PJFJ8B Tambov, Russian Federation - January 26, 2018 Monopoly money packs with tokens, dices and houses. Studio shot.
© Alamy

Board games and childhood toys involving money are to go on display at the British Museum on Thursday in an exhibition that shows how strong economic beliefs have found their way into family games throughout history.

“Black Friday”, a game that comments on the financial crash of 2008, “Class Struggle”, a Marxist Monopoly-style board game, and “Ratrace”, a 1980s game that mocked consumerism, reveal how games makers have used their creations to push a political or social agenda.

Tom Hockenhull, co-curator of the show, said that before the 20th century games involving money were seen as unethical or immoral, particularly if intended to be played by children. But attitudes changed in the early 1900s, when “The Landlords’ Game” was invented in the US.

“‘The Landlords’ Game’, which we now know as ‘Monopoly’, kicked off a revolution in board game design. Suddenly every game under the sun has some kind of money in it,” said Mr Hockenhull.

Class Struggle - money game for British Museum exhibition story
© British Museum

While many games helped children understand basic money ideas through activities such as shopping, others are based on teaching highly specific aspects of monetary usage. “Sum-it”, a game that appeared at the time of UK decimalisation in 1971, was designed to help people overcome the mental leap from pounds, shillings and pence to the new system of currency.

During its preparations for the show, the British Museum started collecting toy money after a gap of more than a century. Actively seeking out toy coins from charity shops, family attics and other sources, curators said these apparently worthless artefacts often provided connections with the social and economic milieu of their time. The museum has now brought 700 new examples into its collection since it stopped collecting them in the 19th century.

A Game of Thrones coin set. Officially licensed A Song of Ice and Fire merchandise © George R. R. Martin from Shire Post Mint. Photo: British Museum
© British Museum

Money is often used in games of the imagination or role-playing. Toy coins created as merchandise associated with the TV show Game of Thrones are included in the show, as are tiny Lego euro notes intended for children to use with Lego figures.

Curators have also seized on the theme of gambling games, including those with real prizes. Lotteries have had a chequered history in the UK, with periods of intense popularity followed by rejection.

Sum-it: The Decimal Currency Game. Boardgame published by John Waddington Ltd in 1968. Photo © Trustees of the British Museum
© Waddington/British Museum

The creation of the British Museum was itself partly funded by a lottery in the 18th century, in which the funds raised were used to acquire Montague House, its Bloomsbury site. However, no tickets from the lottery are thought to survive. A lottery ticket for this Saturday’s National Lottery draw, with numbers expressing the museum’s date of foundation, will be included in the display.

“Playing with Money: Currency and Games” opens on Thursday April 18 and runs until the end of September.

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