His original gaming dice. His original Dungeons & Dragons and Blackmoor campaign manuscripts. His first printing, woodgrain boxed set play copy of D&D. Letters from Gary Gygax. Other letters, notes, documents, artwork, photos, cartography, rare wargames and hand-made models and miniatures. And more.
All these items were once written, crafted or owned by Dave Arneson, gaming legend and co-creator of D&D. But when Arneson died in 2009, his personal archives and game collection become lost. In 2011, they were found, in an abandoned storage locker in Minnesota.
Some 10,000 items comprising what is being called the Dave L. Arneson Collection — ranging from Arenson’s 1959 game of Risk to game designs he tinkered with up until his death — will finally be sold at a series of eBay auctions beginning Sunday, May 6.
Here, GeekDad provides an exclusive sneak peek of some of the items up for grabs, never-before-seen photos, as well as insights into the collection and its significance from the auctioneer.
“An unforeseen turn of events” is how Paul J. Stormberg, founder of The Collector’s Trove, an Omaha-based online auction agent, described how his company came to auction the items. “The management of the collection apparently became too much for Dave’s heirs to handle and they abandoned it in a storage locker.” The storage facility’s owner tried to contact the heirs to no avail, leaving the “fate of the collection in the hands of others.”
Then, “like an episode of Storage Wars or Auction Hunters,” Stromberg said, “the owner of the storage facility followed the business’ standard protocol of auctioning the locker’s contents.” A local auction company won the bid and took possession of the collection, but its “enormity and eclectic nature” baffled them. They finally contacted Michael Cox, owner and operator of an online gaming store called The Dragon’s Trove.
“It was by pure chance that the new owner attempted to find the meaning of some of the boxes of paper rather than deciding that there was no gold or jewelry to be found, and just tossing it all into the nearest dumpster,” wrote Cox on his company’s website.
Cox contacted Stormberg, whose company specializes in handling and evaluating the collections of RPG game designers and artists. They teamed up to buy and save the collection. Cox made an offer to the local auction company. The company agreed and The Collector’s Trove took possession of the materials for processing and auctioning. In an interview with GeekDad, Stormberg would not put a price tag on the collection, but he did say, “it was a substantial amount of money” — more than Cox had ever paid for an entire collection in 18 years of buying and selling for The Dragon’s Trove, which has had its hands on many of the largest and highest quality collections in the world.
“I really must give credit to Michael, who, based on my estimate from that three hours of rummaging through the collection in that freezing garage, stuck his neck out to make this happen.”
Stormberg said the collection filled 114 boxes. Along with “various loose items,” the boxes were loaded into a van “with nary space for the driver and passenger to move.” After nearly a year of cataloging, the items are now ready to be sold.
So what’s in the collection?
Stormberg said that “About 30% of the items are what I call product: published games, game accessories, periodicals, and books.” The remaining 70% of the collection is “non-product”: all those letters and scribbled notes, maps, objects, and personal and family items. There is Arneson’s Smith Corona: Mark IV typewriter; a set of lead crystal goblets etched with Arneson’s family heraldry; and a model ship made of metal. “Dave loved the age of sail and all things to do with naval military history. Indeed, one of his first published games was Don’t Give Up the Ship which he co-wrote with Gary Gygax and Mike Carr in 1972.”
Among the highlights: unpublished manuscripts that did not make it into the final draft of Dungeons & Dragons that date as far back as 1973. There are even older items from 1971 and 1972 “dealing with the Blackmoor campaign and the Castle itself,” Stormberg said. These may reveal secrets about the game’s origins.
There are also runs of Gygax’s Castle & Crusade Society and Domesday Book newsletters, and Arneson’s Corner of the Table newsletter which discusses his various campaigns, including his Blackmoor exploits. Stormberg said the Domesday Book newsletters “are among the rarest and highly sought after” D&D collectibles. “These newsletters were produced by Gary Gygax in 1970-72 to support his Medieval military enthusiast club, the Castle & Crusade Society. These early pages show the kernels of ideas that would eventually lead Dave Arneson to create Blackmoor. Indeed, the famed fantasy campaign is detailed in one of the later issues of the Domesday Book.”
There’s also Arneson’s personal copy of a book he created called “Dungeonmaster’s Index,” an index of all monsters, spells, rules, and magic items, which was published under his own name and without a license. “TSR was not happy, of course, and issued Dave several cease and desist letters mainly for the use of the term Dungeonmaster.”
There are “just so many treasures,” Stormberg said.