Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bunco Party!

Bunco Party, August 18, 1938. Wiawaka Holiday House Archives, Box 1.
Image use courtesy of Rensselaer County Historical Society, Troy, New York.*

In 1938, someone kept "YE OLE SCRAP BOOK - Parties, Teas, etc.." a typescript manuscript detailing the day-to-day entertainments of those staying at and visiting Wiawaka.(1) Spanning the summer, the book was likely kept by a staff member who was on-site all season -- perhaps the Housemother.

One of the games recorded in the book is Bunco, a dice game with origins in eighteenth century England and a history in the US that begins in 1855 during the California gold rush. By the late nineteenth century, Bunco was popular across the US. It remained popular through Prohibition, but largely faded from play by 1940.(2) While I'm not sure what it means, I find it interesting that Bunco was played at Wiawaka during the years it was declining in popularity. Unfortunately, we don't have the games rosters from earlier years to know whether it had a history at the site during its heyday.

One of the Bunco Party entries in Ye Ole Scrap Book, dated August 18, 1938 (and pictured above) reads:
On Thursday evening the Misses Fagans conducted a Bunco Party. Twenty two guests attended and from the noise that prevailed a very happy time was enjoyed by all present.
Miss Caroline Chadwick, from Ohio, won the following prizes:
     1. Door prize.
     2. Dark horse.
     3. Table prize.
Miss Chadwick certainly walked off with the prizes. The seventeenth must be her lucky day.
The prizes were numerous and each guest received one.
The Misses Oliver and Milspaugh assisted in the party preparations.(1)

Traditionally played with 12 to 20 players at tables of four, three dice are rolled and points allocated. Roll three of a kind and BUNCO! Bunco equipment is minimal: three 6-sided dice, one "fuzzy die" (you can substitute a different colored, regular-sized die!), a bell (or you can yell "DING"!), and score paper. A set of complete rules are available at the World Bunco Association website.

1. Wiawaka Holiday House (1938) Ye Ole Scrap Book, Wiawaka Holiday House Archives, Box 1. Rensselaer County Historical Society, Troy, New York.
2. World Bunco Association (2012) Bunco History.

*  I was using ambient light while taking reference photos of documents. The shadow at the bottom of the page is my head...

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