Monday, November 19, 2018

The Trolley Card Game: Look Out For It!

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1904, the Snyder Bros. of Elmira put out a new card game called Trolley. It was marketed as “Society’s Card Game for 1904,” and it seemed to have sold fairly well. In 1906, according to Geyer’s Stationer (a trade publication), while sales of new card games of any kind had been down for the past two seasons, Trolley was having very good success. After 1907, however, the game seems to disappear into the mists of history.

Trolley card game made by Snyder Bros. of Elmira
Brothers Claude and William Snyder established the Snyder Bros. Printing Company in 1893 in a small building at 405 Baldwin Street. Both brothers had gotten their start in printing in the 1880s working at the Elmira Telegram. Among other things, their company printed the programs for the Lyceum Theater. The company was successful from early on and quickly expanded. Just a year after its founding, it moved into a larger space at 109 N. Main Street. It moved again in 1898 to the Wyckoff Building on West Water Street. Finally, in 1910, the brothers decided to build their own building for the company at 111-114 North Main Street. Snyder Bros. stayed there until 1948 when it finally closed. At the time of its closing, it was one of the oldest businesses in Elmira.

Arrow indicates the Snyder Building on North
Main Street shortly after it was built in 1910
In 1904, the brothers decided to go into the game business. Their Trolley game was made up of a deck of 60 cards divided into six categories – Car, Conductor, Motorman, Passenger, Fare, and Transfer.

The six categories of Trolley cards
Three different games could be played with the deck. “Trolley” involved trick-taking to accumulate point-scoring sets. “Transfer” was a game of passing cards to the opponents until one player has a hand consisting of six identical cards. “Matchem” was a game of matching cards in hand with face-up cards on the table. The game sold for 40 cents per pack at retailers in Elmira and throughout the region, as far as Buffalo and Binghamton.

Trolley game advertisement, Star-Gazette, April 15, 1904
CCHS has several sets of Trolley cards. One set without a box is interesting because both sides of the cards are covered in advertisements. The backs of the cards are all the same, advertising Vilas bookcases manufactured by Vilas-Diven Co. of Elmira. The faces of the cards each have two different advertisers ranging from grocery stores and pharmacies to heating businesses and law firms. All of the other sets of Trolley cards in our collection have an image of a trolley on the back (some decks are orange, some red) and no advertising on the faces.

Two versions of Trolley cards in CCHS’s collection
The bottom cards have advertising on both sides
I am not sure which set of cards came first but I suspect that the set with the advertising was the earlier version. The advertising would almost guarantee that Snyder Bros. wouldn’t lose money on the venture. Once the game had caught on, a set without advertising could be sold. In December 1904, Snyder Bros. promoted a new edition of the Trolley game. Perhaps that was when the advertising was removed from the cards.

Trolley game advertisement, American Stationer, December 10, 1904
In September 1905, the company, now going by the name Snyder Bros. Game Co., release another new version of Trolley. This version included new, simpler instructions. Anyone who owned the older version of the game could get the new version in exchange for their old deck plus 15 cents.

CCHS has two versions of Trolley with different instructions.
Snyder Bros. Game Co. is listed on the larger box, so it may
be the newer version of the game, though the instructions did
not seem that much simpler to me.
The last mention of the Trolley game that I could find in local newspapers was in a Star-Gazette from December 1907. S.F. Iszard Co. was advertising a holiday sale that included games. Trolley was on sale for 10 cents, marked down from its usual 98 cent price. I could not find out what happened to the game after that. Today, you can occasionally still find an antique deck of Trolley cards for sale on an auction website, in case anyone is interested in trying this locally-produced game.

Trolley advertisement, Buffalo Courier, October 14, 1904

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