February 4, 2011

Colonial Games: How to Play Peg-Farthing

Library of Congress
Peg-farthing, peg-top, or "ring" is played on a flat surface on which a circle is drawn about a yard in diameter. Another circle is drawn around this one for the players to stand on.  A farthing (coin) or other flat marker is placed in the center of the circle. A string is wound around a wooden top and pulled quickly to propel the top to spin on its own. Players start their top at the coin and try to get their top out of the circle by spinning it. If a top spins out of the circle, the owner can pick it up.

While the first person's top is within the circle (spinning or stopped,) the other players take turns to throw the pegs of their own tops at the top in the circle in an attempt to hit the top out of the circle or to "split" the top--separate the top and its peg. The player who successfully does this gets to keep the peg of the other player's top. The point of the game is to get as many pegs as you can.

After one round of throwing, if no one successfully "splits" the top, another player releases his top into the circle to be pegged at also. If all of the tops are "dead" in the circle, the first person removes his top and starts the game again.

It was written that the tops infequently "split" but it never stopped boys from trying. Most boys tried to hit their own top out of the circle to prevent it from being broken by another player.


  1. Love the post and vintage pictures Steph. I remember I got one of those tops for Christmas when I was young but I never learned how to spin it.

  2. Thanks Joy, there is one at the plantation, I don't think I can spin it either.

  3. I believe that splitting means shattering the top, not just knocking the tip out.
    Many game similar to this involve simply destroying their opponents' tops. It is true that most children rarely did any damage to their opponents' tops, records an observer see only two injuries, one top cracked because of striking a pebble, and one top pricked a chunk of another spinning top when it was hit directly on the crown. Nice pictures!


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