1888 Benjamin Harrison / James Blaine Presidential Campaign Puzzle / Game
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1888 Benjamin Harrison / James Blaine Presidential Campaign Puzzle / Game:
Wonderful and quite rare, 1888 Benjamin Harrison / James G. Blaine Presidential Campaign Game / Puzzle in its original patriotic illustrated box. This outstanding original Campaign Puzzle is a variation of the classic sliding block puzzle known as the “Fifteen Puzzle” where a player must slide usually square, pieces each with a printed number or letter along certain routes on a board to establish a certain end-configuration.
This fascinating Game / Puzzle is titled “Blocks of Five or The Administration Puzzle” and was manufactured by the Ives, Blakeslee & Co. The Puzzle is contained in a wooden box that measures approx. 4” by 4” by 5/8” deep. The cover of the box features a wonderful red white and blue, all over pastedown label with portraits of the 1888 Presidential Candidates Benjamin Harrison (Republican) and James G. Blaine (also Republican) with American Flag backgrounds. Further text on the label reads “Blaine is In. / How Can Harrison Get Him Out?”. This quote basically describes the game play as well as the situation as the 1888 Republican National Convention approached.
The pieces of the game are 24 sliding blocks - blue blocks that spell “J G Blaine”; red blocks that spell “Harrison” and white blocks that spell “Cabinet $”. The initial configuration of the Puzzle has the blue blocks spelling “J G Blain” surrounding the central empty space where an image of the capitol building is visible on the bottom of the box. The white and red blocks alternate around the edge of the board spelling “Cabinet $” and “Harrison”. The object of the game is to slide the blocks into a configuration where the red blocks spelling “Harrison” replace the blue blocks at the center of the board (Harrison in and Blaine out) and the blue blocks replacing the red blocks in the outer ring with the white blocks maintaining the same position. The New York World Newspaper offered a $100 prize “to the person who does the Puzzle in the shortest period of time”.
While most catalogers point out the obvious connection between this Game / Puzzle and the 1888 Contest for the Republican Presidential Nomination between Benjamin Harrison and James G Blaine, most overlook the important reference made in the title of the Game to the Campaign Scandal of 1888 that nearly cost Harrison the election and was the direct cause of the United States Presidential election moving from printed to secret ballots.
In the weeks before the 1888 Election a vote buying scandal known as “The Blocks of Five” was uncovered by the Democratic Party in Indiana. Harrison, who was known as an honest and almost “holier than thou” politician had appointed William Wade Dudley as Treasurer of the Republican National Committee. Dudley, an Indianapolis, Indiana lawyer, was a tireless campaigner and prosecutor of Democratic election frauds. The 1888 campaign was the most intense in decades, with Indiana dead even and possibly the state on which the final result would hinge. Although the National Committee had no business meddling in state politics, Dudley wrote a circular letter to Indiana's county chairmen, telling them to "divide the floaters (those willing to sell their votes) into Blocks of Five, and put a trusted man with the necessary funds in charge of these five, and make them responsible that none get away and that all vote our ticket." Dudley promised adequate funding. His preemptive strike backfired when Democrats obtained the letter and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies nationwide in the last days of the campaign. Given Dudley's unsavory reputation, few people believed his denials. A few thousand “floaters” did exist in Indiana—men who would sell their vote for $2. They generally divided 50-50 (or perhaps, $5,000-$5,000) and actually never had a real impact on the vote. The attack on “blocks of five” with the suggestion that pious General Harrison was trying to buy the election did enliven the Democratic campaign, and it stimulated the nationwide movement to replace ballots printed and distributed by the parties with secret ballots.
This connection to the Game / Puzzle offered here adds another layer to its importance as an 1888 Presidential Campaign item. The press and many members of the public was convinced that it was “$” and the Republican National “Machine” (“Cabinet”) that let to Harrison’s nomination and eventual victory over incumbent President Grover Cleveland.
This rare and wonderful, 1888 Presidential Campaign Game / Puzzle is in very good, original condition. The Game is complete and “as issued” with all the blocks being original. The original box is intact and sound with the pastedown label on the lid intact but soiled and with some small areas of scuffing (see the scans below). The blocks also exhibit surface soiling.
A very rare and fascinating, 1888 Benjamin Harrison / James G. Blaine Presidential Campaign Game / Puzzle in its original patriotic illustrated box and a fantastic addition to any 19th century Political Americana collection!!!
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