What Games Did Children Play in the 1860s?

By Naomi Bolton

Updated September 22, 2017

At a time before baseball became the official American pastime, numerous bat and ball games were popular among children in the 1860s. Cloth balls, which were approximately the size of a modern softball, were made from canvas. Children would use these balls for games that kept busy them for hours on end. They would typically use sticks in the 1860s as bats.

Knurr and Spell

Knurr and Spell was a distance ball game that was played in the 1860s. Children would hit the ball, termed a “knurr” during that period in history, with a stick which had a flat end. The object of knurr and spell was to hit the ball farther than any other player. One child would hit the ball at a time, until everyone had the opportunity to play.

The Bilbo Catcher

The Bilbo catcher was a ball-and-cup game that originated in Europe and was brought to North America when the colonies were settled. Although also played by adults, the Bilbo catcher was a favorite children’s game. The Bilbo catcher, which was also called the "Bilboquette," comprised a wooden spindle with a cup on one end and a spindle on the other end. In this game, a wooden ball -- connected to the spindle by a piece of string -- was thrown from the cup, and players had to catch it on the spindle.


This game, which originated in 1831 and remained popular into the 1860s, involved whirling a beribboned, colored hoop toward your partner, who attempted to catch the hoop on the tip of a slender wand. This elegant game was considered to offer young ladies both proper and correct exercise. Although considered a game for girls, boys would also play grace. Also known as “The Flying Circle” and “Les Graces,” the game of grace remained as popular throughout the 19th century.


Originally, marbles were made from baked clay, stone and flint. Marbles were also sometimes made from actual marble. Children -- both boys and girls -- in the 1860s would usually play with glass marbles. Although players competed in tournament marbles in the states, trying out for regional or even national championships, children in the 1860s played with marbles for the simple pleasure of beating their friends.