Thursday, April 26, 2018

Expanded gamut - when an idea's time has come, addendum

Welcome John the Math Guy blog fans. Today, you can color me embarrassed. 

Here is a quote from my recent post on the history of expanded gamut printing: "The earliest instance that I have found..." Did I get called out on my lack of scholarly research on that topic! Not just from one person, but from three people! With multiple examples that significantly predated my lousy excuse for research!

The Math Guy, suitably humiliated

Gary Field

The first person who took me to task was Gary Field, professor emeritus from Cal Poly. Being corrected is embarrassing, of course, but being corrected by Gary Field is almost an honor. I am not saying he has been in print for a long time, but before God carved the Ten Commandments into stone tablets, he hired Gary as a lithography consultant. Gary is known as the author of the printostorical book The Color Printing Revolution: Productivity! Creativity! Quality!, and is a co-author of Pioneers of Modern Offset Lithography.

In his first response, Gary traced expanded gamut 70 years further back than I did. Here is a response from Gary on one of my LinkedIn posts.

Expanded gamut printing goes way back to the early days of process color printing - the 1890s. If you can locate early editions of the Penrose Annual, you will find many beautiful examples. 

There were three reasons for employing extra colorants: poor purity process pigments, additivity failure, and proportionality failure. In the early days (pre stochastic screens) moire avoidance was a key constraint. I used to make 6-color separations in the early 60s with proportionality failure correction the objective. Light cyan and light magenta were the extra colors (today they use the same colors in photo-quality inkjet printers). Light and regular magenta (for example) were placed on the same screen angle and the tone scales adjusted such that each colorant provided the highest purity for its respective part of the tone scale.

I looked for information on the Penrose Annual. Wikipedia agrees with Gary. The Wikipedia article says: "Penrose Annuals remain the quintessential record for the development of mass media, advertising, photography, design and typography throughout the 20th century..." 

The cover from the second issue of Penrose Annual

So I read though a few issues. The second issue of the Penrose Annual (1896) had an article on the history of three-color printing which is prophetic in view of this blog post:

The three-color process had to undergo the same experiences and difficulties as every new invention. At first one man claimed to have invented quote a new thing, then several others arose and claimed the first right of invention for this; and at last everyone got to know that the new invention was nothing but the old thing known years and years ago, thus confirming the old proverb "there is nothing new under the sun."

(This may be true, but I believe that I was the one who first said this old proverb, I mean, ecclesiastically speaking.)

I did a rudimentary search of the early issues of the Penrose Annual. The first few had articles on printing with three colors. The earliest article I found that referred to more colors was an article comparing the three-color and four-color processes in the 1898 issue. I quote: "the litho printer is taught to produce his ten or twelve color print". Oh! I guess expanded gamut lithographic printing was commonplace in 1898!

Gary goes on to chastise me for my poor research techniques, and also for my prodigious collection of patents:

Most patents, frankly, are worthless. It is not that difficult to locate the "prior art" of some enterprising photolithographer (often in the Penrose Annual).

Of course, over the course of several emails back and forth, Gary felt the need to demonstrate some further prior art. He found a patent for expanded gamut photography that was filed in 1950 in Great Britain: Improvements relating to multicolour photographic reproduction, by Joseph Arthur Ball. I dunno how I managed to miss this one. Pretty lazy of me, really.

Apparently he felt the need to outdo himself -- I mean this is a competition, after all -- and played the trump card: Process of photomechanical reproduction of colors and the resultant article (Charles Zander) which was filed at the US Patent Office in 1905. This is a four-color photographic process, which may not sound all that impressive since printing uses four inks. But his process was with four chromatic pigments: magenta red, lemon yellow, emerald green, and ultramarine blue.

So. I concede. Gary won.

Robin Myers

As if this weren't enough, another good friend, Robin Myers, had his own commentary on my research:

Your latest post on wide gamut printing is very interesting, but it exposes a flaw in performing historical searches using the Internet alone. The Internet is a wide pool, but for historical information, mostly shallow.

Boy, have I been called out on the carpet!

Robin is an archeo-bibliophile and collector of old books. He thanked me for not calling him a pack rat. Robin is also the proprietor of Chromaxion, a repository of color information. If that were not enough, he is the author of SpectraShop, a color acquisition program that I have actually used.

After reading my recent blog, Robin pulled out his copy of Dictionary of Color, published in 1930 by Maerz and Paul. This book was one of many efforts that attempted to provide official definitions of color names by way of color patches. (Earlier color-naming books were from Albert Munsell (1915), Robert Ridgway (1912), Milton Bradley (1895), Johann Ferdinand Ritter von Schönfeld (1794), and A. Boogert (1692). Boy, that sounds like grist for a future blog post!)

Available to pack rats through Amazon

I should clarify the images above. The image on the left is a page of delightfully pretty color patches from the book that were printed with two different inks. The image at the right is from the facing page, with a grid, and names of some of the corresponding colors.

Here is what Robin had to say about Maerz and Paul:

After reading your article, I decided to check a copy of “Dictionary of Color” by Maerz and Paul, published in 1930. This book was printed using many more than the standard 4 colors. ... So the techniques of printing with expanded gamuts on press were known well before the 1960’s. I suspect that they were not widely employed for economic reasons.

The authors claimed, and indeed used, 8 chromatic inks and 8 achromatic inks. This I confirmed by spectral measurement with an i1Pro 2 and visual observation with a Beta Color Proofing Viewer II (modified to use white LED illumination). The charts were printed using 150 lpi screens (determined by a Screen Pattern Analyzer and Rescreening Key from RIT).

I was provided with spectra of the inks that were used, that clearly show eight different inks. Robin is nothing if not thorough.

We had an interesting discussion (not a surprise, our conversations are often interesting) about what constitutes expanded gamut printing. The world's oldest book with multi-color printing was the Manual of Calligraphy and Printing, which was first printed in China in 1633. The images were printed with up to ten different inks. Should we consider this gorgeous collection of prints to be expanded gamut printing? We decided "no". This book was block printed, and we decided that to qualify as expanded gamut, it must have halftones.

I could not find a copy of this from Amazon

Robin also dug up some real gems -- early books that showcased a lot of early printing beyond CMYK: A Half Century of Color by Louis Walton Sipley (1951), Practical Color Simplified by William J. Miskella1 (1928).

Mike Strickler

I have relied on Mike for years to help me keep one foot outside the ivory tower. He told me about another expanded gamut effort:

Since you’re on about the history of ECG, I should tell you about a very rational system that was developed about 1978 by a guy I came to know in 2014, when I was hired to replace the system at Shorewood Packaging in North Carolina. The man’s name is Ken Reddick, and apparently around 1978, without any outside inspiration he decided that 4C lithography could be much improved if secondary inks could be added. 

He had 8C presses at his disposal at the Queens Litho plant in Indianapolis (later acquired by Shorewood). I believe they printed album covers at the start. Ken reasoned that if he could find strong colors in between the hues of C, M, and Y he could do something useful. He though about it for a moment and then realized that the Pantone base colors Warm Red, Pantone Green, and Reflex Blue fit the bill pretty well.

(He was not interested in abstractions like the greatest overall gamut—he had no way of measuring this in any event—but specific needs of certain customers—and he may have had only 6 colors to start.) 

Then he separated a bunch of Pantone-like patches varying the percentages of the (max) 3 likely constituent colors, building a sort of ring-around chart, printed these, holding density and dot gain steady, chose the best matches visually, and built his lookup tables. I still have one of those color books. Given the limitations of the era—no spectro to measure color difference, no color conversion software--he succeeded wildly. Designs had to be rebuilt object by object, and there was no solution for images other than (if anyone asked for it) making touch plates conventionally. But hey, this was great stuff!

I guess this trounces the myth that Hallmark Cards invented the whole expanded gamut thing. Who started that silly myth, anyway!?!?

Don Hutcheson

You have not lived until you have been corrected by Don Hutcheson. Here's his contribution:

The one outstanding ECG pioneer to whom you give no credit is the diminutive, be-monicled Moulin Rouge poster child, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

For the Moulin Rouge (and probably other clients) Lautrec hand-drew posters with a grease pencil and chalk on litho stones that were then printed with an early approximation of CMY inks. After pulling a proof, he would often add extra stones printed in custom-mixed pastel inks, until he’d achieved his desired effect.

It’s not that Lautrec was an inventor, it’s just that, as an artist, he was using the then most common approach to color printing.

IS this expanded gamut printing or not? I dunno.

Larry Goldberg

The mention of the Beta Color Proofing Viewer leads us to the next person to expose my inadequacy in the field of the history of science, Larry Goldberg. Larry runs Beta Industries, which was mentioned by Robin. Note that this email was the second email that I received that mentioned a rat.

I thought I smelled a rat, or at least a fish.

Mr. Kippers (his pseudonym didn't fool me for a minute) color system reminded me of a system that I actually saw, and met the inventor thereof.

When there used to be a very good printing trade show in Long Beach, CA called the Gutenberg Festival a fellow came around with a sample of an additive color printing method.

It used fluorescent inks and a black keyline.  Newspapers, always famous for their print quality, could run cartoons in full additive color, and just keep running the black-only image if they ran out of dayglo ink.

The inks are quite opaque, as the substrate offers no benefit.  White was the result of tri-color adjacent bits.

The guy's name was WEAKLY or WEEKLY, but my  USPTO searches never produced a hit.  He also had a patent that he said was the ONLY one that used the term "Dick Tracy" in describing a wrist-worn electronic signalling device.  Little did he know the Apple Watch was just 30 years around the bend.

Larry eventually found the patent. Here is a link: Mosaic additive reflectance color display screen.

The Mosaic Screen Plate

I am going to explain Weekley patent, but lest one get confused, first I need to explain Larry's comment about the Kueppers patent. Kueppers' patent combined two interesting concepts. The first concept was about using more inks than just CMYK for printing. The second concept was about creating color my placing little color patches adjacent to one another, but not touching. This is known as additive printing. Larry was commenting that he remembered hearing about a patent for another process that used non-overlapping patches. He wasn't claiming that this invention had much to do with going beyond CMYK. (Although, Weekley did use fluorescent versions of CMY. Odd that he didn't mention fluorescent black ink.)

Weekley's patent was an improvement to a process that was invented in 1868, called the mosaic screen plate. This is an interesting bit of history and technology.

Ducos du Hauron was a pioneer in the field of color photography. In 1862, he invented the idea of the mosaic screen plate as a way to take color photographs using black and white film. This glass plate is a set of really tiny filters of red, green, and blue. The back side of this plate was covered with a normal photographic emulsion, containing silver halide, which would normally produce a black and white photograph.

Mosaic filter plate
(color scientist's conception)

When taking a picture, the emulsion was exposed from the front side, that is, through the filters. Thus, on the back side, there were areas where the emulsion had been exposed with only red light; others where the emulsion had been exposed by only green light, and still other areas where the emulsion had been exposed with only blue light. The individual areas were thus indicative of the amounts of red, green, and blue light in the image.

The emulsion on the plate was then developed with a positive process -- areas where light hit would be white, areas with no light would be black. When the developed plate was viewed (with the filters still intact) the intensity of the light reflected through the red, green, and blue filters would be in accordance with the amount of red, green, and blue light that was in the exposing image.

I was careful in my wording before. I said that du Hauron invented the idea of the mosaic screen plate, for which he was awarded a French patent in 1868. As you might imagine, those mosaic filters are kinda hard to build. Here is an interesting factoid about patents: you are not actually required to build the invention to get a patent. All you need to do is describe it in enough detail so that "one skilled in the art" could build it.

The first commercially successful implementation of du Hauron's invention didn't occur until 1903, with the Autochrome Lumière. The Lumière brothers figgered out how to make this mosaic screens. They sifted potato starch grains to a uniform, microscopic size. For the logophiles in the crowd, this process is known as elutriation. For the people who aren't really all that fanatical about words, the process is known as sifting.

One of the Lumiere brothers, proudly posing with the US version of their patent

They then dyed batches of the grains in each of the three primary colors. These grains were then mixed, and deposited, one layer deep, on a glass plate with black pitch between the particles. This mixture was pressed between glass to flatten out the grains to cover more area. Thus, they had a mosaic. It did not have a regular pattern as in my drawing above, but that didn't matter. Each grain was too tiny to see anyway. All that mattered is that the silver halide on the back side remained in register to the colored grains on the front side.

One problem with the mosaic screen plate was that the final film was rather dark. Imagine that the original exposure was with white light. The red pixels would all be bright red; the green pixels would be all green; the blue pixels would be bright blue.  But when viewed under white light, two-thirds of the light that hits the plate gets wasted. Any green or blue light what hits the red filter would get absorbed by the red filter. 

This is the problem that Weekley addressed through various methods. Fluorescent inks was part of that. I won't get into the rest.

Addendum to the Addendum

I want to give my sincere thanks to each of today's contestants of John Doesn't Know His Mosaic Filter Plate From a Hole in the Ground! All seriousness aside, I think this history stuff is pretty cool, and appreciate the additional information.

In order to at least partially redeem myself, I feel the need to challenge Weekley's comment about being the only patent with the term "Dick Tracy". I did a bit of searching and found a few that predated Weekley's patent. 

The dates listed are when the patents were granted, that is, published for all the world to see. Weekley's patent was filed in 1979, so he gosh darn shoulda known about these! Was that too harsh? Maybe I'm just jealous that none of my patents are cool enough to mention Dick Tracy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Expanded gamut - when an idea's time has come

I enjoy researching the history of innovation.

Last week's post was the history of the creation of the board game Monopoly. It was a tale of innovation and deception; about good old capitalism at its best and at its worst. Today I will track the development of another innovation, but there is no deception and no villain in today's story. There is no moralistic message, just a practical message for would-be innovators.

So, mix up a Printer's Delight cocktail, and enjoy today's history lesson. For those not familiar with it, this drink is a combination of blue Curacao, Malbec, Yuengling, and Kahlua. The proportions are adjusted to match the appropriate color.

Try all 1,617 variations with the IT8 sampler!

The past few years, there has been a lot of hoopla about expanded gamut printing, which is to say, printing with inks beyond the standard four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). To the casual observer, one might conclude that this was a relatively recent idea. This is true... well... if one is willing to define recent in a more geologic sense.

Hallmark Cards

The earliest instance that I have found of expanded gamut printing dates all the way back to 1960 with a company called Hallmark Cards. If you are are not familiar with Hallmark, they invented the idea that you had to feel guilty about not sending a card to your mother on Mother's Day. I haven't found the original patent for the guilt thing, but it must have been filed somewhere around 1920.

Hallmark's unique printing problem is illustrated below. Greeting cards have a lot of pastel colors. These colors are often outside of the normal printing gamut. It is not always appreciated, but CMYK just can't get you highlights that are both very bright and highly saturated.

Karl Guyler (of Hallmark) said that Hallmark was in production with a six color process by 1962. The inks included fluorescent pink, yellow, and magenta. The system was so cool, that they had to give it a cool name that they trademarked: BigBox ColorTM. Although (as I mentioned before) Hallmark patented the guilt associated with their gilt, for some reason they did not patent this particular method of expanded gamut printing.

Why did this innovation happen? Hallmark had special niche needs that were not met by the existing technology.

Why didn't this innovation spread like wildfire? At the time, these were niche needs, and others didn't see a benefit.

Shoichi Shimada

The earliest patent I found on expanded gamut printing was from Shoichi Shimada of the Japanese company Dianippon Screen, filed in 1968. This patent describes a method where printing plates "are produced for reproducing color images with inks other than the standard inks …" They use three primary inks (cyan, magenta, and yellow), three secondary inks (for example, orange, green, and violet), along with black ink.

The diagram below shows in simplistic terms how the color separation is to work. Color space is divided into six pie slices. Actually, since color is three-dimensional, think of these as three apple slices. Each slice of the apple is assigned one of the process colors (CMY), one of the extra colors (in this case OGV), and black. The system determines which slice of apple the given color belongs in, and uses the appropriate inks for that apple slice to create the given color. 

Shimada-sam's color separation strategy

Shimada-san's patent mentions that printing of calicoes on fabric often uses a variety of non-standard inks to make images, but the color separation for this is "obtainable only by very complicated hand works [sic]". In patent parlance, printing of calicoes with special ink sets was admitted as prior art. To get a patent over prior art, one needs to demonstrate a novelty over the prior art which is non-obvious. One of the novelties in this patent is that they laid out an automated mechanism for replacing this very complicated hand works [sic].

Simple, easy to implement color separation technique

I was unsuccessful in finding out whether this invention was ever put to use. Google doesn't seem to know much about it. I have found precious little mention of the patent in my extensive search of technical papers on expanded gamut. I found the patent only through some pretty deep patent searching. The idea may have been actually turned into a product, but it certainly didn't become wildly successful.

Why did this innovation happen? According to the patent: "Such the special color inks [sic] are demanded frequently for the printing of color images which are difficult to produce by the combination of the standard inks."

Why didn't this innovation spread like wildfire? I can only guess, but it might be that the invention lacked a strong market driver. Yeah, it's nice to make more colorful images, but you can't build a better mousetrap until the world beats a path to your door.

Hang on to this thought, though. This patent describes something very similar to what we today call expanded gamut. The color separation is a bit different than what is done today. Currently, colors that are within the CMYK gamut are often printed with just CMYK, but otherwise, this looks a lot like what is done today.

Harald Küppers

Harald Küppers (often spelled either Kueppers or Keuppers, and rarely as kippers) developed a strategy for printing with more than CMYK, and filed for a patent in 1985. His method called for printing "… whereby the elemental surfaces which form the chromatic component are printed with a maximum of two of six chromatic printing inks, yellow, magenta-red, violet-blue, cyan blue, green and black…"

This deserves a bit of explanation. Kueppers' technique was not the traditional halftone technique as we all know and love. In his system, there is no overprinting of the halftone patterns of multiple inks. Instead, Kueppers divided the printed page into square cells, with each cell being divided into rectangular areas of up to four non-overlapping inks. Each rectangular cell is printed with certain rectangular areas of white and black -- the white area may be actually printed, or it may be the color of the substrate showing through. This gives the lightness. Each rectangular cell also is printed with up to two chromatic colors including yellow, magenta-red, violet-blue, cyan blue, and green.

The image below was taken from Kueppers' patent (4,812,899). It demonstrates the conversion of a color value (in this case described as a combination of violet, green, and orange) into a mosaic of printing inks. The colored box in the lower right corner is my own clarification of the box in his patent labelled Fig. 5c. Yeah, the colored box that looks like a Mondrian painting.

Keuppers' printing is a tiling of Mondrian blocks

Note that the little box labelled "S 25" is black (K 25). The German word for black is schwarz. In case you hadn't guessed, Kueppers lived in Germany.

If you squint real hard, this Mondrian of Kueppers tiles will look dark yellowish green

Anyone who has run a printing press will readily recognize that this technique is not practical for litho or flexo printing. Any small amount of misregistration will cause a color shift. For example, if the green ink were to be shifted a bit to the left, it would overlap with black. The color of the overlap would also be black, so misregister in that direction would cause a loss of green.

It is clear that Shimada-san's patent is more closely related to today's expanded gamut printing than Kueppers' patent. And yet, I have seen several references that claim that Kueppers' work is the forerunner of modern expanded gamut printing. Clearly that's wrong, since Shimada-san's invention not only predates Kueppers' work by almost 20 years, but Shimada-san's invention works a lot more like modern expanded gamut printing.

Why has history incorrectly attributed Kueppers with the invention of expanded gamut printing? I have several possible explanations:

1) Stigler’s Law of Eponymy: “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.”

2) Kueppers' idea saw some market success. He produced a color matching book using his process, and apparently a bunch of these were sold. Hallmark's idea was forgotten since it was a niche solution to a different problem. Shimada-san's technique apparently did not create much hubbub. 

3) Kueppers' patent is a bit hard to understand. Much like Bob Dylan's lyrics, I think if Kueppers' expanded gamut printing were better understood, it would have gotten less credit. I readily admit to not understanding the patent the first 413 times I read it. I had been reading it with the assumption that it used normal halftone printing, so the diagram above (Fig. 5) was confusing. I assume that other print historians made the same mistake that I did. 

I didn't catch the idea of Kueppers' patent until I was reading through Kiran Deshpande's doctoral thesis, and saw his Mondrian diagram. Thank you, Kiran!

So, now my two innovation questions for the Kueppers approach to expanded gamut printing.

Why did this innovation happen? According to Kueppers' patent, he sought to solve the problem of moire patterns that are seen with conventional halftone printing, and he wanted solve the problem with conventional printing that "pure and luminous colors cannot be produced well." That is, he wanted to expand the gamut.

Why didn't this innovation spread like wildfire? The references below state that Kueppers' method languished because the color separations were manually intensive. I don't think that this is the case. The patent shows a scanner and a circuit for color separation. It is not necessary to have built an invention in order to get a patent, but it seems that the mechanics were fairly well developed when the patent was filed.

I think the more likely reason that the technique did not flourish is that, as stated before, it just was not practical for typical printing presses because of color shift due register.

Everything you thought you knew about the history of expanded gamut printing is wrong

Clearly, expanded gamut's time had not yet come. I'm getting tired now, so I will continue this in another blog post, which will be called the Heyday of Expanded Gamut Printing Patents


Bernasconi, Mathew, Color Printing Process and Product, US Patent 5,751,326, filed April 5, 1995

Boll, Harald, Color-to-colorant transformation for a seven ink process, Proc. SPIE 2170, Device-Independent Color Imaging, (15 April 1994)

Boll, Harold, and Scott Gregory, Color-to-ink transformation for extra-quarternary printing processes, US Patent 5,563,724, filed Oct 21, 1994

Cooper, Ted, Process for creating five to seven color separations used on a multicolor press, US Patent 5,687,300, filed March 27, 1995

Deshpande, Kiran, N-colour separation methods for accurate reproduction of spot colours, PhD thesis, University of the Arts London, May 2015

Guyler, Karl, Visualization of Expanded Printing Gamuts Using 3-Dimensional Convex Hulls, TAGA 2000

Herbert, Richard and Al DiBernando, Six-color process system, US Patent 5,734,800, filed Nov 29, 1994

Hutcheson, Don, Hi-Fi Color Growing Slowly, GATF 1999

Küppers, Harald, Printing process where each incremental area is divided into a chromatic area and an achromatic area and wherein the achromatic areas are printed in black and white and the chromatic areas are printed in color subsections, US Patent 4,812,899, filed Jan 29, 1989

Küppers, Harald, Process for manufacturing systematic color tables or color charts for seven-color printing, and tables or charts produced by this process, US Patent 4,878,977, filed Nov. 7, 1985

Hamilton, Jim, High Fidelity Seven Ink Printing, Technical document from Linotype-Hell, 1994

Shimada, Shoichi, Apparatus for production of color separation records, US Patent 3,555,262, May 7, 1968

Viggiano, J A Stephen  and William J Hoagland, Colorant Selection for Six-Color Lithographic Printing, Proceedings of the IST/SID 1998 Color Imaging Conference, p 112 - 115

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Tale of capitalism with a little twist

Spoiler alert - this story has a surprise ending. That's all I'll say for now.

My family had a Monopoly board when I was growing up. I was the youngest of three, so I got used to ending the game in tears of frustration and humiliation when I landed on Pacific Avenue and had to surrender all my cash and properties over to my greedy sister.

I always lost. It seems I had some very bad character traits. When I landed on Boardwalk, and saw that it would cost $350 of the $600 that I had in front of me, I would opt for frugality. And when my sister pointed out that Illinois Avenue only cost me $240, and she was willing to pay me $300, I opted to be trusting and sell it to her. In the very unlikely event that I had developed a piece of property that my sister landed on, I was often lenient, letting her off with the rent for the undeveloped property. Frugality, trust, and compassion. Poor life choices on my part, indeed.

It looks like I may not be collecting that $200

(I have a sneaking suspicion that my sister may have a somewhat different memory of our board games. Whatever she tells you, just remember that I was the injured party.)

As I grew up, I eventually learned that the best Monopoly strategy was to buy every property that I possibly could, mortgage myself to the hilt to buy properties, and to be ruthless when it came to bargaining with other players. And here's an advanced tip: When all the properties have been purchased, it is better to sit in jail and collect rent rather than use the Get out of Jail Free card. All very important life skills that I learned from Monopoly. I had been indoctrinated into capitalist society.

The History of Monopoly
Everything I know about capitalism I learned from Monopoly

Monopoly was and is an immensely popular game. According to Time Magazine, "Monopoly is the most popular board game in history, with more than 250 million copies sold." If you don't believe Time, the Parker Brothers' website says that Monopoly is "the world's favorite family game brand!" I mean, Parker Brother's should know about their own game!

(Warning: the following few paragraphs contain some information which, for want of a better phrase, are outright lies. I promise to clear it up.)

The story of how this game came to be is a real-life rags-to-riches kinda story. Monopoly was invented by Charles Darrow during the Great Depression. You know... the one caused by ruthless investors who realized that their best strategy was to buy every stock they possibly could? Darrow had lost his job in sales, and pitched the game to both Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers. Initially, they both turned it down.

Ever resourceful, Darrow manufactured the game on his own and sold a very respectable number of copies during the 1934 Christmas season. His sales were enough to bring Parker Brothers back to the bargaining table. Parker Brothers eventually purchased the game and helped him get a patent. Darrow became the first person to become a millionaire by designing a board game. 

There we have it. The game of monopoly working out in real life. A resourceful and tenacious inventor with a good idea gets rich.

Some backstory

Remember how I said there would be a surprise ending? Before you get all warm and fuzzy about the wonderful Charles Darrow, I need to fill in a bit more of the backstory. Then I will get to the surprise ending.

First bubble to burst. Charles Darrow did not invent the game. It seems that Darrow and his wife Esther were invited to the home of Charles and Olive Todd in 1933 to play a board game. Darrow later bugged Todd for details on the game, and for a copy of the board and game cards. The game that Darrow sold to Parker Brothers was a direct copy of the game that Darrow badgered out of Todd. Darrow copied the game right down to a misspelling of Marven Gardens, in the game from ToddMarven Gardens is a subdivision in Margate City, NJ, which abuts Ventnor City, but you will note that in Monopoly, it is spelled Marvin Gardens.

Marvin versus Marven

I don't want to imply that there was anything wrong with Darrow manufacturing a game that was in the public domain, or selling that game to Parker Brothers for a big bunch of money. This is capitalism in action. The fact that the Todds never again invited the Darrows over for Saturday night games was just sour grapes.


Darrow told Parker Brothers that he had invented the game. That was a lie, which is morally icky. It's also a bad business practice to lie to business partners (my opinion), and it opened Darrow up for the possibility of a civil lawsuit from Parker Brothers. I do not consider this to be an example of capitalism at its finest.

Here is Darrow's description of the invention of Monopoly:

"Friends visiting our house in the later part of 1931 mentioned a lecture course they had heard of in which the professor gave his class scrip to invest and rated them on the results of their imaginary investments. I think the college referred to was Princeton University.

Being unemployed at the time, and badly needing anything to occupy my time, I made by hand a very crude game for the sole purpose of amusing myself.

Later friends called and we played this game, unnamed at that time. One of them asked me to make a copy for him which I did charging him for my time four dollars. Friends of his wanted copies and so forth."

Parker Brothers got a bit concerned when one of their VPs recalled a patent from 1904 for a very similar board game. Rather than sue Darrow, they asked Darrow to sign an affidavit to the effect that he was the rightful inventor of Monopoly. He signed it, thereby covering Parker Brothers' butt. 

Note that Darrow also filed for a patent of the game of Monopoly, which is legally a statement of inventorship. With these two legal documents -- the affidavit and the patent application -- Darrow  crossed the line to what I think is criminal activity. Now, I'm not a lawyer, so I can't give legal advice. All I can do is give illegal advice, and write that advice on an illegal pad. But here is my illegal advice: please check with your lawyer before signing any legal documents that you know to be lies. You don't want to be sent to bed without your supper.

Real computer programmers don't like goto statements

Tracing Monopoly backward

The Todds didn't invent Monopoly either, and they never claimed to. In sworn testimony, Charles Todd said that he learned the game from a classmate, Eugene Raiford, who in turn, learned the game from his brother Jesse Raiford.

Jesse was a real estate agent in Atlantic City. Of course, you know that all the properties in Monopoly are named after places in Atlantic City? Jesse Raiford is the guy who was responsible for putting reasonable purchase prices and rents for all the properties, based on his knowledge of the actual streets in question. So, when you buy Indiana Avenue for $220, and have to pay out $1300 when you land on Park Place with four houses, you can thank (or blame) Jesse. 

But he did not select which Atlantic City streets (from Baltic to Boardwalk) were immortalized in Monopoly. A teacher at the Quaker School by the name of Ruth Hoskins had learned of a game on a trip to Indiana. She brought the game back to Atlantic City, where the Quakers adapted the game to the Atlantic City neighborhoods that they were familiar with.

A detailed description of the history of the game prior to Atlantic city can be found elsewhere. I will content myself to jump all the way back to the square labelled "Go".

The Landlord's Game

In March of 1903,  Lizzie Magie filed for patent for what what she called "the Landlord's Game". The drawing below, from the patent, is of the game board. It shows that many of the aspects of the game that we all know and love data back to 1903. The upper left hand square instructs one to "GO TO JAIL". Directly opposite of this, in the lower right corner, is the jail. The square that we sophisticated 21st century beings call "FREE PARKING" was called "PUBLIC PARKING" in the original.
The original Monopoly board

Between each of the corners, we see nine spaces (just like today's Monopoly board), most of which have a sale price and a rent price. The middle space on all four rows is a railroad - exactly the same as the modern board. Utilities (light and water) each have a space, and the original board has not one, not two, but three spaces where one had to pay for luxury

The square that we call "GO" bears an odd label in the original version: "Labor upon Mother Earth Produces Wages". This is the square where the player receives his wages for "perform[ing] so much labor upon mother earth". 

Much of the play proceeds quite similar to the modern version, with the winner being the one with the most money after a predetermined number of trips around the board.

Pausing for some perspective

It is patently obvious that the game that Charles Darrow sold to Parker Brothers was largely derived from the 1903 patent by Lizzie Magie. Clearly Darrow lied about how the game was invented. There can be no question about that. But there are two other pertinent questions to address before I continue.

Did Parker Brothers violate Magie's patent?

No. At that time, patents lasted for 17 years after they were granted. (Today, the term is 20 years after the patent is filed.) This patent was granted in 1904, so it expired in 1921. After that time, the invention in the claims entered into the public domain, so anyone was free to make or sell Magie's board game in 1934.

Does the Magie patent invalidate Darrow's patent? 

It would be natural to think that, once "Monopoly" has been patented, the game is over, and it can't be patented again. But one of the cool things about patents is that the patent office is cool with you filing for a patent on an improvement to an existing patent. They even encourage it. Your improvement just can't be obvious when compared with any prior art.

The Magie patent does not describe naming of the properties, grouping properties by color, or rents that depend on additional investments into a property, or the need to own all of the same-colored properties before developing the property. So, if the patent examiner found this to be non-trivial, then there was room for additional patents. I readily admit that I have not spent the week or so necessary to fully understand the claims in Darrow's patent.

Magie's second patent

Elizabeth Magie Phillips (AKA Lizzie Magie) filed for a second patent on her Landlord's Game in 1923. There are some changes to the game. While the new properties have been given fictitious street names, the layout of the board departs from the original patent. The current Monopoly board is clearly derived from Magie's first patent, not from her second.

There are some additions which have made this filing patentable over the previous patent. The new set of claims includes the notion of a grouping of properties together. I would presume that this is a novelty which distinguishes the two patents. But again, I fully admit to not investing a lot of time into interpreting one set of claims over the previous disclosure. 

Magie's second patent was granted in 1924, which means that it was in effect when Parker Brothers and Darrow were signing their deal. Uh-oh. But, Parker Brothers did their due diligence, and negotiated with Magie over the rights for her second patent. She received $500.

That number might just tick you off, but hear me out...

The Monopoly game we all know and love is based on Magie's original patent, so you may feel that she has a right to any and all profit from the Monopoly game. But, she had her chance, between 1905 and 1921 to have a monopoly on Monopoly.

Another consideration is that $500 is not all that much money today. Adjusted for inflation, that $500 would be worth $9,300 today. Not a bad chunk of money. Considering the cost and effort of developing a successful product from a good idea, maybe the size of the check was reasonable?

A final consideration is that there is a real question whether the existing Monopoly game would infringe on the 1924 patent. As with all patents, it comes down to how to interpret all the elements of a claim. For example, claim 1 of the 1924 patent includes "a series of cards of changeable value, two or more of which are alike and which relate to two or more certain spaces on the board". If Monopoly can be shown to not have such changeable cards, then it does not infringe claim 1. To be honest, I don't know what the phrase means. Given enough time, I'm sure I could work up an argument either for Parker Brothers or for Magie.

So, Magie may have been able to parlay this patent into a lot more money, but probably not without  fair amount of legal expense and a certain risk. Collecting $9,300 may well have been a reasonable choice.

And that's capitalism for you.

One more thing...

One of the topics of this blog post is capitalism. I would be remiss if I didn't share a bit more about Elizabeth Magie and some wording from her second patent.

Magie describes the purpose of the game as follows: "The object of the game is not only to afford amusement to the players, but to illustrate to them how under the present or prevailing system of land tenure, the landlord has an advantage over other enterprises and also how the single tax would discourage land speculation".

Here are some other political gems in the patent.

1. There is a space on the board named "Lord Blueblood's estate". "This space represents foreign ownership of American soil, and carries with it a jail penalty for trespassing."

2. Another space is call "La Swelle Hotel". "This space represents the distinction made between classes, only moneyed guests being accepted." 

3. In one particular misfortunate toss of the dice, the player will have been caught robbing the public. They will take $200 from the bank, and the other players will thereafter call the player "Senator". To the best of my knowledge, this is the harshest insult to be found in all the patent archives.

Clear political undertones. And overtones too, for that matter!

Magie's intent with the game was to illustrate the inequity inherent in the idea of people getting paid by rent, beyond pay for actual labor. In a sense, you could say that she was using the game to indoctrinate the players into this anti-capitalistic idea. You see, Elizabeth Magie was a Georgist, one who believes that people should earn money from hard work, but not from property or natrual resources.

The irony is that the game Monopoly has been used for several generations as a training mechanism for young capitalists. That's my surprise ending.


Cheating at Monopoly: Uncovering the secret history of the classic board game

Stealing Monopoly

The Culture Complex: Monopoly Is Us,33009,1535818-1,00.html

MONOPOLY: From Berks to Boardwalk

The fake history — and the real one — behind the inventing of ‘Monopoly’

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Scientists discover new astrological sign

NASA scientist Ben Capricorn announced today the discovery of a thirteenth sign of the zodiac, which has been tentatively named Naivius the Confounder. The constellation for this sign differs from all others in that it spans the entire 360 degree sky.

Naivius the Confounder is obvious, once you see it

Dr. Capricorn explained that he was studying anomalies in horoscopes, people who did not match their signs. "I had been pondering a blog post by John the Math Guy which showed that the signs of the zodiac are useless in predicting mathematical genius. It suddenly occurred to me that there must be another celestial influence which has some effects that were not seen by Ptolemy, who codified these laws a millennium or so ago." Dr. Capricorn theorized that the influence must have been from heavenly bodies that were not known at the time of the discovery of astrology.

Dr. Ben Capricorn of NASA's Office of Space

So, Capricorn petitioned NASA for time on the Hubble telescope to peer deeply into the twelve constellations to find occult stars that might explain the anomalies. Simon Rasputin, director of the Government Office of Pseudoscience applauds this effort. "Capricorn's work is far beyond anything that cosmologists have been able to piece together with all their silly-talk about black holes and the red shift and the big bang and all that stuff. It make so much more sense to group stars that are billions of light years apart into constellations [rather than group them according to the groups of stars that are near together and which rotate about a common center of mass.]  Mystical forces are way more better than dumb equations."

Capricorn's theory was proven true. He was able to find minor stars which correspond to each of the anomalous mathematicians who were not Virgos, as all real math guys should be. These minor stars together form the constellation Naivus the Confounder.

This confirmation of Dr. Capricorn's theory is just the start of this momentous task. "I have already applied for a grant to continue this work. For the project, I will investigate the horoscopes of each and every one of the 7.4 billion people on the Earth, and find an occult star among the hundreds of billions of stars to explain why 91.7% of all people don't fit their horoscope. The project is staggering in it's proportions, but the ultimate benefit to humankind is immeasurable."