We all had a Ouija phase, didn’t we? Or at least most of us saw The Exorcist and know what can happen if you don’t say “Goodbye” to the spirit world before putting away the board. But did you know there are hundreds, maybe thousands of different talking boards out there? And not all talking boards are Ouija boards. Today in internet adventures, we’re taking a field trip to the Museum of Talking Boards, a fascinating virtual space dedicated to the forgotten art of the mysterious iconic board game.
Crystal Gazer, 1940
Star Gazer Mystical Question Board Tray-Alice Lee Manufactur
ing, Chicago, IL c. 1944
“Despite their popular appeal, most talking boards were used a couple of times, shelved, and eventually thrown away. This resulted in the tragic loss of a fascinating American art form,” explains the online museum, which documents and researches hundreds of historical and modern boards found in antique stores, flea markets, on eBay and at auction houses. The vintage design, typography and symbolism is as fascinating as the story behind the evolution.
Ouija Queen, America
n Novelty Company, Omaha, NE c. 1943 – c. 1945
I’ll give you a brief whizz through the story, but there’s plenty more juicy information on the Museum of Talking Boards. The first Ouija mass-manufactured game as we know it, was invented in 1890 in response to the American spiritualism movement of mid 19th century America, when a wave of the middle and upper class population basically started trying to communicate with dead relatives and spirits in their spare time, usually through the help of a female mediums.
Left: Magic Box Ouija Board-Sham
balla Redstone Editions, Redstone Press, London 1995; Right: The Cablegraph A Wander Board-Geor ge Foster Pearson, Lowell, MA c. 1919
Spiritual mediums, typically eccentric society outcasts (or the “crazy lady” who lives in the house at the end of the street) had their own makeshift variations of alphanumeric tables with rotating pointers that would later inspire the first commercial talking boards.
The Sphinx Speaks-Jer
ry Lowenthal & Company, Philadelph ia, PA
The Ouija board brand even tried to market itself for many years as having originated from Egyptian antiquity and one of the patent owners claimed that when he asked the spirit world what he should call his talking board, it spelt out Ouija, which the spirit proceeded to tell him was ancient Egyptian for good luck.
Swami Ouija Talking Board-Gift Craft, Chicago 11, IL c. 1944
ston Sales Company, Inc., Chicago, IL c. 1960
hic Graf Company, Hartford, CT 1943
I-D-O PSY-CHO-I-D-E-O-GRAPH-Theodore H. White, Los Angeles, CA 1919
The Scientific Planchette
-Selchow and Righter, New York, NY c. 1880
st iron template, date unknown
Throne Board-J.E. Garside, Peoria, IL 1893
rd prepatent “Good Night“ board-Balt imore, MD c.1890
ell Rucker & Company, Chicago, IL
A different theory is that the name comes from the French and German words for yes “Oui’ and “Ja”. The ownership of the Ouija brand changed hands several times over the years, and many of the earlier patent owners were keen to claim they were its inventor or originator. One of the earliest known patent holders of Ouija was Elijah Bond who later had the idea of putting swastikas on the boards (before its association with the Nazis).
Ouija-J.M. Simmons, Chicago, IL c. 1920 – c. 1945
But it was William Fuld, a US customs inspector who was leased the rights to manufacture the Ouija board, who would become known as the father of the Ouija board. He sold millions of them, marketing them as a toy to children.
The Mystic Skull Talking Board-Vamp
irahna, Zenrad Manufactur ing, Vancouver, BC, Canada 2005
He even built a factory according to what the board told him. Then in 1927, he fell off its roof and died. He was supervising the replacement of a flagpole when a support post he was holding gave way.
er Brothers, Hasbro, Pawtucket, RI 2008
Fuld’s children took over until the 1960s when they retired and sold the business to Parker Brothers, which later became Hasbro and owns the game today.
A homemade talking board (folding)-Elizabeth Klima 1998
Weed Ja The High Spirited Talking board-Icup Inc., Croydon, PA 2010
Black Magic Talking board-Gift Craft, Chicago 11, IL c. 1944
Rajah Far East Talking Board-Gift Craft, Chicago 11, IL c. 1944
ecarlo, Ciudad De Mexico, Mexico
Mystery Talking board-E.S. Lowe, New York, NY c. 1940
Mystic Medium (black yellow variant)-Medalie Manufacturing, Minneapolis, MN
Witchboard 2 (Movie Promo)-Rep
ublic Pictures Los Angeles, CA 1993
on E. Converse & Son, Winchendon , MA c. 1920
nd Manufactur ing, Winona, MN c. 1944
So we’re all caught up on the story, but I know what you really want to ask now. Is it real? As much as I like to believe it myself and hate to spoil the fun, apparently its not. Stuff You Should Know explains it all, blaming Idiomotion for the mysterious movement of the Ouija’s planchette. Idiomotion is essentially an involuntary motion, where thought precedes movement and subconsciously answers your own question. The trick is, you really don’t realise and have no sensation of moving it.
Ouija-Miro Company (license Parker Brothers), France c. 1966
So once again, science spoils the party. Still, I don’t know if science can make me forget The Exorcist. Even if you think it’s nonsense, don’t forget to close the portal to the great beyond, and say Goodbye.