Rare geographic game by Charles Watilliaux

Watilliaux Editeur / Lith. Vve. Neveu, 8 rue Gracieuse, Paris / H. Avelot (artist), JEU DES EXPLORATEURS. Paris, [1898.]
Hand-colored lithographic game board, segmented in fourths and mounted on cardboard for folding (when unfolded, 26 ¾”h x 40 ¾”w at edges). With 8 lithographic itinerary cards (each 9 ½”h x 7 1/8”w); small box with fitted compartments holding 56 small instruction cards, 8 wooden playing pieces, and a 6-sided die; a glass-topped box with some 200 circular tokens in green, red, white or yellow, each 7/8” in diameter; and a rules pamphlet, 28pp, printed wraps. Housed in original cardboard box (21 3/8”l x 14 3/8”w x 1 3/8”h), the sides and top covered in a printed silk pattern and the top with a large, pasted-on title adorned with a hand-colored lithographic illustration. Very minor foxing and soiling to board and cards, components and box with minor scuffing and edge wear, but as good as one could hope for in a complex game intended for hard use by minors. Possibly missing a few of the circular tokens, but in no way affecting the playability of the game.

A very rare and educational geographic game by prolific publisher Charles Watilliaux inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. With very high production values and remarkably complete and well preserved.

The game consists of eight itineraries for voyages around the world, the first of which replicates that of Verne’s novel. All start and end in Paris, involve 22 intermediate destinations, and require players to “travel” by an astonishing variety of means (For example the eighth itinerary involves travel by train, packet boat, horse, sledge, whaling ship, steam boat, and on foot.) Players’ progress along their itineraries is governed by instructions on a card drawn at the start of each turn (One might, for example, be commanded to move forward three destinations, or encounter an accident requiring one to skip two turns.) Should players be so minded, they can read brief accounts of the various destinations in the accompanying pamphlet of rules.

The production values of the game are very high, including durable materials, attractive printing, extensive hand coloring to the playing board, and the lovely silk-covered box in which the components are housed. The Bibliotheque nationale de France dates its copy of the rules pamphlet to 1898.

Charles Watilliaux (1847-1924) was a Parisian publisher and manufacturer of toys and games, active in the last quarter of the 19th century and into the 20th. He purchased the business of one Coqueret in or around 1875, renamed it, and remained in operation until selling out to Revenaz and Tabernat in 1907-8. Watilliaux published a wide variety of games and was almost incredibly prolific; he published a catalogue in 1903 that ran to 71 pages and includes more than 2000 card games, games of skill, games of chance and board games, including the Jeu des Explorateurs priced at 8 francs 50 centimes. If the Jeu des Explorateurs is any indication, Walliaux’s games featured extremely high production values, and today they are “highly sought after by collectors”.

This game is extremely rare. Other than the present example, and another offered by me several years ago, I find no record of another having appeared on the market, and OCLC lists only the pamphlet at the Bibliotheque nationale and possibly the game in a Berlin library.

Princeton’s Cotsen Children’s Library holds an example of the game, missing the instruction cards, tokens and rule book, acquired from this firm in 2015. As of May 2020 OCLC #460201341 lists an example of the pamphlet (only) held by the BNF, and #253242263 may refer to an example at the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut in Berlin. In the latter case, the OCLC entry is so thin as to preclude identification, and I do not find the game in the Institut’s on-line catalog. Not in Library Hub Discover (aka COPAC) or Catalogue collectif de France. Some background on Watilliaux from the web site Collection de Jeux Anciens, accessed May 2020.