This group is about the history of games – board games, card games, gambling, children’s games, video games, role-playing games etc.

Put & Take

What historical evidence do we have for games with a “put & take” element? That is: There’s a central pot/ bank, and some mechanic (usually a randomizer) leading to various outcomes of individual players putting something into the pot, or taking something out. The randomized outcome usually applies to the current player only, not all players (as e.g. in roulette or other casino games).

Following this question on the Board Game Studies mailing list some instances were pointed out and are now collected here, roughly in chronological order.
BGS emails Link 1, Link 2

Randomizers/games with explicit put & take instructions

15th century

14-sided Put & Take die

A fascinating 14-sided die dated to the second half of the 15th century carries German put & take commands: “Nimbs gar”, “nimbs halb” etc.

  • Described by Renate Puvogel: Spielwürfel, in: Ernst Günther Grimme (ed.): Die Schenkung Peter und Irene Ludwig für das Suermondt-Museum. Köln: Dumont 1982 (Aachener Kunstblätter 51), p. 56.
  • Also discussed by Martin Habel: Der Würfel. In: Christiane Zangs/ Hans Holländer: Mit Glück und Verstand. Zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte der Brett- und Kartenspiele, 15.-17. Jahrhundert. Katalogbuch zur Ausstellung im Museum Schloss Rheydt vom 29. Juli bis 25. September 1994. Aachen: Thouet 1994, pp. 127-131 (here: 129).
  • Here’s an image:

16th century

Spinning dice (dreidel, tee-totum)?

Better known examples would be the dreidel, which according to online sources came up in the 16th century, and teetotums marked not with pips or numbers, but with put and take commands (put 1, take 2 etc.). – Unfortunately I know of no hard sources or scholarly literature to back this up so far. A spinning die/ dreidel is shown on P. Bruegels painting of childrens games (dated ca. 1560), but whether it’s a die with put & take results or numbers isn’t evident.

  • Jeannette Hills: Das Kinderspielbild von Pieter Bruegel d.Ä. Eine volkskundliche Untersuchung. 2. Aufl. Wien 1998, p. 22.
  • Walter Endrei: Spiele und Unterhaltung im alten Europa, Hanau 1988, p. 32.
  • also see the discussion topic in this group

Rabelais’ Gargantua (1534) lists pille, nade, jocque, fore in its list of games. An English quote from Dunbar, 1513, mentions “totum”, which might just mean “the whole”, but may also contain a double entendre, referring to a gambling top or die with put & take instructions. (See the section farther below for these and other textual references.)

Pela il Chiu

Pela il Chiu (pluck the owl) is a famous example, a dice game with a board showing the put & take instructions for the potential outcomes of rolls with three six-sided dice. Pela il Chiu is documented from the late 16th century onwards. Important features compared to put & take dice are that dice with numeric values are used (instead of letters signifying the put & take instructions), and that a printed sheet conveys the instructions. Since the printed sheet has much more space than the faces on a die, this provides artistic freedom on the one hand (combine outcomes of a roll with pictures and words, e.g. mythological figures) and allows for more complexity (more outcomes, by combining three die faces).

  • Seville, Adrian: Le Jeu de la Chouette. Le Vieux Papier 440 (April 2021), pp. 440-451, Le Vieux Papier 441 (July 2021), pp. 492-499. English version The Game of the Owl online via
  • PARLAK, Ömer Fatih: “The Image of the Turk in Early Modern Board Games and Playing Cards”. PHD THESIS. Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, 2019, p. 148-157.
  • Thierry Depaulis: Trois jeux imprimés du début du XVIIe siècle par la veuve Petit à Paris. in: Arbeitskreis Bild Druck Papier. Tagungsband Épinal 2011, hgg. von Konrad Vanja, Detlef Lorenz, Alberto Milano, Sigrid Nagy. Münster: Waxmann 2012. pp. 35-51.
  • Il piacevole e nuovo giuoco novamente trovato detto pela il chiu (Brambilla 1589)

17th century

Hainhofer, 6-sided put & take die

Greger Sundin points out a die from the Pommersche Kunstschrank (i.e. from before 1617), now in Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin (inv. P 77b). A silver d6 (9x9x9 mm), with blue champlevé enamel letters, described in Philipp Hainhofer’s contemporary inventory as ” […] vnd ain geschmeltzter vexier wirfel mit buchstaben mit diser außlegung: N.A. nimb allain, scilicet das deine, L.S. laß stehn. T.A. trinkh auß, S.Z. setz zue, N.G. nimbs gar. N.H. nimbs halb.” (Lessing, Julius, and Adolph Brüning. Der Pommersche Kunstschrank. Berlin: Kommissions-verlag bei Ernst Wasmuth A.-G., 1905, p. 44). Also described in Greger Sundin: A Matter of Amusement. The Material Culture of Philipp Hainhofer’s Games in Early Modern Princely Collections. Uppsala 2020 [Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Figura Nova Series 37], in print (as of November 2020).

Mitelli games

Fatih Parlak (see his PhD referenced under Pela il Chiu, above) points out that almost all of Mitelli’s games are designed with this mechanism (e.g. Il Gioco del Aquila and Il Gioco della Verità). He says: “The mechanism is very suitable for typical chance-based printed board games and designers must have felt comfortable using it for their purposes because it allowed them to create games with many different themes.”

Long Lawrence/ Laurence

Stick dice from England, four-sided or (later) eight-sided. Described by Willoughby, ca. 1660s

18th century

La Géographie Universelle

Fatih Parlak: Later in the 18th century, Tira/Paga was incorporated into Goose games, too, which seems to have increased the possibility of new themes even more (see La Géographie Universelle). In other words, Tira/Paga accommodates countless themes (e.g love, courtship, vices and virtues, history, geography… you name it), which quality was used effectively for didactic purposes as well as propaganda in later periods.

Gioco della Mea

(18th/19th century), a game using a spinning arrow as randomizer

18th or 19th century

Rhombicuboctahedra (d26) from Zöblitz

Although usually correctly recognized as modern, some writers saw them as Roman artifacts. This was defuted by Borhy.


Games with put & take depending on the changing situation

16th century, maybe 15th cent.

Game of Seven

Games of Seven incorporate a put & take element, but whether you have to put or to take something depends on the current state of the field representing the result of your dice throw. Fields are numbered from 2 to 12, if you roll the number of an empty field, you have to put in a stake. If you roll the number of a field on which there’s already a stake, you take it for yourself. In contrast to usual put & stake games, there’s no central pot/ bank here.

Boards for the Game of Seven date back to the 16th century, maybe even late 15th century.

Literary & dictionary references


François Rabelais:


The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following citations for totum:

  • [?a1513   W. Dunbar Poems (1998) I. 227   He playis with totum and I with nychell.]
  • 1706   Phillips’s New World of Words (new ed.)    Totum, a Whirl-bone, a kind of Die that is turned about.
  • 1734   Ld. Chesterfield Let. 2 Nov. (1932) (modernized text) II. 291   Amoretto..was..pleased to compare the two Miss Towardins, who are very short and were a dancing to a couple of totums set a spinning.
  • 1825   J. Jamieson Etymol. Dict. Sc. Lang. Suppl.   Totum [n. 1], the game of Te-totum.

“totum, n.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2020, Accessed 8 September 2020.

The first and oldest quote is in [square brackets] – this “indicates a quotation is relevant to the development of a sense but not directly illustrative of it”, as the Key to symbols and other conventions explains. “He plays with everything and I with nothing.” Of course it’s possible that Dunbar implies a reference to a put & take game, but it’s also possible to read the line without that connotation. Dunbar’s quote would then belong into the OED entry “totum, n.3.” (OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2020, Accessed 8 September 2020.) Note, however, that the previous stanza in Dunbar’s poem references playing cards. (W. Dunbar: Selected Poems, ed. Harriet Harvey Wood, New York: Routledge 2003, p. 38, Google Books)

The OED mentions other sources in their etymology:

Latin tōtum all, the whole, the initial T of which was one of the four letters inscribed on the teetotum: compare French toton, in Cotgrave and Dict. Acad. 1694–1740 totum

Both references (Cotgrave and Dict. Acad.) point to dictionaries. Pascal Tréguer has some more info on these sources for the word.

The meaning of totum (n.1) is stated to be the same as for  = teetotum n.1. This word is an extension of totum, as the OED explains the etymology:

Originally T totum , formed by prefixing to Latin tōtum ‘all, the whole’, its initial T, which stood for it on one of the four sides of the toy (itself in earlier use called simply a totum n.1, as in 17th cent. French totum, now toton).

The meaning is given along extra information:

A small four-sided disk or die having an initial letter inscribed on each of its sides, and a spindle passing down through it by which it could be twirled or spun with the fingers like a small top, the letter which lay uppermost, when it fell, deciding the fortune of the player; now, any light top (sometimes a circular disk pierced by a short peg), spun with the fingers, used as a toy.
The letters were originally the initials of Latin words, viz. T totum, A aufer, D depone, N nihil. Subsequently they were the initials of English words, T being interpreted as take-all: see quot. 1801. On the French totum or toton, the letters are T, A, D, R, meaning, according to Littré, Totum, tout, Accipe, prends, Da, donne, Rien (nothing).

The oldest quote is from 1720, and an interesting citation is the one from 1801 mentioned in the above explanation of the sense:

  • 1720   Hist. Life & Adventures D. Campbell (1841) 50   A very fine ivory T totum, as children call it.
  • 1801   J. Strutt Glig-gamena Angel-ðeod iv. iv. 341   When I was a boy the te-totum had only four sides, each of them marked with a letter; a T for take all; an H for half, that is, of the stake; an N for nothing; and a P for put down, that is, a stake equal to that you put down at first.

“teetotum, n.1.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2020, Accessed 8 September 2020.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) has older references for totum:


Lorenz Diefenbach/ Ernst Wülcker: Hoch- und niederdeutsches Wörterbuch der mittleren und neueren Zeit. Schwabe, Basel 1885, col. 364 ( drewurffel: tessera rotaria (from Balthasar Trochus, Vocabulorum rerum promptuariu[m], dated 1517 – on page 38 of the digitization). The same quote is also in Lorenz Diefenbach: Glossarium latino-germanicum… 1857, p. 581a (Google Books)

Johannes Bolte points to a text from 1671 in which a put & take die is described: Chr. Scriver: Gottholds zufällige Andachten, 1671, a collection of devotional, edifying texts. One of them takes its point of departure from a children’s toy referred to as “Spielhölzlein”, possibly a stick die. The four markings are said to be Omnia, Nihil, Pone, Trahe.
Christian Scriver: Gottholds Zufälliger Andachten Vier Hundert. Leipzig 1671 (not the first editon). Das dritte Hundert, p. 85 (Google Books). The text saw many reprints over the decades.
Bolte also includes further information from younger sources, and adds to that in a later update:
Johannes Bolte: Zeugnisse zur Geschichte unserer Kinderspiele. Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde 19 (1909), pp. 381-414, here p. 403.
Ibd.: Weitere Zeugnisse zur Geschichte unserer Kinderspiele. Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde 33/34 (1923/1924), pp. 85-95, here p. 93.

Deutsches (Grimmsches) Wörterbuch has an entry for Drehwürfel, but no citations. The entry for Spielhölzlein quotes both Scriver and Wesenigk, who repeats Scriver’s passage in a slightly younger book. (Wesenigk, Das Spiel-süchtige/ sieben-fächtige Polysigma der Bösen Spiel-Sieben. Dresden, 1702, S. 166)

Heinrich Rausch (Das Spielverzeichnis im 25. Kapitel von Fischarts “Geschichtklitterung, 1908) assumes that Fischarts entry “reiben, stosen, stechen, boren” is equivalent to Rabelais’ “pille, nade, jocque, fore”, and explains it as an ignorant and nonsensical translation. (Rausch 1908, p. xv and lx f.)

General references

  • Robert Eisenstadt’s Antique Gambling Chips & Gambling Memorabilia: Put and Take Tops (2000-2016?)
  • Jean-Marie Lhôte: Dictionnaire des Jeux de Société. Paris: Flammarion 1996, p. 512f. (s.v. “Toton”).
  • David Parlett: Parlett’s History of Board Games. Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point 2018, p. 29f.
  • Ulrich Schädler, Schicksal – Chance – Glück. Die vielen Seiten des Würfels. In: Ibid. (ed.), Spiele der Menschheit. 5000 Jahre Kulturgeschichte der Gesellschaftsspiele. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 2007, p. 9-19, here 17-19.
  • Pascal Tréguer: Meaning and origin of ‘teetotum’ (, 2016)
  • Bruce Whitehill: Put and Take (no date available)




Based on contributions by Fatih Parlak, Malcolm J Watkins, Marco Tibaldini, Ulrich Schädler, Greger Sundin, Jonas Richter. This overview was put together by Jonas Richter. Additions and corrections are welcome!

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