The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Children’s Card Games (40)

January 2nd, 2009 · 8 Comments


Here we have a few images from a 1905 Milton Bradley edition of “Dr. Busby.”  As you may recall, he popped up earlier, making a guest appearance in an “Old Maid” deck (#33 in our survey, posted 11/13/08).  Like “Old Maid,” there were many editions; this Dr. Busby is certainly a more dour practitioner than the last.

“Dr. Busby” is, I understand, one of the first children’s games published in the US.  It was invented by Anne Abbott in 1843; Ms. Abbott is also credited with a children’s book, Doctor Busby and his Neighbors, and with various other games, including that old favorite, “Authors.”

There was a historical Dr. Busby: Richard Busby, headmaster of Westminster in the 17th century, mentioned by Pope in the “Dunciad.”  Since that Busby was known mostly for beating and molesting his students, I do hope this is a different one.

The object of the game was to match up families: the four members of Dr. Busby’s household, and the families of his various servants and retainers.  Most of the early editions were 20 cards; this later version has swollen to 40.  20 of the cards are obviously from the same hand, such as this picture of Dr. Busby’s fishmonger:


The other 20 are a mish-mash of cruder cuts, like this one:


(Posted by Doug Skinner)


Tags: Card Games · Ephemera

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Jan 3, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    That fishmonger is wonderful – maybe the best card of the bunch you’ve posted.

    I recommend the Dunciad as required reading. The names and references are dated and pretty much meaningless to 21st C American readers, but the general idea still gets across. It culminates in a sort of apocalypse of stupidity: a good thing to keep in mind as we say good riddance to our fearful leaders.

  • 2 elena // Jan 6, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    i don’t like the looks of that giant spoon he has there. i bet that medicine tastes nasty.

  • 3 mamie // Jan 6, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    And it’s a very LARGE bottle of medicine too!

  • 4 Bobbie // Mar 31, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I have this game.

  • 5 judy // Aug 17, 2010 at 11:19 am

    I have a deck with a yellow banner. Do you what they are worth there are 28cards 2 more familys

  • 6 Doug // Aug 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    No, I have no idea. I’m not a dealer; I’m just here for the pretty pictures!

  • 7 N.marie // Apr 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I have a set of 26 cards. I appear to be missing 2 of the regular ones and the extra 8 have the yellow border, but no family symbols. These are:The hunter’s wife, the hunter, the hunter’s daughter , the hunter ,the lawyer’s son, the lawyer, lawyer’s wife, and lawyer’s daughter. There are no markings and the backs are white. Is there any way to find out what year this set was made.

  • 8 Doug // Apr 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Many of these early games were undated, and the art was reused by different companies, so it’s sometimes hard to tell. You could try doing an image search for “Dr. Busby,” and seeing if you find any matches.

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