"Monopoly" playing pieces, often referred to as tokens, date from 1935 when Parker Brothers bought the game rights. Prior to this, no playing pieces were supplied with the game. Players used familiar objects such as buttons and charms for tokens. Shortages of raw materials during the war years failed to disrupt "Monopoly" production, but components, including playing pieces, were replaced with lower quality alternatives.
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The first pieces, from 1935 to about 1938, were made by the Dowst Manufacturing Company, makers of "Tootsietoys." These were die-cast from zamak, a zinc alloy also known as white metal, monkey metal, pot metal or die-cast zinc. Impurities in the manufacturing process caused some of them to oxidise and turn black. Later non-tarnishing tokens were made of lead and tin. These non-tarnishing playing pieces appeared in sets licensed by Parker Brothers throughout the world, although some prewar Canadian sets included generic turned wood pawns of various shapes.
War-time Playing Pieces
Metal was needed for the war effort, so wood pawns were used for most "Monopoly" pieces during that time. A few games had composite playing pieces made of compressed paper and sawdust. These playing pieces were fragile, and since not many were produced they became collector's items. In the United Kingdom, some sets used wood pawns from the game "64 Milestones" as tokens, but the majority were cardboard cut-outs slotted into black wooden bases.
Immediate Post-war Pieces
Dowst focused on die-cast toys after the war, so Parker Brothers produced its own pewter playing pieces based on the Dowst originals. In 1948, United Kingdom sets used cardboard cut-outs in coloured bases. In 1953, these were replaced by tokens cut from sheet metal, which were fitted with metal stands. These were the standard pieces until the 1960s when the pewter tokens replaced them.
Special Playing Pieces
While standard Hasbro Monopoly sets throughout the world contain the traditional pewter tokens, specially commissioned and commemorative sets have used a variety of materials for playing pieces. "Franklin Mint" sets have 22-karat gold plated playing pieces while the 75th Anniversary "Revolution" edition has plastic tokens depicting outlines of the original Dowst pieces. Sidney Mobell's £1.3 million "Monopoly" set has 18-karat solid yellow gold tokens.
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