Antique Milton Bradley Bull in a China Shop Game

1906 antique Milton bradley gameThe antique game of Bull in a China Shop brought elements of ancient play to a game board.  In 1906, Milton Bradley produced the game which included the special pastime of a spinning top. Spinning tops are known to have been enjoyed by children for over 2000 years.  A Roman Statesmen, named Cato, lived from before the time of Christ, and was recorded saying he preferred children to play with spinning tops over the playing of dice.  Even today, tops are one of children’s favorite activities.

The game Bull in a China Shop consists of an enclosed playing board of wooden sides.  The surface area is marked with particular positions and includes six stationary black pins.  The game also includes six movable orange pins and a spinning top.  The movable pins are positioned on the points of the board that are denoted with numbers.

The top represents a ‘Bull’ in a ‘China Shop’ and is released by a player onto the board.  The released top/Bull then bounces off the stationary wooden pins and sides of box, and knocks over any movable pins (china) it runs into.  Each bull goes on a different and undeterminable rampage every time.  A player receives points for pins knocked over during the ‘bull’s’ crazy wanderings.

antique milton bradley game boardThe phrase ‘like a Bull in a China Shop’ is first recorded to have been used in the 1834 novel entitled Jacob Faithful, and written by Frederick Marryat (1792-1848).  The novel is about a young boy growing into a respectable man.  Often the phrase refers to a delicate situation being roughly taken care of.  Its origin is believed to have related to the bringing of cattle to market in London in the 17th century, and on occasion, one getting loose and inflicting havoc to the nearby shops.  It is easy to imagine the bull in a spinning top’s movements.

Tops are made in many various ways.  The one included in the old Milton Bradley game is quite ingenious. A wooden disk, with a small metal spring with hook inside its hollow center, fits down over the top.  The top of the spinning top has three holes for which the hook of the spring can be positioned.  When the wooden disk is turned, the hook of the spring stays and tightly winds the top.  Players release the Bull (in the center marked spot on the board) by holding the wooden disk firmly in his hand and pressing the metal pin of the spinning top by his finger.  The top falls and moves wildly across the board!

spinning top to bull in a china shopThe first player who reaches 250 points wins the game.

Bull in a China Shop is a wonderful piece of history.  The top, the play, and the basis for which the game was created offer such an interesting collectible and treasured item.

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Jenny Kile

Admin. of All About Fun and Games. Along with being an avid collector and player of table top games, I am a writer, researcher, treasure hunter, and Founder of Kardtects ( ) I believe fun is everywhere and you are welcome to visit my other sites: (which explores mystery, adventure and the search for treasures) and (which takes building card houses to completely new levels. Kardtects is the next generation of card house building!) Email:

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2 Responses

  1. Alison Aplin says:

    Please tell me what the picture of the Bull is from?? Is this a book cover or page? I think it is a book I have been trying to find. Anyone…thanks!!

  2. Judith says:

    Nice description of this game with a wind-up spinning top and the origin of the phrase! We have a three different versions from different years on display at the Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum, Burlington, WI.

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