Artifact Spotlight: Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York

Christeah Dupont, Point Ellice House Museum & Gardens

Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York (PEH 975.1.7768a-b) is a game from the 1880s; it was one of the first mass produced games, resulting in its spread to Canada.

The game is a structured narrative in which Peter Coddle (a ‘country bumpkin’) makes his way to New York. There are various blank spaces in the narrative that allows players to insert amusing words or phrases to fill out the story. It is very similar to modern games such as Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity in that cards are intended to be drawn and placed in an order that is comedic. What someone might find funny very much depends on who they are as an individual, and the connections that person might have to the other players.

In the game, Peter Coddle is destined to roam through New York as an uneducated man who quite simply doesn’t know any better – the objective is to laugh at a man who is ignorant of the ‘civilized’ city. When we look at the cards themselves we find further evidence of how the game reinforced ideas of class and race that we find problematic today. In some cases, the cards are harmless with phrases such as, “A Squeezed Orange” or “Money Thrown Away”, but when cards such as a “Used up Community” or a “Big Injun” are played in the game, the players are not so much laughing at the narrative that they have put together,  but are instead finding amusement in the belittlement of people of colour and the poor. Games of this kind were designed for those with access to leisure time and the disparaging tone of Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York likely resonated with its players – including the O’Reilly family.

Even objects as unassuming as board games can uphold racist and classist ideas – a statement that is as true today as it was when this game was played in the drawing room at Point Ellice House.


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