Look, Ma: Hands But No Cards! | Newberry

Look, Ma: Hands But No Cards!

The thing has nearly as many buttons on it as a modern television remote control. No wonder the original owners didn’t bother ever to put batteries in it and try it out.

Someone has donated a Saitek Bridge 200, a digital device of complex design, which was issued with a deck of playing cards and extensive instructions. I see several sellers on eBay refer to it as “vintage”, which led me to look it up more thoroughly. “Vintage”, which in eBay-speak means “antique and collectible due to its age”, is surely inaccurate, as the machine dates from about 1989, which was only…I forget what I was going to say. Anyway, I object to the use of the word “vintage” for anything constructed since we started having book fairs.

Bridge players generally have been notable in our donations through the years, from the Governor of Illinois who donated about forty decks of cards AND all his old bridge tallies. (No, thank you for asking, there is no particular market for bridge tallies which used to belong to indifferent bridge players in high places.)

We will have in Games again this year the usual assortment of books on how to play bridge, from small pocket guides to coffee table sized volumes on bidding. The inventors of bridge really did it up right, as they created a game which can be completely rearranged every twenty or so years, requiring a whole new set of books. (Those Ely Culbertson books of two generations ago were superseded by the books of the Omar Sharif generation, and so on.)

Bridge tallies are as much of interest to collectors of graphic design as that collection of dance cards we had come in a few years ago, and are just a little behind decks of cards themselves. Bridge decks are just normal decks of cards, unlike, say pinochle decks, so all these different designs, be they Bee, Bicycle, or Amtrak, are applicable to the game.

But bridge simulation machines go back a good deal farther than that rather contemporary (1989 vintage? Ha!) electronic device. Someone else has donated one of the reliable AutoBridge games. It at least didn’t require batteries.

The device had its start in the later 1930s with a game board about a foot tall by a foot and a half wide. You put in a card for a sample game and moved a number of sliding buttons to show your cards, which you could then play, revealing the cards your opponents or partner played by sliding THEIR buttons. You could also consult an expert by sliding other buttons (Charles Goren and Ely Culbertson were among those who provided advice in various versions.)

This was about the size of other board games of the time, but a 6 x 9 version became the standard in the 1950s, which was the main period of prosperity for AutoBridge. Like Trivial Pursuit, once you had played all the cards in the set you owned, you could buy separate packages of cards for a new challenge. You could, according to the game, use it to train yourself to become an expert bridge player or you could, as I suspect most bridge addicts used it, play by yourself when you couldn’t get up a foursome and a deck of cards. I believe other buyers used it simply to play bridge without risking the arguments, shouting, and possible divorce or murder which sometimes accompanied a good bridge game. (Replaying hands of bridge—loudly–games goes back to the similar card games of Jane Austen’s day.)

As far as I can tell, the AutoBridge, a solid metal device, lasted well into the era of plastics, but seems to have expired in the seventies or eighties, when computer programs and electronic devices offered a trendy alternative. It is still useful, though, if you want to figure out which buttons to slide. I need to look up a few batteries before I can see if this Saitek is usable. (Of course then I’ll have to figure out the instructions AND how to play bridge. Maybe I’ll just sell it “as is”.)

Add new comment