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  • Museum of the Confederacy

Rare set of Civil War era Pick-up Sticks “Jack Straws” Game


Product Description

This is another rare piece being offered, it is a Civil War era game of Pick-up Sticks or Jack Straws. Also, during the early 1800s, it was referred to as Spillikins. This example comes in a cylindrical wooden case measuring 5 ½” x 1 ½”. Inside are 22 wooden forms of various weapons and tools, i.e., battle axe, saw, paddle, ladder, clubs, swords, pike, etc.

It could be described as a 19th century parlor game, something like pick-up sticks, something that soldiers were very familiar with. The game allowed for any number of players. All the “Spillikins” (usually 20 to 40), are dropped onto a flat surface in a heap. The first player tries to remove one of the spillikins without disturbing any of the others, sometimes with a hook or a finger.

If successful, he tries to remove another and continues until the piece under attack is disturbed, then the next player tries. Having started on one piece, a player is not allowed to switch his attack to another until it has been removed from the pile. When the last piece has been removed, the person with fewest spillikins is the first player in the next game, and the holder of the most, drops them on the table. The more complicated shapes have a higher value than the simple ones.

In the Museum of the Confederacy collection, there is a similar Jack Straws game in a wooden cylinder, also with 22 carved pieces (see pictures). Some of those pieces were painted, and it is thought that it was made by a soldier who was a POW.

Civil War soldiers had much more down time than fighting and marching. It was common for both sides to go into “winter camps” for a few months because of the difficulty moving equipment with horses and marching. In my book “The Civil War Soldier – His Personal Items”, I go into detail about the games soldiers played.

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$6.50 (Fixed shipping cost)