Rare and remarkably elaborate ” Jeu Geographique “

Johann Wolfgang Muller, translator / [after Johann Wolfgang Muller and Johann Georg Klinger], JEU GEOGRAPHIQUE DES NATIONS LES PLUS REMARQUABLES DANS LES 5 PARTIES DU MONDE Avec la representation de leurs costumes sur 32 plances coloriées et 6 cartes géographiques…. NOUVELLE EDITION CORRIGEE ET AUGUMENTEE. Turin: Chez les freres Reycends, An. X [i.e., 1801-2.]
An elaborate set of materials for the playing of three geographic games, all housed in the original storage box. Remarkably complete with the exception of a small, engraved world map, not necessary for playing the game.

This Jeu Geographique is an attractive, elaborate and very rare game for educating young people in elements of geography and ethnography.

This clever and compact little set is the most intricate early geographical game set I have encountered. It includes dozens of playing cards, board, instructions and other materials required for no fewer than three geographic games of escalating levels of complexity. All are housed in the original box of card stock covered with green paper, subdivided into three internal compartments. By contrast, most examples of the genre include little more than a deck of cards or an engraved or lithographic cartographic playing board.

The contents of the set are as follows:

  1. Booklet of instructions, with author, title and imprint as above. 6 ½”h x 4 ¼”w, [1]5-15pp. Stab sewn, probably at a later date.
  2. Five variously-colored slipcases, one for each inhabited continent, each with printed title labels and containing a set of engraved, hand-colored cards, each ca. 4” x 3 ½”. Each set includes an engraved map of the continent and 4-9 engraved cards depicting its aboriginal inhabitants, with captions in French. There are 37 cards in all.
  3. NA [but translated from the German of Müller and Klinger,] DESCRIPTION ABREGEE DES COSTUMES, ARTS, USAGES etc. DES PEUPLES LES PLUS REMARQUABLES DU MONDE Pour server a la nouvelle edition du jeu géographique. Turn: Chez lesfrères Reycends, An. X [i.e., 1801-2.] 4”h x 3 ¼”w, 130pp., original blue wraps. A booklet describing the peoples depicted on each card, which, incidentally, makes it possible to verify that all cards are present.
  4. NA [but translated from the German of Müller and Klinger,] Table des parties Simples & Nations de chaque Partie Du Monde. Engraved, hand-colored playing board in the form of a pyramid, 16 5/8”h x 11 ½”w at neat line.
  5. Not present here is a small, engraved double-hemisphere world map, included in at least some other examples of the game but not specifically called for in the instructions. However, the title page of the instructions does refer to “6 cartes géographiques,” while the engraved playing cards include only five maps (of the continents), so this small world map may have completed the group.

The rules of Jeu Geographique are rather involved. In short, players roll dice and draw from the geographical cards to determine movements between the 32 countries and five continents named on the game board. Upon landing on a space, they are expected to provide from memory a description of its inhabitants and/or geography, the quality of their response presumably to be adjudicated by reference to the DESCRIPTION ABREGEE DES COSTUMES, ARTS, USAGES etc. DES PEUPLES LES PLUS REMARQUABLES DU MONDE. Players are required to contribute coins or markers to or remove them from the pot, based partly on chance and partly on their geographic knowledge. A rough translation of the rules can be provided on request, along with the rules from another edition of the game supplied by a colleague.

Publication history
The Jeu Geographique game is a translation of Reisen in die V Erdtheile. Beschreibung verschiedener merkwürdiger Völkerschaften in den fünf Welttheilen nebst Abbildung ihrer Nationaltrachten, first published in Nüremburg by Johann George Klinger (1764-1806) and Johann Wolfgang Müller (1765-1828). According to the preface to the rules booklet, it was an improved version of a game issued in 1797 by one Georges Frederic Birckner, though a search of OCLC and Google yields no mention of either the man nor the game. Klinger is better known as a publisher of maps and globes, though the packaging of some of his pocket globes has a stylistic resemblance to the game offered here. Educator Johann Wolfgang Muller (1765-1828), who executed the translation into French, also published a number of mathematical works and in 1792 a two-volume work on the use of terrestrial and celestial globes.

Given the number of components, in particular the two booklets, each of which has its own title and imprint, the Jeu Geographique is bibliographically confusing to say the least. As best as I can tell, it was first issued in German and French in Nüremburg in 1801 or -2 (see Buijnsters, Papertoys, pp. 137-8), apparently followed closely by the Turn edition offered here. Subsequent French and German editions were issued in Nüremburg at least as late as 1813 or -14, and I find reference to a Paris edition in the Gazette Nationale for October 9, 1807. Whatever the exact number and dates of the various editions, the game seems to have been a success, presumably due to the attractive engravings and clever design. Indeed I find an advert for the game on the rear wrapper of a pamphlet published by the firm of Reycend in 1833, and another ad in the December 24, 1838 edition of the Gazzetta Piemontese. Whether these are indicative of new editions or attempts to sell old inventory, I cannot say.

The bibliographic complexity precluded a more rigorous census of institutional holdings. However a review of OCLC locates only an example of an 1813 German-language edition at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. I find another example of this edition at the British Museum. I have also seen mention of an 1801 edition held by the Universiteit van Amsterdam and two copies of the 1811 edition at Princeton, all French language. However the games are not listed in these institutions’ on-line catalogs.

In all a remarkable and most appealing survival.

OCLC 930338438 (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin). The Jeu Geographique is discussed in Thomas Stauss’ Frühe Spielwelten: Zur Belehrung und Unterhaltung. Die Spielwarenkataloge von Peter Friedrich Catel (1747-1791) und Georg Hieronimus Bestelmeier (1764-1829). Hochwald: Librum, 2014, pp. 360-65; and also in Buijnsters, P.J. & Buijnsters-Smets, Leontine, Papertoys. Speelprenten en papieren speelgoed in Nederland (1640-1920). Zwolle: Waanders, 2005, pp. 137-8, illus. p. 176.


Otherwise very good overall, with light wear and soiling to some of the components. See below for a detailed list of the contents.