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12:01am on Saturday, 6th October, 2012:



Here's the latest addition to my collection of playing cards:

These are a little odd. They're clearly old, but how old? Well the thing is, they have two features that don't usually go with the main features.

One-way court cards are consistent with hand colouring, one-way pips, no index numbers, no jokers and a plain back. However, they're inconsistent with rounded corners and no tax stamp (or duty ace of spades). Also, there's no pink on them (which there usually was in cards with this kind of pattern).

The lack of tax stamp (or duty ace) is particularly interesting. The cards are too thick and too rough-cut to be modern reproductions, and even if they were then the tax stamp would also usually be reproduced. From about 1718, all British packs were stamped on the ace of spades; for a few years before, they were stamped on any card, but there are no stamps on the cards in this pack. There could have been on the six of hearts, because the top layer has come off that one, but the art style is too refined for them to be that old. I suppose the fact that the cards are patience-sized could have allowed them to escape using a pre-printed duty ace, which would have had too large a design to fit.

As for rounded corners, well although they weren't universally adopted until the 1870s, they were used earlier by some manufacturers. Hall & Bancks had them in the 1830s, for example. These aren't Hall & Bancks, though...

The cards are "unturned", so for example the queen of spades is looking left with the pip to her right; if she were turned, she'd be looking right with the pip to her left, to bring it into line with the other pips (which is what manufacturers did in the period immediately before index numbers were introduced). They seem to have been printed using woodblocks rather than letterpress, because there's no squeeze on the thicker lines; this would fit their having been hand-coloured (probably using a stencil to line everything up properly).

So, all in all a bit of a conundrum. If it weren't for the rounded corners and the ace of spades, I'd have said they were from the 1830s or 1840s. I suppose they could be from a different country (either the USA, or somewhere in Europe making cards for the UK/US market). The king of hearts has a moustache in this pack, which is very odd indeed for a UK/US pack, but not a French one.

Bah. I really ought to buy a book on historical playing cards sometime...

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).