Not all materials marked as copyrighted are registered with the US Copyright Office.
The copyright date can be used as a “no-earlier-than” date. The same game can be produced for years after the copyright was claimed or approved.
A game may include several copyrighted items. For example, the cover graphics may be copyrighted and the rules separately copyrighted. The copyright dates may not be the same. The title of the game may be different on the cover and on the rules.
Sometimes a game includes a copyright notice from another company (for example, Walt Disney, Hanna-Barbera Productions) when a game company has been authorized to use characters or other intellectual property owned by that company. In this case, the particular copyright marking does not necessarily apply to the game itself or its rules, and can only be used as a “no-earlier-than” date.
Patent Number or Patent Pending
If you know the US patent number, you can look it up through resources on the Patents page.
The US Patent and Trademark Office has a summary of patent numbers issued each year. Note that what most people call a patent is actually called a “utility” patent; there are other types of patents, for example a design patent.
The inclusion of a patent number can generally be used to define a “no-earlier-than” date. Note that a patent may have several dates, including the filing date, prior publication date, filing update date, and granting date.
If the item is marked “Patent Pending” and you can locate the approved patent and its filing date, you will then know the “no-later-than” date for the game.
Note that existence of a patent does not guaranteed that a game was actually published, sold, or distributed.
Trademark and Service Mark
The symbol ® (letter R in a circle) was authorized to identify a registered trademark in the United States starting in 1946.
The name of the “U.S. Patent Office” was changed to “U.S. Patent and Trademark Office” in 1975.
The following phrases also identify a registered trademark:
- “Registered in U.S. Patent Office”
- “Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.”
- “Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office” (starting in 1975)
- “Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.” (starting in 1975)
Nowadays, the term “Trademark” or “Trade Mark”, abbreviation “TM”, or symbol™ alone does not signify that a phrase was registered. However, older games may be marked as “Trademark” or “Trade Mark” and are actually registered.
The term “Service Mark” or symbol ℠ represents an unregistered mark for a service instead of product, since products would warrant a trademark.
Registered Design (Rd.) Diamond Marks (Great Britain only)
From 1842 to 1883, decorative items could be registered in Great Britain to protect the design from being copied and produced without approval.
Items so registered may be labeled with a so-called diamond mark that includes codes identifying the type of material used (e.g., wood) and date registered.
This diamond mark is from the cover of John Jaques’ Moorish Fort game.
- The “I” at top identifies the class of material used: metal (the metal fort used in the game was the item registered; note that other materials are present in the game).
- The “G” below it identifies the year registered: 1863.
- The “Rd.” in the middle is an abbreviation for “Registered”.
- The “W” on the left of the diamond identifies the month registered: March.
- The “5” on the right of the diamond identifies the day registered: 5.
- The “5” at the bottom of the diamond identifies the bundle (how many items were submitted in the registration)
Therefore, the above diamond represents a registered design made of metal and registered on 5 March 1863.
Inclusion of a Postal Code
Postal zones for large US cities were introduced in 1943. Example:
Brooklyn 4, New York
Zip codes were introduced in the United States in 1963. Example:
Beverly Hills CA 90210
Zip+4 was introduced in 1983. Example:
WASHINGTON DC 20500-0001
Postcodes in the UK have a long history, back to the mid-1800s, and evolved through various schemes. The current postcode system was instituted starting in 1971 and completed in 1974. See Reference for UK Postcodes.
Presence of a UPC Scan Code
Companies occasionally change their name or primary brand identity. For example, Hassenfeld Brothers was formed in 1923 and became Hasbro Industries in 1968.
Companies also change their legal name by adding “Co.”, “Inc.”, “and Son” and other suffixes.
Companies also add partners. For example, CADACO Ltd. was formed in 1935 and became Cadaco-Ellis in 1937.
When a company is purchased by another company, the acquirer may continue to use the purchased company’s brand for a number of years or may retire it. For example, Milton Bradley Co. purchased McLoughlin Bros. in 1920, but continued to issue games under the McLoughlin Bros. name for a few years thereafter. They continued publishing books under the McLoughlin Bros. name thereafter.
Company Logo or other Markings
Companies often start out without a logo, then adopt one, and periodically thereafter modify it or change it entirely. For example, Parker Brothers Inc. introduced its “signature” logo in the 1930s that was used through the 1950s.
Companies may relocate or adopt a different address over time. For example, McLoughlin Bros. was at 24 Beekman Street in New York City in 1858, 30 Beekman Street in 1864, 623 Broadway from 1886 to 1887, and at 890 Broadway from 1914 to 1920.
Inclusion in a Company Catalog
Companies in the past produced catalogs listing their games with prices, and often with engraved or photographic illustrations of the games. These were provided to retailers and sometimes to any customer upon request. See a list of company catalogs available online and at the Strong Museum of Play.
Note that some games were published for many years, sometimes with the same cover and box style. For example, Parker Brothers’ Hop Scotch Tiddledy Winks was produced from 1891 to the early 1920s.
Country of Origin Marking
Goods made outside the United States that were imported for sale in the United States were required to be marked with their country of origin starting in 1891, e.g. Made in Germany, Product of Canada, British Manufacture, or similar wording. Note that some games before that date may also be marked with their country of origin. Reference.
Sometimes handwriting appears on a game that includes a date. For example, parents may mark the bottom of the game: “To Charles, from Mother and Father, Christmas 1911”. The game’s owner (particularly children) sometimes write their name on the box with a date.
Features an Historical Event
A game that features an historical event can be dated as no-earlier-than the actual event. Examples include: a Tut game based on the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun, which was discovered in 1922.
Sometimes a company will express a year in roman numerals, e.g. MCMXLVIII (1948). Converter.
Games containing injection-molded colored plastic parts are likely to have originated no earlier than the 1950s. Reference.
See the Materials page.