While many board games use colorful little pegs as markers, Monopoly, the game with the unique power to unite and divide a family in the matter of an hour, has those odd tokens you’re no doubt familiar with. You’ve probably played more than a few games with the little racecar or thimble but never stopped to think, “Why the hell am I a thimble?”
From Random Junk to Iconic Pieces
When Monopoly was first concocted, the game’s inventor (although whether he stole the idea is highly disputed and probably true), Charles Darrow, envisioned players using small items from around their homes as playing pieces. Your sister could have been a button and you could have been a bottle cap or a lighter, for instance. It was at the suggestion of Darrow’s niece that the pieces be charms from a girl’s charm bracelet. If Darrow didn’t give her a sizable paycheck for that advice, well, that’s a damn shame because she was really the genius behind perhaps the most iconic part of the most iconic board game ever created.
Since the game was introduced in the 1930’s, pieces have come and gone. Some have stuck around since the beginning, others have been given the boot, and one was just added earlier this year. Of course, if you are buying special editions, you may have encountered a few obscurities. For standard Monopoly players though, here’s the story behind each piece.
Often considered the most recognizable icon of the game, the top hat is also one of the original pieces created in 1935. The token was based on the hat the game’s lead character, Mr. Monopoly, would wear. Of course, when the game was introduced, he was known as Rich Uncle Pennybags, and many have speculated the character was based on J.P. Morgan.
The piece of choice for reigning US Monopoly champion, Richard Marinaccio, the thimble is another of the original pieces from 1935. Much like the top hat and shoe, the thimble has appeared in most versions of the game that have been released.
Iron (Recently Retired)
Earlier this year, fans of Monopoly voted on a new token to add to the game. They also voted on which piece it would replace. With only 8% of the vote, the iron was the low man on the totem pole. Perhaps saddest to see it go is Monopoly World Champion, Bjorn Halvard Knappskog, who used the piece in his last championship match. The iron should have seen the writing on the wall, it was the second least popular piece in a 1998 vote.
Around since the beginning, the shoe is modeled after the practical work shoe of the 30s. Instead of changing its design with the times, the Shoe has remained the same and is a symbol of both hard work and the riches that can come along with it.
The die-cast metal battleship token is actually somewhat of a game piece celebrity. The piece was originally used by Parker Brothers in a game called “Conflict.” When that game failed it was easy enough for the company to take the pieces and use them in Monopoly. Since then, it has also been used in the game “Diplomacy” as well.
Often called the cannon even though rumor is the piece was supposed to be called the howitzer, this piece is closely tied to the battleship. The cannon was also used in “Conflict” and tossed in with Monopoly as that game failed. In 1946 it changed from its original design to the more recent long cannon style. Unlike most pieces, the cannon was simply dropped from the lineup without any kind of fan vote or campaign.
The car was added just a touch earlier than the other pieces in this section, appearing as the seventh token. The racecar steals its sharp looks from a 1930’s roadster. The original idea was to design the car token based on the car Mr. Monopoly would drive around. It’s undergone a few variation changes through time and sported a “3” on its side until sometime in the 1960s.
The purse became the eighth playing piece to join the Monopoly family, and it has a bit of an odd history. It appeared and disappeared from sets beginning in 1935/1936 until it was finally retired in the early 50s. Early on, the game pushed the limits expanding to 10 tokens (the purse being one of them) and then scaled back and continued to oscillate this way for years. The purse seemed to be thusly added and removed as these changes occurred. Photo Source
Rocking Horse (Retired)
The rocking horse is one of the more hard to find pieces nowadays. It was only around from the 30s to the 50s and it didn’t appear in many editions of the game during that time. Photo Source
The lantern is tied at the hip with the rocking horse. Both were added at the same time and removed in the 50s when the Scottie dog, the wheelbarrow, and the horse and rider were added. Photo Source
One of three new tokens added in the 1950s, the Scottie Dog became Mr. Monopoly’s right hand-man/pup. The token has become the most loved of all the pieces and received the most votes to keep it during the recent ousting of the Iron (29% of the vote to be precise).
Introduced in the 1950s wave of token change, the wheelbarrow was one of the pieces that replaced the lantern, purse, and rocking horse. The wheelbarrow was included as an emblem of hard work and one of the prime tools needed to build the properties around the board. It barely survived the recent vote and is clearly not the most popular piece ever as it placed dead last in the vote in 1998.
Horse & Rider (Retired)
The horse & rider became a staple piece beginning in the early 50s until it met a similar fate as the cannon (being removed without much fanfare).
Sack of Money
The sack of money became the first new token added in over 40 years in 1999. It beat out the piggy bank (20% of the vote) and the bi-plane (29% of the vote) in a vote Hasbro ran to join the elite ranks by securing 51% of the vote of 1.5 million people. Unfortunately for the sack of money, it was retired less than a decade after it was introduced.
The winner of the vote earlier this year, the cat is the newest piece you’ll find if you purchase a new set. The cat defeated the diamond ring, a guitar, a toy robot, and the helicopter to find itself among the lot.
Top image by All Vintage Man