Stroboscopic photo of a wink being potted in the game of tiddlywinks The North American Tiddlywinks Association
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Tiddlywinks Patents

By Rick Tucker

From Newswink 11, 2 August 1980, page 6.


In Newswink 10, Joseph Assheton Fincher's patent specification and drawing for A New and Improved Game was presented. This patent was brought to our attention by British games expert Iona Opie. As it stands, it undoubtedly is the original patent for tiddlywinks. The application was filed by Fincher on 8 November 1888, No. 16,215, and accepted 19 October 1889. While the patent was being processed, Fincher filed an application for a trademark for TIDDLEDY-WINKS on 29 January 1889, No. 85,800, which was first published in the Trade Marks Journal issue of 15 May 1889, and was registered in the period 6-12 March 1890. An antique set is known to exist with the indication "Joseph Fincher--Inventor". Fred Shapiro and I have found no earlier tiddlywinks-like games, patented or otherwise (with the sole exception of the Rabelais-era game crapault described as a squopping game in 1856, as reported in Newswink 10.

However, between the date of Fincher's first provisional specification of his patent and the acceptance of his complete specification, two other patent applications for tiddlywinks variations were received in England. Neither of them used the name TIDDLEDY-WINKS or variant, but they are clearly tiddlywinks-type games in that a disc (wink) is propelled in various ways by the pressure of a shooting implement (squidger, stylus, etc.).

George Scott of England patented his golf simulation game in England (No. 9387, applied 6 June 1889; accepted 22 March 1890) and in the US (filed 20 December 1889, accepted 15 July 1890, No. 432,170); his is the earliest US patent found so far. His "springers" are generally sticks of various specialized ends, and he specifically prefers the discs to be " inch in diameter and about 3/64 inch in thickness. Of this 3/64 inch, 1/64 inch in the centre is vertical, but on each side it is bevelled off to about 1/32 inch from the circumference." The golf holes are either holes in felt, pedestals, hollow cylinders, or truncated cones, and numerous obstacles up to 4 inches in height are laid out on the full table course. Some hazards (as ponds) are made of an extra layer of felt or a hard surface such as wood.

A patent by Edward F. Maitland in England (No. 9882, 1889) is for A Game of Skill without a compressible surface. It consists of propelling counters over ditches, through hoops, into holes, etc.

Since 1889 there have been at least 20 British patents, and about 45 US patents for games of the tiddlywinks type. Recently the US Patent and Trademark Office changed a section of its classification system so that now a "Tiddlywink game" has it own official Subclass, 353, under Class 273, "Amusement Devices, Games". Of the 46 US patents I have found, 26 have been sports simulation games (perversions in our argot): 8 for golf, 7 basketball, 3 football, 2 tennis, 2 baseball, 2 soccer, 1 hockey, and 1 horseshoes. Tiddledy Wink Ten Pins is another, for which a trademark was acquired by William Sowdon in 1891; no patents have yet been found for bowling-type games. Another common theme is war battle simulation (Tiddledy Winks at Sea published by J. Jaques & Son may be of this type) for which there are 3 British and 1 US patents. The most recent US patent for any tiddlywinks-type game was registered in 1979. The rest of this article deals only with US patents.

Some patents are dull, just presenting some uninteresting target. Some patented targets are monstrously complicated, such as that of Charles Zimmerling (1892) which I hope to reproduce for Newswink. It is a vertical circular board on which is mounted a "king cup" and 19 "general cups", plus a chute to a separate cup. Each cup "may be of different tones, which, as is evident, will be pleasantly apparent when the chips strike or enter the same."

Some have peculiar winks, such as William R. Purnell's Radio Game (1924) in which a wink has a hook on it, and is to be propelled to catch on a wire. Johannes Klauder used rings caught by hooks in his Ring Game (1898). Horseshoe-shaped winks were used by Clarence Comstock (1925), which I believed were marketed by Sears as Pitchem Winks. Rectangular pieces were used in George H. Johnson's Ballot Box Game (1925) where the discs have "one State designated on each side thereof, a number thereon corresponding to the number of electoral votes ..., the sides of said discs also representing the two principal parties." Morris E. Yaraus (of Cambridge, Mass.) in his Indoor Parlor Miniature Football Game had each "disk convexed on one side and concaved on the other side, a stylus adapted to move the [disk] horizontally along the said gridiron when brought in contact with the convexed edge of said [disk], and to raise the [disk] in an arc when contacted with the concaved side." This disc in Charles Fowler's basketball game (1929) has "its opposite surfaces differently marked so that the possession of the disc comes to rest during the play of the game." Edward Savage's "missiel" (1939) is cross shaped.

Robert B. Mars (1969) marked discs with "letters of the alphabet, or numbers or words or mathematical symbols." Then there is Emerson F. Martyn's Mathematical Tiddly-wink Apparatus (1975) in which winks are made of two parts, pivotally connected, so that "after all players have taken their turns then each player ... opens each wink to expose the mathematical formula to arrive at the correct solution ... . The winner of the game is the player having the highest mathematical score such that the player with the most winks in the container is not necessarily the winner."

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