The Rise and Fall of the Great Sid Sackson Gaming Collection

The one and only Sid Sackson and a tiny percentage of his gaming collection.

Sid Sackson is regarded by many to be one of the most important and influential game designers of all time. His seminal works—most notably simple economic, auction and trading games like Acquire and Bazaar—helped establish the basis for much of what hobby gaming is today.

He also wrote books such as the classic “Gamut of Games” and “Card Games Around the World” in the 1970s. Sackson was generally acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost authorities on games and game design. He was also a voracious collector, and it has been estimated that his collection at one point may have been the largest in the world with some 18,000 pieces, including many prototypes and one-of-a-kind items that he kept in his New Jersey home until his death in 2002 at the age of 82.

The greatest auction in board gaming history in action.

That’s a lot of games; definitely enough to qualify the late Mr. Sackson as an über-collector, if not the premiere super-collector of all time. Many game collectors have collections with pieces numbering into the thousands these days, but the in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s—when he was accumulating shelves and shelves of games representing everything from simple kid’s games and TV show tie-ins to complex war games and obscure abstracts—the concept of game collecting on that scale wasn’t common. The Sackson collection, if it were intact today, would be an inestimable documentation of the history of modern board gaming.

Sackson dreamed of one day curating a games museum, likely with his massive collection as a foundation, but it never came to fruition as universities and other organizations never saw the value of what many would assume to be thrift-store or yard-sale junk. If we could go back and look through his shelves, however, it would undoubtedly be a treasure trove of the lost and forgotten alongside family favorites and now-classic games, an amazing repository of an often neglected popular culture medium.

As his health began to fail, though, he made the decision to sell his vast collection off to alleviate the financial burden incurred by mounting medical bills. As plans were laid with the assistance of his family to liquidate, Sackson died unexpectedly before the first game was sold.

The collection would be scattered, sold off in a series of auctions held in November of 2002 and May 2003. Many Sackson fans and gamers lamented the dissolution of the collection, but at least many of these games wound up in the hands of appreciative gamers and Sackson fans. Come to find out, it’s not that easy to sell 18,000 board games in a piecemeal fashion.

A New Jersey auction house was given the collection, but it promptly made a mess of things by all accounts. With little experience in or knowledge about board games, it grouped items in incongruous, nonsensical lots, often pairing extremely valuable hobby market games with thrift store detritus. Box lots, shelf lots and individual items were sold with little rhyme or reason as to organization. It’s a shame that the auctioneers couldn’t have contracted some knowledgeable collectors to offer some advisement. Some of Sackson’s prototypes—one-of-a-kind, often handmade copies of games—made their way into some lots. There were games sent to Sackson by aspiring gamer designers, including many that were self-published in small quantities and some not published at all. Some games contained letters, checks and other personal documents. Initially, the family wanted to get these things back from the purchasers but then decided to let everything go.

An example of an unpublished Sid Sackson prototype game purchased at the auction.

Lots sold for prices ranging from a couple of dollars to $500-$600, with around 100-120 bidders in attendance from all over the United States and a couple of foreign countries. In addition to the games, catalogs, magazines and other ephemera were sold. The auction house offered to stamp games to validate that the games came from the Sackson collection, but many declined. I suppose if you got a hand-written design document from him tossed into a random box, that’s as good as a rubber stamp.

Sackson collection games turn up on auction sites and in game sales fairly frequently—18,000 pieces is a lot to be in circulation, so they’re not really uncommon. The Sackson stamp or other validation doesn’t tend to increase value much, however, and it seems that a lot of the games he had were simply too obscure or unknown to warrant much demand. Notable games from his collection still carry market value and might get a slight bump due to provenance, and any personal effects might make for a more desirable collectible, but games bought at the auction have never really been in higher demand or more sought after than examples originating from less storied collections. That said, owning a game from such a monumental figure—and such a monumental collection—carries a very different kind of value for collectors and game players.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.

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  1. Sagrilarus says:

    Excellent article this time Mr. Barnes. I inherited my father’s toy train collection that had thousands of items both large and small and, were it not for the help of a friend with detailed knowledge I likely would have done the same that the auction house did with Sackson’s collection — grouping valuable objects with flotsam and not presenting it in a way that someone looking for value could pick out the details. Liquidating a large collection is very daunting to say the least.

    I absorbed a fair amount of information just by living in the same house with my Dad for two decades, but my friend with the detailed knowledge identified miniscule little insignificant pieces (most of which I had dumped into four boxes labeled BoS1, BoS2 . . . an acronym for “Box of Sh–“) that had significant value since they were pieces easily lost through the years. He was able to set the items aside and say “get very detailed photos of these onto the web page.” Little plastic flags, clips, etc.

    For those of you liquidating a relative’s collection — hire a guide. You won’t be disappointed.

    For those of you assembling a collection — consider maybe, just maybe, leaving a few notes attached to your items for those that will take care of your estate. My Dad left me notes, but it was exceptionally difficult to match the notes with the items they applied to.

    S.

  2. Bradd Smith says:

    It is important that all collectors, large and small make arrangements for what you want done with your prizes or your kids, an inept auction house or some other person that may or may not have your wishes in mind. Unless you have very rare or expensive collection, most museums do not have the storage capacity or display space to show even a small part of a large collection, and few of us really have truly museum grade pieces in quantity. This series of unloved pieces has been interesting and shows that not all that glitters is gold.

  3. Ed Bertolas says:

    My mother Audrey Sackson was his 2nd cousin. Aaron was his father and was my mother grandpa’s brother and Aaron was therefore my Mothers Uncle . I always loved collecting as reflects my huge amount of stuff I am selling on Craiglist . I wonder where I got it from . And I have thee largest database in of over 11,000 companies , 14,000 resumes , 165,000 emails to those company staff and just love utilizing those connections for not only recruitinig but news and medical questions and nuances in fields people are trying to break thru in etc. etc. etc. I wonder where I get the magnitude to do this ? AMAZING GENES .

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