Versions Of The Game


This page offers a "history" of Scrabble and is an index to a number of versions of the game that are in the collection.

According US Television's The History Channel:

In the early 1930s, unemployed architect Alfred Mosher Butts set out to design a board game. After studying existing games, he realized that games fell into three categories: number games like dice and bingo; move games such as chess and checkers; and word games like anagrams.

Butts created a game that utilized both chance and skill by combining elements of anagrams and crossword puzzles, a popular pastime of the 1920s. Players would draw seven lettered tiles from a pool and then attempt to form words from their seven letters. A key to the game was Butts' analysis of the English language. Butts studied the front page of The New York Times to calculate how frequently each letter of the alphabet was used. He then used each letter's frequency to determine how many of each letter he would include in the game. For example, he included only four "S" tiles so that the ability to make words plural would not make the game too easy.

First called Lexiko, Butts later changed the name to Criss Cross Words and began to look for a buyer. The game makers he originally contacted rejected the idea, but Butts was tenacious. Eventually, he sold the rights to entrepreneur and game-lover James Brunot. Brunot made a few minor adjustments to the design and renamed the game Scrabble, which is actually a real word meaning "to grope frantically."

In 1948, the game was trademarked and James Brunot and his wife converted an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut, into a Scrabble factory. In 1949, the Brunots made 2,400 sets, but lost $450. The game, however, was steadily gaining popularity, helped along by orders from Macy's department store. By 1952, the Brunots could no longer keep up with demand and licensed game maker Selchow & Righter to market and distribute the game.

The Overlooked History of Scrabble

However, The History Channel either seemed to overlooked part of the wonder of the "Scrabble Story", or didn't have an opportunity to speak to some of the people involved in the development of Scrabble. When Selchow & Righter donated a number of their games to the Museum, the Curator (Elliott Avedon) had many opportunities to talk with S&R personnel.

According to Richard Selchow (the President of Selchow & Righter at the time the Brunots were making sets as a "cottage industry" in Connecticut), they were able to make the tiles and racks, but had lots of problems producing the boards and boxes. During this time they kept trying to sell the rights to the game to various large game manufacturers. When the Macy's order came along, Brunot went to Selchow & Righter and asked them to produce and market the game. Richard Selchow and his staff felt that the game wouldn't be a big enough seller - so they said no. At that meeting Brunot met a minor executive who was responsible for certain aspects of production in the Selchow & Righter factory. One of this executive's tasks was to produce game boards on a contract basis for non-S&R games. He worked out a deal with Brunot and S&R (under contract) produced the Scrabble boards and boxes. After the initial contract was complete, Brunot's orders were growing, so he increased the next contract and the next.

The following year, during an S&R executive meeting to review the competition, Richard Selchow remarked that maybe S&R should have bought the rights to "Scrabble" since it seemed to be selling very well. The executive who was responsible for production said he knew that because the contracts for board & box production kept growing. Selchow was embarrassed that his factory was making the boards & boxes, and he wasn't aware of this. Well the rest is "history". S&R then set up a meeting with Brunot to buy the complete rights to produce "Scrabble". A few years ago, S&R was bought out by Hasbro, who now manufactures the game.

Over one hundred million sets have been sold worldwide. There are multi-language editions, Braille editions, and a number of related games that were developed other the years.

The following is a list of the versions of Scrabble in the collection. Click on the name of a version to see illustrations and information about each version.

Last update June 1, 2010