Jacks was played in early America as it had been played for over two thousand years, with small sheep astragali (knucklebones). The game was known as “knucklebones,” “dibs” or “jackstones.” Small pebbles or marbles were sometimes substituted for the bones. Metal jacks, which mimic the shape of the sheep bones were probably not in wide use until the mid-nineteenth century, although a pewter jack found at Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia is thought to be of eighteenth century origin. The rules of play are very much the same today as in early America. Before the introduction of the rubber ball, the pick up combinations had to be completed before a bone or pebble tossed up in the air came back down, making for a much harder game. A wooden ball is included in this set so you can try your hand at this older version of the game. Traditionally the game was played with five bones or pebbles. A modern game can be played with any number of jacks and a ball.
Scatter the jacks on the floor. Toss the ball up. For onesies, pick up one jack without disturbing any other jack and catch the ball in the same hand. If you’re using the wood ball you must complete the trick before the ball comes down; with the rubber ball you must complete the trick before the ball bounces twice. Transfer the jack to your free hand and continue to pick up one jack at a time until all the jacks have been taken. If you complete the trick go on to Twosies; if not, play passes to your opponent. For Twosies, two jacks must be picked up at a time and so forth for Threesies, until at the last round all of the jacks must be picked up at the same time. Accomplished players increase the difficulty of the rounds by adding motions which must be performed while picking up the jacks; for example, you might have to pick up the jacks and clap your hands before the ball is caught.
There are tremendous variations all over the world. I love the tinkling sound of the jacks, and seeing a joyful group of friends gathered round them for a good game.
We spent a glorious weekend on Vancouver Island in some of my dearest childhood haunts, with sweet friends. Between picnics, beachcombing, and the odd brave swim in the cold waters, we skipped a lot of stones. My dear friend Lisa taught me some stone skipping skills.
There’s an extraordinary variety of names for this game, from so many cultures:
A few toys from my childhood have not only lasted long enough for our children to enjoy them, but are just as exciting to them as they were to me, for all their simplicity.
In fact it is quite possible that I enjoy some of them even more than I did as a child. I have great memories of taking our little wooden sailboat down to the ocean with my sister and my father.
It’s such a pleasure to do that again with him, and the two little sisters in my own family. My sweetheart would love to do this with us too. We’re all missing him.
How delightful to watch the boat in the water! It is a well built little thing, so graceful, and in all these years it has only grown more beautiful. It needs nothing but a walk to the water and sturdy string for us all to play with it. The children have declared themselves sailors.