Punch boards were originally used in the 18th century for gambling purposes. A local tavern owner would construct a game board out of wood, drill small holes in it, and fill each hole with a small paper ticket or game piece. The holes were then typically covered with paper or foil. After a patron bought a chance at the punch board, they would puncture one of the hole's paper or foil covers with a nail and retrieve the ticket or game piece. If the game piece contained a winning number, the patron won the prize.
In the nineteenth century, board operators eventually
drilled into their own holes (they knew
where the big money was because
they made the board). As a result, the
punch board's use started to decline.
In the late 1800s, a new type of
punchboard was introduced. This
one involved putting paper on both
the front and back of the hole (to
help prevent operators from
cheating). These new punch
boards became popular purchases
at drugstores, and they were sold
with a metal stylus. The punch
board soon became increasingly
popular. The punch board soon
became cheap and easier to assemble, and the
industry flourished. An estimated 30 million punchboards were sold in the years between 1910 and 1915. 50 million punch boards were sold in 1939 alone, during the peak of their popularity.
After World War II, use of the punch board as a gambling tool began to wane because many people frowned at its gambling-like nature, and the punch board was outlawed in many states. The use of punch boards for advertisement started to gain popularity. Many companies started hiding goods such as bottles of beer and cigarettes inside punch boards. Zippo lighters reportedly sold more than 300,000 lighters through punch board advertising between 1934 and 1940. People have been cheating on punchboards ever since they were first invented. Many operators know where the big prize holes are; they used to create punch boards with very few holes so they could easily track the big money. Other gamblers could make a dirty deal with the customers: give the customer a "map" of where the big prizes are on the "map" of where the big
prizes are on the punchboard. This was eventually prevented by the use of serial numbers: the customer would present the slip to the operator, and if the serial numbers matched, the customer was declared a winner.
I received an offer from a customer to sell a gunnysack full of punch boards 35 years ago. There were 33 punch boards inside the bag.. Here are 3 images of what I found inside. Each was wrapped in plain paper on the outside. All the statistics related to the punch board were written on the attached label as you can see on the wrapped punch board. These examples are thought to be 65-75 years old. Each is also wrapped with cellophane.