February 13, 2019

Lessons From Monopoly
Jelly Belly Jelly Beans

Charles Darrow's Original Handmade Monopoly Game

I am working these days at building up my inventory of Grape Trellis Fittings, Bucket Irrigation Kits and Whizbang T-Post Trellis Span Y-holders. None of these products makes me a lot of money, but every little bit helps, and spring is coming.

The 24' x 24' addition I built on my house last year is a perfect studio to work in. For now, it's one big room with lots of natural light. I have a work bench in there. It's a downright pleasant space.

I also have a propane heater in that room, which is something completely new for us. The heater  automatically maintains a steady comfortable temperature. For the past 34 years we have had heat only when we started and maintained a fire in our wood stove— 24 hours a day in the winter. From that perspective, automatic heat is an amazing luxury. I fear that I'm getting soft in my old age.

I like to watch YouTube videos and Amazon Prime documentaries on my iPhone while working. One documentary I watched was Under The Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story.

Part of the Monopoly story is that Charles Darrow was out of work and invented Monopoly during the Great Depression as a way of making some much needed money. But he actually modified a game that had been invented by someone else decades earlier. 

According to the documentary, Darrow began by making each game himself. His goal was to make one a day and sell it for $4, which he evidently did. The photo at the top of this blog post shows one of Charles Darrow's original handmade Monopoly games. You can see the whole board (it was circular) and read what it sold for at auction at This Link.

Darrow tried to sell his new game idea to Parker Brothers but they weren't interested. Then, once he started getting the game into some stores, and word about the game spread, Parker Brothers contacted Darrow. 

Darrow was more confident about his idea by then and, instead of selling the idea outright,  he wanted a royalty agreement with Parker Brothers. That was a smart move. Darrow's heirs continue to receive money from that agreement.

I feel a kinship with Charles Darrow. Making the games by hand and hawking them for $4 each sounds like something I would do. 

Besides that, I actually invented a new game back in the early 1980s one winter when I was laid off for a few weeks from my carpentry job. And I tried to sell to Parker Brothers. And they sent me a letter in reply letting me know that they were not interested. I still have the rejection letter.

My game consisted of two "kingdoms" of playing pieces that clashed in battle. Only one survived. I called it Kingsley. The name came from Karen Kingsley, a friend of my wife and I when we went to Alfred State College. 

After watching that Monopoly movie, I feel like I should dig out my original Kingsley board (a literal board), dust off the instructions, and see if it's still as exciting as I once thought it was. I would love to have a lucrative royalty legacy that my children and grandchildren could benefit from. Wouldn't we all!

Then there is the documentary, Candyman: The David Klein Story, which I've actually watched twice. David Kline is the man who invented Jelly Belly jelly beans back in 1976.

Jelly Belly is a great American success story. But Klein did not have the business acumen that Charles Darrow had. 

In 1980 Klein was pressured to sell his trademark to the company he had contracted with to make the Jelly Belly candy. 

Without even consulting an attorney, Klein signed a contract to sell his rights to the trademark for 4.8 million dollars. Half of the money went to his partner (the partner is another strange aspect of the story). Each man received $10,000 a month for 20 years.

If Klein had negotiated a royalty agreement with the buyer he would have made hundreds of millions, and his heirs would have benefitted for generations.

As it is, the money David Klein did receive is all gone. He spent it trying to duplicate his Jelly Belly success with one novelty candy product after another. It's a sad story, but it makes for a good documentary.