Jane Austen was a very hands-on aunt, with numerous games and activities in her repertoire. Her nieces and nephews recall with fondness the many games, from paper ships to Battledore and Shuttlecock, that she would play with them by the hour. One activity, Spillikins, was remembered with fondness, by Jane, herself:
“Our little visitor has just left us, & left us highly pleased with her;-she is a nice, natural, openhearted, affectionate girl, with all the ready civility which one sees in the best Children of the present day; -so unlike anything that I was myself at her age, that I am often all astonishment & shame.-Half her time here was spent at Spillikins; which I consider as a very valuable part of our Household furniture, & as not the least important Benefaction- from the family of Knight to that of Austen.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
February 8, 1807
In her letter, Jane Austen refers to her personal set as “a very valuable part of our household furniture.” The “Austen Spillikins”, along with other artifacts of Jane’s daily life can be found on display at the museum in Lyme. Ivory fish, like those Lydia gambles with in Pride and Prejudice, and letter blocks, similar to those used in Emma can also be found in the display. It is clear the Austens were serious about their fun and games.
So just what was this engrossing game? Spillikins is played the same way that early versions of Jack Straw and the American “pick up sticks” are. The difference comes withe the playing pieces. Jack Straws were originally played with uniform pieces of straw (though now wooden or plastic farming tools are generally used.) Pick up sticks are made of wood or plastic, of uniform length, sometimes with knobs on the ends. Spillikins, were crafted from wood or ivory and could be blunted or rounded depending on the set.
When playing with sticks of uniform size and shape, like those that belonged to Austen, the rules are, as follows: