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4:44pm on Sunday, 27th March, 2011:

More Cards


Although the supply of maps of Europe from 1869 has pretty well dried up on eBay, there's a swathe of astonishingly nice 19th- and early 20th-century playing cards out there. I don't win the vast majority of the bids I put in, but sometimes I do and I get some glorious packs at a price I can afford. Well, actually I probably could afford more, but if my wife found out she'd make me eat them.

Over the past two weeks, my luck came in with five separate bids on packs by Dondorf. I'm now a big fan of Dondorf cards: they feel good in the hand, they slide well, and they look gorgeous. Two of the five sets were number 174 Whist Swiss Costumes (one in its original box) similar to some which I have bored you with before so shall spare you from this time. Instead, I'll merely bore you with the other three.

First up, here are some number 163 Patience cards. I'll just show you the Jack to King of Hearts here, because those were the pictures I found first:

This pattern is known as "baroness"; it looks quite Regency in style, which makes these cards about as distant in time from their subject matter as they themselves are in time from us (they're from about 1910). Gotta like that king's glasses... I have the box for this set, except it's in pieces so I can't actually use it as a box.

Next up is number 284 Whist:

These are an updated version of an older set I also have in this (standard "Rheinland") pattern. The Jack of Clubs has Frankfurt written on his sash, rather than the earlier set's Francefort:


As you can tell even from the above small comparison, the cards are not very impressively printed; they are also on lower-quality stock and are sticky (not through grime, through surface friction). The plain, bleed-to-edge tartan-like design on the back is in a colour best described as "sludge". There's a tax stamp on the Ace of Hearts that dates the pack to Frankfurt (tax dixtrict 15) between 1889 and 1918. Given the accession number of the pack and its uncharacteristic quality lapse, I'm guessing it's from towards the end of World War 1. They're certainly post-1906, which is when Dondorf started putting GmbH on their Jacks of Clubs.

I also have the box for this set, excepting the lid. It's precariously held together with aging sticky tape, though, so will come apart when that perishes.

Finally, there's this set, my favourite of the three:

I don't have the box for this so can't say for certain what set they are. They're pre-1906, though. What's particularly nice about these is the design of the aces:

I wonder, if they'd have four kinds of ribbon-and-flower decorations instead of two would it have been better still? Hmm, I'm not sure; they put so much work into the rest of the cards that it can't have been accidental they did it this way.

Why don't they make packs of cards like that today? etc.

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).