Alternative Name(s): Cassell's Book of Indoor Amusements

Hard-covered book of 236 pages, titled Cassell's Book of In-Door Amusements, Card Games & Fireside Fun, 5th Edition, 1888.

Although not dated, other sources date the 5th edition as 1888. The first edition was published in 1881.

The preface explains that the book is 'a companion volume to Cassell's Book of Sports and Pastimes', which is focussed on outdoor activities. The editor 'hopes that this work may be the means of introducing many a new game to the young folk for whom it has been his happiness to cater. He will not tell them that all play and no work make Jack a stupid boy, because he has no doubt that his readers are just a fond of their lessons as they are of merry romps or quieter games.' (pp.3-4)

The contents are divided into: Round or Parlour Games; Toy Games and Toy-Making; Mechanical Puzzles; Arithmetical Puzzles; Card Games; Parlour Magic; and Fireside Fun. Two of these are illustrated with numerous line drawings: Toy Games and Toy-Making, and Mechanical Puzzles.

The book was given to the donor by her mother, who had received it from a Miss Elvins, who lived in the inner city. She met Miss Elvins through her work helping stray cats (it is not clear if she was a volunteer in an organisation or helped cats on her own initiative). The name 'M. Elvins' is written in the book - possibly Myrtle Norma Elvins, born 1889 to Richard and Mary Elvins, or Madge Marie Elvins, born 1895 to Harry and Mary Elizabeth Elvins (based on Victorian Births, Deaths and Marriages records).

Physical Description

Hard covered book of 236 pages (excluding leaves inside covers, one of which is missing). Red spine with green front and back covers, embossed with gold text and images including playing cards, dice, a winged horse and a cockatoo. Edges of paper gold. Spine features a single bird on a branch, and other branches. The book begins with a Preface, then extensive Contents, followed by descriptions of each game. Some have line illustrations. Pencil marks suggest that the book has been used extensively - particularly the front half. The book ends with an index and a list of Cassell's other publications. Several words have been written in pencil on back leaf. Book broken along spine.


Cassell's Book of In-Door Amusements, Card Games & Fireside Fun was a successful late Victorian publication aimed at families with children. It went to at least seven editions in less than two decades. This example has been obviously used - to the point its spine has deteriorated. Little is known of its provenance, but it is significant as a representative of its type.

Cassell & Co was a British book publisher founded John Cassell in 1848. The long-standing headquarters of the business, La Belle Sauvage in London, was destroyed during the Blitz in 1941. In December 1998 Cassell & Co was bought by the Orion Publishing Group.

Late Victorian books such as Cassell's Book of In-Door Amusements, Card Games & Fireside Fun are unlikely to have been enjoyed by poor, 'working class' families; rather, the more middle class image of a leisurely family gathered around a fire suggests a different audience. The book was published at a time when children were increasingly the focus of family attention and leisure activities, and it is not insignificant that this book is aimed at 'young folk' and the activities they can share with their families. (See The Victorian House by Judith Flanders, 2004, for further discussion of this point.)

The book casts light on the 19th century and early 20th century games and toys in the Australian Children's Folklore Collection (ACFC) at Museum Victoria. It sheds light on objects such as the ring puzzle SH 990008 (which is illustrated and solved in the book) and the toodlembuck SH 990231 (a relative of which is described in the book, with instructions for making). A early version of bobs games is also included. Omissions from the book are also interesting: for instance, jacks or knucklebone jacks, played enthusiastically by children (especially girls) indoors or out at this time, is not mentioned. This game was widespread in a variety of forms, but perhaps was not considered appropriate as a parlour game for families to share. Further research of the games documented in the ACFC should reveal games that are described in Cassell's Book.

More Information

  • Collecting Areas

    Home & Community, Childhood

  • Acquisition Information

    Donation from Clare Duggan, 15/01/2010

  • Publisher

    Cassell & Co. Ltd., London, England, Great Britain, 1888

  • Inscriptions

    Extensive text throughout. On cover: 'CASSELL'S / BOOK OF / IN-DOOR / AMUSEMENTS / CARD GAMES / AND / FIRESIDE FUN'. Frontispiece adds that the book comes 'With Numerous Illustrations' and is the 'FIFTH EDITION'. Inscribed by hand: 'M. Elvins'. An illegible name is written below. Written on inside back leaf: 'sago / skylark / sweetheart / chestnut / fowlyard'.

  • Classification

    Games & toys, Multiple

  • Category

    History & Technology

  • Discipline


  • Type of item


  • Object Dimensions

    160 mm (Width), 22 mm (Depth), 207 mm (Height)

  • References

    Simon Nowell-Smith, The House of Cassell 1848-1958. London: Cassell and Company Ltd., 1958 'Cassell (publisher)', Wikipedia, [Link 1](publisher), accessed 28/7/2011 'Curiosmith - Gospel Heritage Literature' web site [Link 2] accessed 28/7/2011 Judith Flanders, The Victorian House, Harper-Collins, 2004

  • Keywords

    Amusements, Card Games, Games, Leisure Activities