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Victorian Era Games: Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York

The Victorian Era Game, Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York, was all the rage at parties and social gatherings in the late 1880s. It was also one of the first mass produced Victorian Era games. The story involved a wide-eyed “country bumpkin” named Peter who came to New York where he was astounded by the wonders of the big city.

Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York was more of an amusement than a Victorian Era game in that it did not have a scoring mechanism and there were no losers. Everyone who played was a winner, sharing good fun. All players drew cards on which various words and phrases were printed. One player read from a printed story. As the reader arrived at blank lines, each player chose a word or phrase to fill in the blank.

The Improved Game: Peter Coddle’s Latest Trip To New York

At Racing Nellie Bly, we purchased the new and improved version of the Victorian ERa game, printed by the McLoughlin Brothers in 1890. The box measures 4 inches x 6 inches. The cover reads:

Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York and What He Saw There.

A Comical Combination of Curious Circumstances For 100 Evenings.

The instructions tell players to pull the first card in their stack to fill in the blanks randomly, because “the interest of the entertainment depends entirely on the laughable and ridiculous combinations which will accidentally be made.”

Peter Coddle’s Story Begins:

As Peter Coddle was weeding onions in his garden one day, and meditating on the miseries of life, his mind reverted to _________, and he accordingly determined to visit New York, to which he had already sent _______.

A sampling of cards that might be drawn to fill in those blanks: A Chaw of Tobacco, A Dilapidated Straw Hat, A Poodle Dog, A Dancing-master and a Fire-proof Safe, A Butcher’s Wagon, A Bobtailed Donkey, A Pocket Full of Rocks, Two Old Cronies, a Contented Mind, a Patent Hoop Skirt and A Big Iron Pot.

And so the fun began. The next paragraphs with cards in play might have read:

He accordingly disclosed his determination to his mother, who prepared him a luncheon consisting of (A Couple of Lightning Bugs) and (An Animated Louse) and (A Big Stone) with numerous other little delicacies.

When he arrived in New York, the first thing he saw was an old Irish woman, selling (A Red Mustache), at which he was a little surprised, and asked a policeman where he could find (A Fishing Pole).

Apparently, in the late 1800s, these responses were a hoot. Not to mention, the phrases were filled with double entendres that left Victorian Era players blushing.

American Urbanization In The Late 1800s

Multiple versions of Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York were produced by several manufacturers over the years.  You can check out this and many other games at The Strong National Museum Of Play or visit The New York Historical Museum online or in person.

Aside from good fun, the popularity of the Victorian Era game reflected the nation’s growing split between urban and rural dwellers. Urbanization in America in the late 1800’s was being fueled by the Industrial Revolution. Searching for jobs, waves of workers from rural areas moved towards manufacturing centers in cities across the nation.

The massive influx of unskilled immigrants flocking to cities in search of the American Dream also fueled Urbanization. Like America’s country folk, immigrants were “fish out of water,” so they were ripe for stereotyping.

Irving Berlin: Country Bumpkins, Hicks, Rubes And Hayseeds

The stereotype of Peter Coddle was right up Irving Berlin’s Tin Pan Alley. The country folk depicted in so many of his songs were poorly educated but shrewd and gullible but resourceful. Like Peter Coddle, they were comically out of their element when they wandered into the urban world.

According to Charles Hamm in Irving Berlin: Songs From The Melting Pot, the changing attitudes toward country folk and immigrants can be observed in Berlin’s work “In song lyrics and on sheet music covers, the men are pictured playing fiddles, wearing overalls and straw hats and sporting chin whiskers; the women wear calico dresses and bonnets.

In “Fiddler Joe From Kokomo” the protagonist is Fiddle-Dee-Dee. He tucked his fiddle under his whiskered chin and fiddled his way out of a series of comic situations.

In “This Is The Life,” Farmer Brown goes to the big city. He discovers that he misses his cows and chickens, but he prefers to “raise the dickens while cabareting, where the band is playing.”Other songs included “I’m Going Back To The Farm” (1915), and “He’s Getting Too Darn Big For A One Horse Town” (1916).

To hear some songs by Irving Berlin, check out our post, What Song Was #1 On The Day Of Your First….

Did Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland Play Peter Coddle’s Trip?

We like to imagine Elizabeth Bisland playing Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York with friends in her parlor during an afternoon tea. Nellie Bly and her colleagues might have played a rousing game at the local pub after putting out an issue of the New York World Newspaper.

The Games People Play

While Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York might sound a little silly or tame by today’s standards, it was the grand daddy of popular contemporary games including Apples to Apples, Mad Libs and even Cards Against Humanity.

Unlike these games in which players select cards for the biggest laughs and sometimes the most points, Peter Coddle’s Trip To New York relied on the random appearance of cards to guarantee the game would be as much fun as (A Calico Umbrella)!

Racing Nellie Bly 
Victorian Secrets From Footnotes In History

4 Responses

  1. As kids, we played this at our grandparents’ place in the 1950’s in Willoughby, NSW, Australia. Thirty years later, I made up my own version as a primary school teacher, to teach kids about parts of speech. I even had a Christmas version for the end of year. There was a similar idea in the 1960’s, with different themed stories, on a notepad, called Mad Libs, which gave me the idea to write my own.

    1. Thanks for this Tony. What a fantastic idea for your students. I’d love to see what you created. Do you have anything posted? And thank you for visiting. If you have any other ideas for topics you want us to explore, please drop a line.

  2. We have a Peter Coddles game with a number 4378 on the box. It’s Milton Bradley made in Springfield, Mass. We would like to know its age.

    1. Hello Sheila and thank you for visiting. I have a copy called “The Improved Game of Peter Coddle and His Latest Trip to New York.” It has no number on it, but I was able to find it at the New York Historical Society-Museum and Library (link below). Mine is between 1875 and 1900. They post images of several versions of the Peter Coddle Game. Hopefully you can find yours there, or at least get some hint that will help. Thanks again for your comment and please let us know if you have an ideas for topics or improvements.

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