Monday, April 29, 2013

Tactical Studies Hobbies, an Oddity in Letterhead

In mid-1975, the partnership of Tactical Studies Rules underwent a transformation into TSR Hobbies, Inc. A number of factors motivated this transition, including the need to reorganize following the death of Don Kaye, as well as the company's increasing ambitions in the mail-order and retail hobby sales business (the first steps towards the Dungeon Hobby Shop). The newly-constituted TSR Hobbies, Inc. acquired the assets of Tactical Studies Rules, and work on game development proceeded under the TSR Hobbies, Inc. umbrella. If, however, you received mail from TSR at just the right time in 1975, you might have found the oddity shown here: the transitional name "Tactical Studies Hobbies." To explore the territory around this curious company-that-never-was, let's take a tour of TSR's early letterheads.

The first thing to note about the "Tactical Studies Hobbies" letterhead, apart from the funny name, is the post office box number that has violently replaced Don Kaye's street address (542 Sage Street), the official headquarters of the original partnership. This correction helps us to date when the stationary was originally ordered: the earliest TSR stationary bore this street address, and saw use up through mid-1975, as in this April example:

So, the "Tactical Studies Hobbies" stationary must have been ordered before the post office box was secured - though no earlier than the adoption of Greg Bell's drawing of the iconic lizard-man for Greyhawk as TSR's first mascot. The new title typeface (Elphinstone) is also far bolder, and the letterhead conveys the impression of a larger and more sophisticated company. All of this seems to indicate that "Tactical Studies Hobbies" was an initially-planned name for the hobbies business, which was then abandoned in favor of "TSR Hobbies, Inc." We first see the post office box associated with the TSR Hobbies brand for mail-order requests as of the Strategic Review #3 (autumn 1975). To add to our confusion, however, already in mid-autumn we see letters from TSR on proper TSR Hobbies, Inc. stationary:

This letter was dated nearly two weeks before the "Tactical Studies Hobbies" letter above, so why did that old, erroneous stationary remain in sporadic use? Probably because the demand for letterhead was high at the time, and no one was willing to waste the "Tactical Studies Hobbies" letterhead just because it contained a few mistakes. The address needed to be fixed to ensure return-routability; as for the company name -- well, what's in a name, after all. The new TSR Hobbies, Inc. letterhead lists the three divisions of the growing TSR empire: by this point, the initials "TSR" had become iconic enough, and thus meaningless enough, that no one seemed to find "TSR Rules" to be redundant. This letterhead survived up until 1978; if you were fortunate enough to receive personal correspondence from Gary Gygax, you might have observed variants with his name and title appended to the letterhead:

In other contemporary versions of Gygax's personal TSR Hobbies, Inc. stationary, the name is centered, rather than aligned to the left as we see above. Around this time, letterheads began to exhibit another change, however, as by 1978 the lizard finally gave way to the wizard:

The departure of the lizardman seems like as good a place as any to end today's tour. But consider this shocking counterfactual history: what if it had been Tactical Studies Hobbies that had acquired the assets of the original partnership? The anomalous letterhead that led us on this journey hints that, but for historical accidents, we might today remember the company that gave as Dungeons & Dragons primarily as "TSH."


  1. FWIW, that lizard man in the old letter head was produced as a miniature in limited quantities for TSR staff by Grenadier Models.

    One turned up recently on ebay, spotted by The Lead Dragon (

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