A Grand Game Introduction, or the Rise and Demise of 'Sherlock Holmes'


On April 12, 1904, “Sherlock Holmes” became a registered trademark of Parker Brothers, one of the biggest makers of card games, board games, and the like in the United States. Of course, that did not mean that Parker Brothers controlled the great man’s name outright. Rather, it meant the U.S. Patent Office had granted the company the right to use the name in the category of “games played with cards.” According to the official report of the registration, Parker Brothers had been using the words “Sherlock Holmes” in connection with “games played with cards” since February 15, 1904. To the best of my knowledge, that settles the incept date of the first Sherlockian game. (A few days later, Parker Brothers also completed its copyright registration of “Rules for the playing the game of Sherlock Holmes.”) “Sherlock Holmes” suffered a quick fade, at least when compared to some of its contemporaries in Parker Brothers product line. (“Rook” for example, was introduced in 1906 and is still popular today, while “Ping-Pong,” introduced in 1902, has become a generic term for table tennis.) Why was “Sherlock Holmes” so short-lived and then so thoroughly forgotten? Here are two possibilities to consider. First, Parker Brothers may have run into intellectual property problems, despite its trademark and copyright registrations. Second, maybe “Sherlock Holmes” turned out to be a not-very-grand game. Indeed, its defects may well have been obvious to its creators from day one, or close to it. Parker Brothers completed its copyright registration of “Rules for the playing the game of Sherlock Holmes” on April 18, 1904, and a mere five months later the company was back, copyrighting “improved” rules for the game on September 23. This despite the fact that George Parker, the chief game developer for the company, “still played every Parker game over and over again himself, with employees, family and friends to make certain that every wrinkle was ironed out, that confusion was eliminated and that “actual playing qualities” were excellent. Even though he was the very busy head of a good-sized business, he personally wrote the rules for every game the company produced, working over them evening after evening to clarify and simplify them.”