Game Collection

In the late 80’s, while wandering around a thrift store, I found a couple of board games I had as a kid. I loved all the artwork on the old 50’s and 60’s toys and within a couple of years had a sizable collection and started doing research on the artists and designers of these treasures. I guess the amount of toys and stories I had about them was impressive enough to get a call from the National Enquirer. After our interview, they gave me a nearly full-page spread.

HE’S NEVER BOARD Rick Polizzi in the “boardroom” with his collection of over 400 games, which is valued at more than $17,000. For Rick Polizzi, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you collect the board games – he’s got more than 400 of them! Rick’s awesome collection fills an entire “boardroom” of his Los Angeles home with memory-jogging gems such as The Beatles Flip Your Wig Game, Pinky Lee and the Runaway Frankfurter, Dick Tracy, Crime Stopper, Johnny Quest Game and Twilight Zone Game.

And surprisingly, 32-year- old Rick didn’t start his incredible hobby until a couple of years ago. “My wife dragged me into a thrift store to browse and when I saw an old board game called The Beverly Hillbilly’s Game, my heart flipped,” he said. “I loved that game as a kid and had forgotten all about it. Just looking at it brought back fond memories. I bought that game and I’ve been hooked ever since.” He has paid as much as $90 for old games, such as The Jackie Gleason Theater Game, where everybody acts out a role. He’s also paid as little as 50 cents for games at yard sales and thrift shops.

Although his collection cost $3,500, he estimates it’s worth more than $17,000 today. But regardless of the price, he won’t sell any games because he loves them too much. Rick’s favorites include The Great Escape, where players are handcuffed to the board and must search for keys that can free them… and the Barbie Game, where players have to choose the proper gown and become glee club president as they compete to become queen of the prom.

“My friends and I have all been inspired by board games,” said Rick. “In a world that seems to be growing more and more out of control, it’s fun to take a few minutes and relive those games we played when life was pretty simple.”

Soon, I started getting a lot of coverage as one of the authorities of a new trend of hot collectible – board games. After I co-authored Spin Again, board games from the 50’s and 60’s with Fred Schaefer, even more interviews came along..

It started innocently enough. Rick Polizzi, a thirty-three-year-old film editor, spotted an old Beverly Hillbillies board game in a thrift shop. He remembers thinking “Pretty cool!” as he plunked down his two bucks for the homey memento of his TV-watching childhood. That was three years ago.

     Today Polizzi’s house bulges: Shelves, closets, and floors overflow with his collection of baby-boomer pastimes, some eight hundred board games ranging from Atom Ant (1966) to Zorro (1959). The young Californian is also the coauthor of an engaging, richly illustrated new book on his favorite subject-Spin Again: Board Games of the Fifties and Sixties (Chronicle, $16.95).

     In one form or another, board games have entertained for four thousand years. King Tut providently stashed one away in his tomb for dull days in the nether world. Scholars study them as potent mirrors of society’s values. America’s first was the 1843 Mansion of Happiness, a moralistic educational exercise.

     Seen as a whole, Polizzi’s nostalgic collection (a sampling is shown here) is a striking cultural collage of its time, reflecting the everyday concerns and oversize heroes of post- war America. Hopalong Cassidy and Davy Crockett tame the West, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Maxwell Smart wage the Cold War, Buck Rogers and Captain Video win the space race.

     The games are also a lot of fun. Beat the Clock (1955) or Gidget (1965), Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots (1969) or P.T. 109 (1963)-Polizzi professes to have no favorites, although he is partial to the “great graphics” in Rat Patrol (1966) and plays Jumping D.J. (1961) when friends drop by. “I collect fifties and sixties games because I had to limit myself,” Polizzi explains simply. “I liked my childhood, so I’m keeping it at that.” His wife, Carla, should probably take warning, though: On recent outings to flea markets and yard sales, he’s picked up a few (well, sixty) “pretty cool” Halloween costumes. They were probably part of his childhood, too.

Rick and Carla Polizzi, surrounded by some of his eight hundred board games

Board games have entertained for four thousand years. King Tut providently stashed one away in his tomb for dull days in the nether world.

In the first American board game, Mansion of Happiness (1843), children moved game pieces along the path toward the lofty goal of “eternal happiness.” A century later, players competed to solve mysteries (left), safely land spaceships (far left), and catch marauding outlaws (right).


Popular figures often inspired multiple game adventures Beaver Cleaver starred in three different versions, and Davy Crockett in even more. Howdy Doody and the Kennedys, though popular, appeared in only one version.

While in a thrift store in the late 80’s, I stumbled across a game I had as a child. That vintage find spiraled into a collection of over 1500 games and toys. While doing research on the artists and designers of my game collection, I decided to write a book on the subject. Along with Fred Schaefer, a friend from NewOrleans, we authored Spin Again, BoardGames from the Fifties and Sixties, a coffee table book published by Chronicle Books in 1991.

I had an open invitation to anyone who wanted to stop by my place and see the collection. People from all over would visit and hang out at my house to talk about toys and relive their childhood in the gameroom.

Rick Polizzi and his daughter, Hannah, whose bedroom is a museum of 1,300 toys, games and character models; 600 View Masters; and 100 Halloween costumes-all from the 1950s and ’60s.

An L.A. collector creates a personal museum of kids’ stuff he grew up with-right smack in the middle of his daughter’s room

Hannah Polizzi probably has more toys and games in her bedroom than all of her four-year-old friends combined. But nowhere in sight is a Power Ranger or newfangled Barbie. Rather, Hannah plays and sleeps among items like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Rat Patrol” games and “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots”- stuff her friends have never even heard of. That’s because her father, Rick, has turned her room into a museum of toys and games from the 1950s and ’60s.

     “I’ve lost a few shelves lately to some of Hannah’s stuffed animals,” laments Polizzi, “but I let her play with everything.”
PLAY WITH EVERYTHING? He lets his young daughter play with all of his vintage toys and games? “I like to enjoy my things,” explains Polizzi. “I like to take the toys and games out and play with them. My daughter’s starting to like it, too.”

     TAKE THEM OUT AND PLAY WITH THEM? Polizzi is definitely not your typical collector. In fact, in some circles, he might even be considered a heretic. He doesn’t believe in leaving things mint-in-box. For Polizzi, that’s not what collecting toys and games is all about.

“When I found my “Story Stage” [the set of The Honeymooners, complete with figures of Norton, Ralph and Alice; a script; and tickets to the show], it was still sealed. But I wanted to play with it and set it up for display, so I opened the box- unlike what most collectors would do.”

     You don’t have to know that Polizzi plays with his collectible toys to know that he’s a guy who just wants to have fun. His Los Angeles apartment is more like a fun house than a home. Actually, it’s a kind of fun house-museum. Polizzi’s Baby Boomer toys and games line floor-to-ceiling shelves in his daughter’s room.

     Some of the items are organized systematically on shelves, and a few comic books and old TV Guides are stacked neatly on a rack. But, for the most part, Polizzi’s gallery would give museum curators a heart attack. Games, toys and character model kits are stacked on the floor, one on top of another, and an entire wall is completely lined with a small part of Polizzi’s collection of Halloween costumes.

     On the shelves around and above Hannah’s bed are neatly organized rows of games that, one wonders, if the little ’90s girl has a clue about. Does she realize that she sleeps below “Truth or Consequences,” “Miss Popularity” or “Mouse Trap”? Does she know who Howdy Doody, Benny Goodman, Peter Gunn or even the Kennedys are?

At first glance, Hannah Polizzi’s bedroom (above) looks like a typical child’s room, filled with an abundance of toys and games. Look again, however, and, except for a collection of stuffed animals, the toys and games all date to the ’50s and ’60s, when her dad-not she-was a kid.

Their faces surround her while she sleeps in her bed, under a pink-and-white-striped comforter. And what does she think about that huge pinball machine that shares space in her room with fluffy stuffed bunnies, Raggedy Ann and Andy and, of course, Barney? “It’s what she’s grown up with,” explains Polizzi.

     “My house is kind of like a poor man’s Hearst Castle,” says Polizzi, referring to the sumptuous mansion, San Simeon, that William Randolph Hearst built for himself and filled with antiques along the coast in southern California. While the “Mighty Mouse Playhouse Rescue Game” and “Mr. Machine” aren’t quite Greek amphorae and Renaissance tiles, they are the stuff of which Polizzi’s “museum” is made. The living room is just as much fun as Hannah’s bedroom. The beige-and-white-striped sofa and love seat and beige wall- to-wall carpeting at first seem like staid furnishings in the home of such an exuberant collector. You realize quickly, though, that some calm is required for the liveliness going on all around. What makes Polizzi’s decor so wonderfully unique is that it is all based on his collections. Polizzi proves that collectibles make just as good “artwork” as paintings, sculpture and other decorative objects. “My toys and games don’t just sit in their boxes,” says Polizzi. “We actually live with them.”

A small selection of Mattel Thingmakers, a favorite ’60s pastime for girls and boys (above). Each kit came complete with an oven, molds and plastigoop (a “soft, non-toxic plastic”) to make wonderful stuff like “Creepy Crawlers” (“all kinds of twitchy, twertchy, wriggly things!”); “Fright Factory” creatures (“bairy, shrunken heads; skeletons and bones”); and “Creeple Peeple.”

These are just three costumes from Polizzi’s large collection of ’50s and ’60s Halloween costumes (right). The Underdog costume, on the right, was the first costume the collector ever bought.

     An entire living room wall (and then some) is lined with selections from Polizzi’s stash of Halloween costumes, which he occasionally rotates. Like modern art, the brilliant hues of the costumes’ shiny mystery material, as well as their exciting graphics, give color and texture to the room. Polizzi arranged some of his View Masters on another living room wall so that, like miniature works of Op-Art, they play visual games with the viewer. Jewel-colored and leopard-striped throw pillows on the love seat and sofa play up the glorious colors on the walls above.

     At the other end of the living room, “Give-A-Show Projector” boxes featuring Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear and the Flintstones appropriately flank the “home entertainment” center. The bright colors and fun images of the box covers compete with anything that appears on the family’s TV. No lack of visual stimulation here.

     Growing up in New Orleans in the late 1950s and ’60s, Polizzi had a love affair with toys and games. “My father had a drugstore,” says Polizzi, “with an entire aisle devoted to toys. My brother and I really grew up there. After school we’d go straight to the drugstore and hang out and play in the toy aisle until it was time to go home for dinner.”

     While Polizzi never really lost his love for his childhood toys, “real life” intervened for a while. In 1986, a few years after he and his wife, Carla, had moved to Los Angeles, Polizzi’s childlike-yet dormant-enthusiasm for the playthings he grew up with was rekindled. And quite unexpectedly.

     “One day,” says Polizzi, “my wife wanted to get something at a thrift shop. She dragged me along and at that time it was the last place I wanted to go. But I started looking around and spotted a “Beverly Hillbillies” game. I said to myself, ‘Wow! I remember that!’ It cost practically nothing, so I bought it, and after that I was hooked.”

     Today, he has over 1,300 toys and games, 600 View Masters, numerous model kits (mainly ’50s and ’60s monsters and other figures) and 100 Halloween costumes. His collection has become so vast and continues to expand that he has had to store a number of things back at his parents’ home in New Orleans. Although Polizzi recently started to collect some ’70s games and toys, he has concentrated on-and prefers-those from the ’50s and ’60s.

     Hooked is putting it mildly. Polizzi spent the next 10 years combing flea markets, secondhand stores, antiques shops and toy shows in Los Angeles, searching out his boxed boyhood memories. While the collector won’t buy anything in bad condition, he’s not fanatical about everything having to be in pristine condition. And he won’t pay a fortune for anything. “The most I’ve ever spent on an item is $200. If something’s too expensive, I get depressed and walk away,” says Polizzi.


Rick Polizzi is the author of two books on games, both of which can be purchased directly from him:
     Rick Polizzi and Fred Schaefer, Spin Again: Board Games from the Fifties and Sixties, Chronicle Books, 1991. $20, including postage and handling.
     Rick Polizzi, Baby Boomer Games: Identification & Value Guide, Collector Books, 1995. $28, including postage and handling.
     Spin Again, Polizzi’s magazine, which, covers games from the 1940s to the ’70s, is published twice a year. However, Polizzi is currently not taking any subscriptions. Back issues are $6 each.
     For more information, contact Polizzi: 3400 Greenfield Ave. #7, Los Angeles, CA 90034; 310-559-4866.

Sixties’ kids could find out how prescient they were by playing Transogram’s “Kabala,” the green UFO-shaped Ouija board that glows in the dark and is watched over by a giant eye (above). In back of “Ka-bala” is “Story Stage,” a reconstruction of The Honeymooners’ stageset. This is just a sampling of what Hannah wakes up to every day.

“What attracted me to the toys and games in the first place was the artwork,” he says. “The graphics from those years are great, even though the playability of many of the games is really bad.” (Note: Polizzi and his wife do enjoy playing “The Barbie Game” with friends, however.)

     Polizzi is an equal-opportunity collector. He says he likes all of his possessions the same and doesn’t have a special standout. “My favorite thing is usually the last thing I bought,” he says. When pressed, though, Polizzi admits that he does have a weakness for his “Pop-Up Store,” a soda fountain/toy store made by Milton Bradley in the 1950s. The object of the game, for those who need a refresher course, is to spend the money provided in the box to buy candy and toys in the store. “The ‘Pop-Up Store’ is pretty cool,” he says. “Who couldn’t like it?”

     Since he began collecting almost 10 years ago, Polizzi has become quite an expert. He has spent endless hours researching the history of ’50s and ’60s toys and games and has written two books: Spin Again, co-authored with Fred Schaefer (Chronicle Books, 1991), and Baby Boomer Games (Collector Books, 1995). He is currently at work on his third book, Classic Plastic, all about model kits, which will be published by Collector Books this spring.

     While father and daughter Polizzi love all of the fun and games he collects, what does his wife think about it? “She worries about my collection getting out of hand,” says Polizzi. “But I guess it’s too late for that!”

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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the Ripley’s Believe it or Not books. Sometimes I would have friends over from grade school, turn on creepy music and read excerpts from them. Forty years later a friend came up to me and said he just saw me in one of the Ripley’s books. Now, I couldn’t believe it!