Now, jacks is an old-time game that we adore. It’s not an easy one! Like skipping rope or skipping stones, it takes devoted practice, and it’s a thrill when you get it.

jacks © elisa rathje 2011

From our beloved set of pewter jacks, made by good old Cooperman Fife & Drum:

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.


Quoits is another old fashioned game that we’re very fond of playing in the garden on sunny afternoons.


It is surprisingly not that easy, like skipping rope, it takes some practice. We played with a lovely set at the grand Upton House house near Banbury. It really is a very old game:

The history of Quoits is disputed. One theory often expressed is that the sport evolved as a formalised version of Horseshoes, which is a sport that involves pitching a horseshoe at a spike in the ground. A more likely explanation, however, is that Horseshoes evolved from the sport of Quoits, which in turn has its origins in ancient Greece. On its website, the United States Quoiting Association explains that poorer citizens in ancient Greece, who could not afford to buy a real discus, made their own by bending horseshoes – which in those days weighed as much as 4 pounds each. The practice was adopted by the Roman army and spread across mainland Europe to Britain. The aim of the sport remained as a competition to see who could throw the object the furthest, until at some later, undocumented point in history, perhaps around a few centuries A.D., the idea of using a wooden stake or metal pin driven into the ground, to use specifically as a target to throw at, totally redefined the pastime from a game of distance to a game of accuracy. On first sight this explanation can be confusing, since the first quoits were apparently made from horseshoes. In the context of the game’s evolution, however, the significant point is that they were initially closed to form a ring and only used in their ‘open’ form after the practice of pitching at a spike had been established. In England, Quoits became so popular that is was prohibited by Edward III and Richard II to encourage archery. Despite this setback, by the 15th century, there is evidence to show that it had become a well organised sport, not least because of the numerous attempts to eradicate it from the pubs and taverns of England due to its apparently seedy character. It is not until the nineteenth century, however, that the game is documented in any detailed way. The official rules first appeared in the April 1881 edition of ‘The Field‘ having been defined by a body formed from pubs in Northern England. The popularity of the game during the 19th and early 20th century also gave rise to several variants, usually with the aim of allowing the game (or a version of it) to be played indoors, or with the aim of making it accessible to women and children. Games such as Ringtoss or Hoopla became popular as parlour games, whilst versions such as Indoor Quoits allowed pubs and taverns to maintain their Quoits teams through the winter months. Deck Quoits began life sometime in the early 1930s as a pastime to occupy passengers on long cruises.

A fine long history! I’m inclined to believe that the best toys are the simplest. Sometime I may try my hand at building a ring-toss for parties in the garden.

skipping stones

An old fashioned pastime I’m ever so fond of is skipping stones.

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:

In North America it is also referred to as “skipping rocks”. In Italian is called rimbalzello, in Russian this game is called “baking pancakes” (pech blini), in Ukrainian, it is called “letting the frogs out” (zapuskaty zhabky), in Polish, “letting the ducks out” (puszczanie kaczek). In Hungarian it is called “making it to waddle” (kacsáztatás). In Spanish it is called “making white-caps” or “frogging(?)” (hacer cabrillas or hacer sapito), among other names, in Catalan, “making step-stone bridges” or “furrows”, or simply “skipping stones” (fer passeres, fer rigalets, llençar passanelles). Also, in Estonian, it is called “throwing a burbot” (lutsu viskama). In Bengali Stone skipping is played in the name of Bengachi (frog jumps). In Andhra Pradesh Stone skipping is played in the name of Kappa Gantulu (frog jumps). In Portuguese, it is called either “peixinho” (little fish) or “conchinhas” (little seashells). In French, it is called “ricochets“, and in Swedish as well as in Finnish it is called “throwing a sandwich”, if translated literally. Czech language mostly uses dělat (házet) žabky/žabičky (to make/throw little frogs – countrywide, especially in Central and North Bohemia and Czech Silesia) or kačky/kačeny/kařery/kačenky/káčata/káčery/káčírky (ducks/drakes/ducklings, East Bohemia and parts of Moravia) but there are many other local and dialectal words: rybičky/rybky (little fishes), mističky (saucers), talíře (plates/dishes), podlisky/podlíšky/lyšky (wagtails), potápky (divers), pokličky/pukličky (pot-lids), plisky, plesky (flaps), žbluňky (plops), šipky (darts), bubliny (bubbles), židy (jews), páni/panáky (sirs/figures), babky (gammers/wagtails), panenky (dolls/girls/dragonflies), převážet panenku Mariu (to ferry Virgin Mary) and many others.

I like to think that as Lisa skips stones across the cove, someone in the world is doing the same thing by a different name.


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.

sailboat © elisa rathje 2011

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.

sailboat © elisa rathje 2011

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.

sailboat © elisa rathje 2011

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.

Do you have a tried & true toy somewhere in your house?