in 1926.

Note, in particular, the exceptional craquelure that covers the painted and varnished surface. This is exactly the sort of bench-made, commercially-produced gameboard, that, due to its terrific graphics, colors, and surface, that can be confidently paired with others of the turn-of-the-century and prior, in a significant folk art collection.

Condition: Excellent, with but minor scratches and losses. The best example of this very rare style that I am aware of, and the only one I have ever physically encountered.
Primary Color: natural, red, green
Earliest Date: 1901
Latest Date: 1910
For Sale Status: Available
Price $4,500
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