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Vintage Tool Box, With Possible Ties To Original Scrabble Pieces, Surfaces

Published: January 7, 2017

Perhaps you have sat down and put your vocabulary — and some luck — to the test in the game of Scrabble. Did you know the original wooden game pieces were made right here in Newtown?

A tool box once belonging to Sarah and Bill Mannix, who had their own woodworking shop at their South Main Street residence and who made those Scrabble game pieces, ended up in the hands of family friend Susan Osborne White.

Ms White, upon dusting off some of the items in her collection of inheritances, recently reunited with a large wooden tool box full of wooden and metal tools that she believes are from the early 1900s, if not the 1800s. It is very possible the tools were used to make those game pieces, and “could have been used for making her house,” says Ms White, adding that the home Ms Mannix grew up in and always lived in, was built by her father, James Farrell.

“If it could talk and tell you all the tools have done, it would be awesome. All we can do is guess,” Ms White said while holding open the lid of the approximately 2-foot-deep by 3-foot-wide by 2-foot-high box, containing four layers of wooden compartments loaded with saw blades, various bits, planers, chisels, and other tools — nothing like today’s plastic-handled options, of course.

Before digging deeper into the old wooden tool box itself, a brief history on the Scrabble connection to Newtown, and Ms White’s link to the Mannix family, is needed:

The game, invented by Alfred M. Butts in 1933, was first manufactured in Newtown, in 1948, by James Brunot and his wife, Helen, according to an October 27, 1984, New York Times obituary/article by Walter H. Waggoner. For the record, Mr Butts, as the inventor, retained patent rights on the game and earned royalties on sales. The game had been played casually throughout the years and was coined Scrabble by Mr Brunot.

The obituary for Sarah Mannix, in the December 26, 2000 issue of The Newtown Bee, reveals that Sarah and Bill Mannix, who made wooden toys that they sold to upscale stores such as FAO Schwarz in New York City, were tasked to make the Scrabble pieces.

Betty Lou Osborne, Ms White’s mom, served on the Town Hall Board of Managers, along with Ms Mannix (Ms Osborne was the chairman and Ms Mannix was the vice chair, Ms White recalls). They both served on the Democratic Town Committee as well, she said. Ms Mannix had a greenhouse and property where she grew flowers for her business, and Ms White and her sister, Dody, along with their brothers Bob and Mike, all worked with her, delivering flowers.

“She was like a surrogate family member,” Ms White says. “[When she died] She left everything to my mom.”

Ms White reminisces about the stories Ms Mannix used to share, of how she used to ride her horse to school, and sled from the Main Street flagpole to Sandy Hook Center (the roads were a bit different in the middle 1900s).

The tool box, or at least the contents, Ms White believes are deserving of a new home or new homes. Ms White may want to hold onto the box itself, but is hoping others (ideally from town) can put the treasures inside to better use, be it as decoration or for actual labor to construct something. Woodworking is making a comeback, Ms White and her niece, Becky Osborne, note.

“I have no problem keeping [the box] but these are things [the tools] people might want,” said Ms White, adding that she welcomes those interested in checking out the contents of the box to purchase some or all of the tools — and maybe even the box itself — for yet to be determined prices.

Ms White and her family members are not sure of the value of the tools, and also invite those with expertise to contact her and throw in their two cents and help point them in the right direction.

“It’s not like they’re replica vintage tools. They’re actually vintage tools,” noted Becky Osborne.

“I can function the chest. I can’t function the tools,” Ms White says with a laugh. “It needs to have a new home. It can have a new life. Tools are meant to be used.”

Ms White is hopeful the tools are kept in the area. She said Town Historian Dan Cruson suggested they be sold to somebody from town since they have deep-rooted connections to Newtown.

This only seems appropriate given, according to Mrs Mannix’s obituary, she had a sign in her greenhouse that read, “Bloom where you are planted.”

For more information, contact Ms White via e-mail at

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