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Darkies in the Melon Patch» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Darkies in the Melon Patch: Disquieting and Inconvenient rss

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Joseph
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Bear with me, we've a rocky ride ahead.

I first became aware of this bit of vintage Americana about a year ago, due to a BGG discussion regarding the game’s origins. Since then, I’ve wanted to research the game myself, to find out what all the fuss was about. Eventually, I bought a copy for myself so I could examine it firsthand.

Before I get to the heart of the matter, disclosing the origins of Darkies in the Melon Patch (DitMP), let’s go over the basics.

How to play

DitMP is a simple roll and move game, based on the venerable chutes and ladders franchise. The theme of DitMP, concerns a group of African Americans racing to get out of the local melon patch as quickly as possible. Hazards faced along the way include angry farmers, bearded grandmothers, and distracting events such as melon races and seed spitting contests. My copy of the game is copyrighted by the Hudson brothers, in 1910.

Components review

DitMP comes with a solid mounted board, populated by cartoonish depictions of African Americans. Most of these images are lifted from the pages of vintage advertising programs from 1910 to 1940. The playing pieces, at least in the copy I purchased, were made of Sculpey modeling clay. Sculpey didn’t appear on the retail market until the 1950s. I’ve noted that other copies of this game come with a variety of pieces, some of which are made out of wood. Quality and composition vary greatly. Also, curiously, the playing pieces were painted with water based hobby paint, which appears to be of modern origin. Other games from that era were still using solvent, oil, or lead based paints for the majority of their products.



The board, although a bit muted in it color, is nearly identical in quality, texture, and sheen to a product printed out on a modern inkjet printer. For a game roughly 100 years old, the brown packing tape used to hold together the board has held up rather well. Lastly, the cover, upon closer examination, displayed some graphical anomalies consistent with desktop publishing software. Regrettably, whoever rendered the text over the central image, forgot to turn on the anti-aliasing feature. Fortunately, the common purchaser of this game won’t notice such artifacts, unless they put the artwork under extreme magnification as I did.

Game play

This simple game took approximately 10 minutes to play. There’s a big runaway leader problem, as it’s easy to fall behind in the race. Once behind, it’s difficult to catch up to your opponents.

What others say:

I consulted with a moderately well informed antique buyer and seller on the internet. This person specializes in material from the early years of black Americana. She asked to not be named in any of the essays I wrote about DitMP. Let’s call the antique dealer "Sheila." Sheila has been buying and selling antiques for decades: it’s a passion she picked up from her parents. She makes a fairly good living at what she does. After a few e-mails, Sheila agreed to speak with me on the phone about DitMP, and black Americana in general. She was a warm and funny person, and our time on the phone went by quickly. She asked me several questions about the game, and was encouraging about my interest in determining its origin. The examination she suggested involved a magnifying glass, and taking a closer look as to how the game was put together. Some of this was moderately destructive. In person, she could have told me the truth within minutes. On the phone, and by e-mail, this was more difficult. While the physical examination of the game raised interesting questions, the most tell tale indicator was the art used on the board. Sheila indicated that one particular image post dated the supposed printing of the board. The game was allegedly created in 1910, but the image in question wasn’t commissioned until the 1930s. Her evaluation, and my own research, confirmed my initial suspicions. Darkies in the Melon Patch is a product of modern construction, printed on demand, within the last several years. The copy in my hands is probably no more than two years old. Apparently there is a huge market for counterfeit black Americana. People are buying the stuff by the bushel. Currently, I know of three places offering this product, and one auctioneer has sold 75 copies in the last 3-4 years. One of these companies is actually printed this thing up on a regular basis.

Final conclusions
DitMP is a fraud, and a hate filled example of how low people will stoop to make money. Alternately, I suppose it’s possible that the creator merely wanted to create shock and outrage, or demonstrate his contempt for minorities.

Unfortunately, it is beyond my meager abilities to prove who started the recent printings of this game. Based on my research, I have been able to identify three companies who have profited, and continue to make money from DitMP.

http://www.liveauctioneers.com/

http://curiosityemporium.com/

http://www.worthpoint.com/

Each of these firms, based on my research, make a sizable income from the gray market antiques business. When I use the term gray, I mean that there’s a lot of fraudulent junk in there that is commanding a high price from the unsuspecting public.

So why did you buy this game?

To end the ambiguity about its origin. My gut told me that the history of this game wasn’t legit. Turns out I was right. If it had been a true piece of black Americana, I would have hated it, but wouldn't deny its continued legacy on BGG.

This game has made some money for its creators thus far, but I’d like to that stop. I would like to see the creator of this game stripped of their anonymity, taking the richly deserved credit for perpetuating racist stereotypes. I want to see them properly attributed as the designer on BGG. If this person is going to conduct themselves in such a manner, they should stand up and take their slings and arrows. Lastly, I’d like to see the BGG entry for this game edited, to correctly attribute its modern origin, and the true intent of its marketing and production.

What do I hope to accomplish by this review?

Well, I want people to come to BGG for the truth. This review will show up in Google hits, so some people will see it. Someone, somewhere, can identify the creator of the game. I'm hoping someone does that.

Oh, and I promised to provide a final assessment of the game itself, to make this a proper review. Here you go: a picture is worth a thousand words.



Don’t forget to flush.

Falloutfan





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Rob Rob
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Quote:
Apparently there is a huge market for counterfeit black Americana.

Yes and apparently the more egregious, the higher the price.
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Dan
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A very interesting review indeed. Even if the subject of the game wasn't so willfully offensive, the fact that the game is a forgery intended to inflate the price is intriguing enough.

Couple the two together, and you have a mystery worthy of far greater attention. Good work! I'm definitely interested in seeing if anythign comes of this.
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Shane Is Board
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Excellent effort and work, very interesting to know the true origins; thank you for the time and money you put into this.
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David Chapman
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falloutfan wrote:
.Lastly, the cover, upon closer examination, displayed some graphical anomalies consistent with desktop publishing software. Regrettably, whoever rendered the text over the central image, forgot to turn on the anti-aliasing feature.


You mention all these historical anomalies, and yet you overlook that DTP software back in 1910 didn't have AA? Packages with that feature weren't released until 1936. A shameful error in an otherwise excellent review.
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Martin Manning
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Excellent review, and I think you should be commended for turning up some hard evidence on this hoax.

If you haven't already done so, can I suggest you submit changes to the database entry for this game, including a change of publication date and a description that mentions the game is a contemporary hoax rather than an authentic artefact of more ignorant times?
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Brian Morris
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Black Americana from the 1880s through WW II is an collectible area that gained momentum with the coming of the Internet age in the mid 90s. It's very popular in the African American community ranging from classic advertising posters featuring names like Jack Johnson, Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong to what is often called Jim Crow collectibles (this game being an example of that). Unfortunately with anything that is collectible you have fakes. My specialty is English Porcelain and the market for antique porcelain collectibles is flooded with fakes. I take great pride in my ability to spot these.

The basic rule is if someone will pay money to collect something then someone else will make fake copies of it. The key always is to be an educated collector.
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Phil Walker-Harding
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Fascinating stuff, thanks for your research!

I'm a bit confused about something though.
Was this ever a 'real' game? Was it actually ever produced in the 1930s,
and then more recently fake copies have emerged?
Or, is this entirely a recent creation made to look old?

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Eugene van der Pijll
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falloutfan wrote:
Lastly, the cover, upon closer examination, displayed some graphical anomalies consistent with desktop publishing software. Regrettably, whoever rendered the text over the central image, forgot to turn on the anti-aliasing feature.

In addition to that, according to identifont.com, the fonts used for the front cover are (a variant of) Mistral, designed in 1953, and Arial, designed in 1982.

Is it possible that the board is authentic, and only the box is modern? Or did you find these graphical anomalies on the board as well?
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Eric Dodd
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Good work sir. I hadn't even considered these might be forgeries. I am also interested to know - was this ever a real game at the time?
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M. Shanmugasundaram
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Yup. The real question is whether there was actually ever an "original" game. What are all the forgeries based on? Was time travel involved?

Incidentally, a wonderful bit of research and posting. Assuming you're not offering another bit of disinformation.

What?!?whistleshake
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Eugene van der Pijll
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falloutfan wrote:
Lastly, I’d like to see the BGG entry for this game edited, to correctly attribute its modern origin, and the true intent of its marketing and production.

I added a few sentences to the description on this game's page. Changes or additions are welcome.
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Scott Henshaw
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So, we now know, pretty convincingly, that your copy is a fake. Do we know if this game ever existed in the 1930's or even 1940's?
It seems like a lot of work to create a game from scratch to sell occasional copies for some money. Are the fake copies based on something real? That is still an unanswered question, but one it seems many of us would like to know the answer to.
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Dave Lartigue
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Thanks for your review and fact-finding. Americans like to pretend that racism such as this happened long ago and is all over now and we all need to just get over it. Things like this show that it is alive and well and still a part of our society we have to address.
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Mike Young
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Certainly someone could do actual research into the "The Hudson Brothers Publishing Company" and discover if they ever published such a game in the 1930s?

Regardless, thank you for doing this service to the boardgaming and antiquing communities and I am sorry you had to experience such an awful thing in order to do your research.
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William Crispin
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Interesting research. I have been suspicious this was a fraud since this first showed up on BGG. I have no doubt that something like this could have been published in the 30s but the information always seemed a bit staged. I think it is fairly unlikely that an authentic version from any time before the advent of DTP will be discovered.
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Zé Mário
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I don't understand why the author has be racist at all. It looks like he found out about a theme that interest people and focused his fraudulent work on it.
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Zé Mário
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Drew1365 wrote:
Anyway, the notion of creating (within the last decade) fake memorabilia that highlighted some of the worst stereotypes and then selling back to the very people who are depicted . . . it's racism wrapped in cynicism dipped in a sauce of profiteering.


And are those people forced to buy this game? Why is it different than any other fake memorabilia being sold to suckers?

(I'm obviously not defending the maker of this game, I just found your statement weird)
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JonJacob wrote:
It seems to me that your responding to my post. I don't think he's racist (or maybe I think everyone is, including me)... I do question why he would buy it... when it's obvious to everyone that's it's a shitty snakes and ladders game.


Not at all, I actually agree with what you said. Now and then.
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Booker Hooker
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mrbeankc wrote:
The basic rule is if someone will pay money to collect something then someone else will make fake copies of it. The key always is to be an educated collector.


Or you can collect medieval castles in Europe like I do. Know how hard it is to fake one of those?
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Scratches wrote:
Or you can collect medieval castles in Europe like I do. Know how hard it is to fake one of those?


Well, there are many that are pretty much fake. Carcassonne, for instance. Be careful!
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Russ Williams
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I thought it was a well-known fact that this game was fake.

The game was once on ebay with the seller proclaiming to have 100+ copies in stock.

Yes, but not all of us keep track of the availability of this game on ebay.

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David Chapman
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Drew1365 wrote:
"Darkies in the Melon Patch" can be accepted as an honest depiction of the ugly past, but to learn that it's got a 21st-Century origin raises all sorts of issues.


As you have been told repeatedly - you have not proven that DitMP has a 21st Century origin. All you've proven is that some - and probably most, if not all - of the copies being sold today are fake. Before you talk further about how upsetting it is that this game was made today, go do the research you should have done before starting this thread and find out if it was at any time real.
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Joseph
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Hi everybody:

To answer some questions posted here and elsewhere:

"Where is the original thread that got you riled up about this game?"

This thread:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/59656/is-this-authentic

The thing that got me riled up was Gray Malkin's comment that the game was still being produced. Also, as others indicated, the Hudson company doesn't appear to have existed. Nothing tangible ever came of that thread: the profiteering continued, and the racial stereotypes were still being promoted. Sphere justifiably questioned Gray Malkin's motives, and I agreed with what he said. The exchange left me disturbed.

"Won't your review draw attention to the game, indirectly contributing to the problem?"

Maybe, but ignoring the problem certainly won't accomplish anything. If we candidly discuss the problem, we can do something about it. While our conversation may draw some sick people, it may also draw people willing to champion the cause. I'm just one gamer with a big mouth. If the end result is that production of this game ceases, I'll be happy.

"Was this game was ever commerically produced, long ago?" Did it ever legitimately exist in its current form?

I truly don't know. My research was not exhaustive. I stopped when I felt I had accumulated enough information to render an opinion.

The Curiosity Emporium, one of the current suppliers of this game, brands the cover with their logo. They self admittedly manufacture replica antiques. The auction companies often claim to have acquired the game from an estate sale: knowing nothing about its origin. There seem to be several versions of this game floating around. I haven't been able to examine any of the others first hand. My suspicion, is that the original items were manufactured to test the waters for this kind of product. The original design underwent several revisions. Unfortunately, all of that is pure speculation on my part. I'd like to see other copies, but I can't spare the cash. Some of them are quite expensive.

"Why did you buy the game? Couldn't you have written the essay without it? You supported the cause!"

Yeah - you got me there. I wasn't willing to accuse the companies involved without tangible evidence. I wanted to study the game myself. I had to be sure. I was tempted to send the thing out for professional appraisal, but that was incredibly expensive. My neck is in the noose here, as I have named the companies engaged in promoting the game. My hope is that someone with more influence, or a bigger mouth will take up the fight in some manner.

"Why is this thing such a big deal? It's just a game!"

It's NOT just a game, it's a bloody idealogy. I can't put it in any simpler terms than that.

Falloutfan




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Wulf Corbett
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Scratches wrote:
Or you can collect medieval castles in Europe like I do. Know how hard it is to fake one of those?
Having watched virtually every episode of Time Team, it's not unheard of...
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