The game that brought on the domino effect

By: 
TONYA MICHALEC

 

The game dominoes is played worldwide, yet little is known about its origin. Historians believe it was created out of boredom using old bones. It has evolved into a versatile game ever since.
No one knows for sure who or when the first true dominoes set was invented. But there’s little doubt it was one of the earliest games created by mankind.
The White Glove found of dish filled with dominoes last week at True North Warehouse in Morris. Priced at 25-cents each, the orphaned game pieces, also referred to as “bones”, are a mix of both American and Chinese sets made over the last century.
All are black with white dots, but have different weights, textures and designs on the back sides, if any. Despite those left plain or having only a thin picture frame border, the majority of the tiles have an array of embossings, such as: skyscrapers, people of historical interest, monuments or landmarks, folk art designs of flowers and vines or oriental dragons.
According to bigrockworks.com, possibly the earliest dominoes manufactured with embossed designs on the back were made here in America during the 19th century. Located in Albany, NY, The Embossing Company opened in 1870 and became the leading manufacturer of embossed wooden dominoes.
Dominoes is the name of any game played with small flat, rectangular tiles that have one or more dots on one side. Because the game holds endless possibilities, such as playing cards and dice, there is no right or wrong way for it to be played.
Although they have been made in other colors, traditionally they are white tiles with black dots, or black tiles with white dots. Today’s sets are generally marked with zero to six dots and come with 28 oblong pieces that are made from wood or plastic. Early sets were carved from something much different.
The oldest dominoes discovered, according to domino-play.com, were found by archaeologists in China. They are carved from animal bone, usually from oxes, and believed to have been approximately made in 1120. The bone tiles are called either “Gwat Pai” or “Goo Pai.”
Teeth and tusks were also used by the Chinese during the 12th century. These would have been specially made for elite gamers or the very rich and are known as “Ngaa Pai” or “Ya Pai.”
By 1700, dominoes were abundant throughout Europe. The first Western dominoes of the 18th century were made from ivory for the wealthy and bone for the commoner. Dominoes shaped from either sheep or cattle bone were being made by French prisoners-of-war to help pass time. To help make the dots, or pips,shallow holes were drilled into the bone and inlaid with thin pieces of ebony.
Craftsmen of the early 19th century left their mark on dominoes by using thinner pieces of animal bone affixed to thin pieces of ebony, which resulted in the first dominoes to be white on one side and black on the other. This is believed to have been one of the ways they responded to a possible lack of suitable animal bones.
They abandoned bone material in exchange for “vegetable ivory.” It is made from the tagua nut, or ivory nut, which is extremely hard and close-grained. The nut comes in six varieties of palms native to the isthmus connecting Central and South America. It is almost as valuable as ivory.
Frenchman Charles Lepage invented a type of plastic in 1855 called Bois Durci. It was made from ebony or rosewood sawdust mixed with either albumen from eggs or blood. Along with dominoes, it was used to also make chessmen and dice.
Next came dominoes manufactured from the second kind of plastic ever invented, Parkesine. It was invented in 1856 by a company called Parkes in Birmingham, but was abandoned because it was highly flammable.
Scorched by plastics, craftsmen of the late 19th century turned to tinplate for the majority of their commercial domino needs. Since tinplate is so easy to stamp or emboss, this material opened the door for domino manufacturers to tag team with other businesses through advertising. 
Tobacco companies were among the first to buy space on the back side of dominoes. They would give away sets, marked with their logo, out to pubs and inns.
After tinplating dominoes were made with a plastic called bakelite that was used up until the 1950s. It was invented by L.H. Bakeland in 1917 and used for everything from serving dishes to domino tiles.
Today’s domino tiles are mostly made from cheap wood and common plastic. Some are even made from aluminum and thick paper-card. Production of ivory dominoes has remained illegal since Jan. 1990, when the international trade of ivory was banned.
There is little demand for antique dominoes - unless they are made from anything other than plastic. That’s where the big money is.
According to multiple on-line auction sites, wooden tiles range from $4 each for generic tiles on up to $1,789 for a complete set, such as a Shalinindia set that includes the original 8-inch wooden box with three inlaid ivory dominoes across the top of the lid.
Individual bone and ebony English tiles can be purchased for as little as $3 each or as much as $329 for a complete set that includes the original wooden box.
There were no listings  for tagua nut, solid bone or ivory dominoes. Those may be to valuable to sell.
Contact writer Tonya Michalec at tmichalec@fpnusa.com.

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