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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