hist-games: Dominos, Cards

David KUIJT kuijt at umiacs.umd.edu
Sun Jul 20 06:35:35 PDT 1997

On Sat, 19 Jul 1997, Jeff Singman wrote:

> > I'd be interested in historical references on Dominos, and suggested 
> > games...  Any thoughts ?
> I did look into this a bit a while back, & the evidence suggested that the
> game dated to the 18 or 19c (I can't remember precisely). A single domino
> was found with the Mary Rose wreckage (early 16c), but it seems likely to
> have found its way there much later.

Michael Dummett wrote a short piece in the history section of his "Game of
Tarot" (a book I heartily recommend) dating the introduction of dominos in
Europe to the 18th century (p35).  Dummett's scholarship is impeccable.

I concurr; the Mary Rose domino seems to be an infall.

>   On a different topic, I have been searching over the years for a decent
> deck of cards suitable to 16 or 17c use. One outfit in Texas produces
> rather a handsome deck, but it is spoilt by the presence of numbers and a
> back-pattern, both obtrusively inappropriate for a deck of the period. I
> usually end up using an 18c repro--but have to leave out the Ace of spades
> since it includes the name of King George--obviously not a great option
> either! Does anyone know of any decent alternatives?

I make (used to make) two playing card decks, one German-suited based upon
the Stukely deck (16th century), and one French-suited based upon the deck
from Lyon, c.1515.  The Stukely-type cards are shown in a number of books,
including some in figure 25b of Hoffman's book "The Playing Card"; the
Lyon deck is shown in figure 44a of the same book. 

Hoffman, Detlef, _The Playing Card, an illustrated history_.  Edition
Leipzig, 1973.  (Edition Leipzig seems to be the publisher; the publisher
information in the front of the book is sparse, and does not include an

I don't make the decks much any more -- too much bloody work; I've
probably made 200 of each of them.  In theory I'd be interested in having
the decks commercially printed, as the Texas guy did with his design; I
haven't looked into this yet.

If you want 17th century decks, the one available from Williamsburg is
very good, I think.  It is an early 18th century deck, but probably as
close as you're going to get without making one yourself.  It has no back
pattern, and no corner indices.  The ace of spades is still marked,
though, but you could easily enough buy two decks and hand-mark the deuce
of one to be an ace, then substitute it into the deck you want to have no
George Rex ace.  Playing cards get bent and lost all the times, and
substituting one from another partial deck had to have been done then, as
now, when a deck has a spoiled or lost cards.

David Kuijt / Dafydd ap Gwystl in the SCA

I wrote a short piece five or six years ago on acquiring period card decks
that surveys the commercially-available card decks and their dates.
Some of the information is a little dated, but you may still find it
useful.  Here it is below:

                          Acquiring Period Card Decks

      You need appropriate playing cards to play period card games.
Modern decks, with their corner indices, two headed court cards, and
modern design, are unsatisfactory.  Luckily it is fairly easy to find
period card decks.  Some artisans in the SCA already produce them in
small quantities, and many reproductions of period card decks are
available through some mail-order companies.

      To assist the reader in acquiring period card decks, here is a
short review of a number of decks that are available commercially.
Medieval Miscellania (7006 Raleigh Rd., Annandale VA 22003) carries
some of them, as do many other merchants in the SCA.  Most of the
decks described below are available through U.S.  Games Systems (179
Ludlow Street, Stamford CT 06902.  "Best of Cards" Catalog $2.00).
The Tarot decks, in particular, can sometimes be found among the
morass of Ryder-Waite and other divinatory decks at game or hobby
stores.  All prices listed for decks below are based upon the
U.S. Games Systems catalog, and may change.

      Many of the commercial decks I review below are reproductions
based on surviving decks from after 1600.  Playing card designs became
static in the 16th century, and went through long periods without
significant changes thereafter, so reproductions of post 1600 card
decks are often similar (or identical, in some cases) to decks that
were used in the 16th century.

      In addition to the commercial decks, some few SCA artisans make
period-design card decks.  I make a French-suited deck and a
German-suited one.  Mistress Niccola Sebastiani, of Myrkfaelyn in the
East Realm, makes a beautiful German-suited deck.  These decks (hers
and both of mine) are hand printed on thick paper; mine are colored by
stencils.  If any artisans reading this want advice or assistance in
creating their own deck, I would be more than willing to help.

French Suited Cards

I. Hardy deck (inexpensive) 52 cards, French suits
      - excellent reproduction of 18th century cards
      These cards are available at Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va).  They are a beautiful
      reproduction of the standard English and Rouen pattern that dates back to the middle or late 16th
      century.  They are also packaged in a manner very close to that used in the 16th century.

La Pucelle ($7.50) 52 cards, French suits
      - reproduction of a deck attributed to Jehan Personne of Lyon in 1493
      A good deck, somewhat spoiled by the addition of modern corner indices.

Louis XIII ($7.50) 52 cards, French suits
      - reproduction of a deck by Jean Volay of Thiers around 1640
      A good deck, based upon designs that go back to the early 16th century, somewhat spoiled by the
      addition of modern corner indices.

Henri IV ($7.50) 52 cards, French suits
      - reproduction of a deck attributed to Vincent Goyrand of Paris around 1600
      A good deck, again somewhat spoiled by the addition of modern corner indices.

Guyenne ($7.50) 52 cards, French suits
      - reproduction of 18th century Bordeaux deck of Jean Grossard
      The original designs are close to period, but the deck is slightly spoiled by the addition of modern
      corner indices.

German Suited Cards

Modern German playing cards (inexpensive) 48 cards (no Ace), German suits
      - Modern, but some decks are acceptable
      It is hard, but sometimes possible to find modern decks of German suited playing cards.  Most of these
      decks have both corner indices and double-headed court cards, however.  If you can, find a deck with
      full-figure court cards and stylized iconography and costumes.

Spanish Suited Cards and Spanish Suited Tarot Cards

Modern Spanish playing cards (inexpensive) 48 cards (no 10), Spanish suits
      - Modern, but most decks are acceptable
      There are a number of modern decks of Spanish playing cards that are suitable for use.  The Naipes
      Experience Co. (Richmond, Va--sorry, but I have no further address) produces one such deck.  These
      decks have unobtrusive corner indices and full-figure court cards.

Gotica ($7.50) 40 cards (missing 8,9,10), Spanish suits
      - excellent reproduction of 17th century Spanish cards
      This deck is exactly suited for the games Primero, Tressette, and Ombre.  It is a standard design
      traceable back to the 16th century, and appropriate for anywhere south of the Alps at that time.  Sadly,
      I have heard that the manufacturer is no longer producing this deck.  If you can find one, buy it.

Tarot de Paris ($14.00) 78 cards, Tarot (Spanish suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - reproduction of an early 17th century Tarot deck from Paris
      Another excellent Tarot deck, reproducing the oldest complete Tarot deck.  The original dates back to
      around the 1620s.

Italian Suited Tarot Cards

Tarot Rhenan ($12.95) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - reproduction of 18th century Tarot deck
      This is a fine deck, related to the Tarot de Marseilles.  The design is perfectly appropriate for period
      card playing.

Tarot de Jacques Vieville ($12.95) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - reproduction of Jacques Vieville's deck of around 1650
      An excellent Tarot deck.  Also perfectly appropriate for period card games.

Swiss 1JJ Tarot ($7.50) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - a modern deck
      The iconography on this deck derives directly from the Tarot de Marseilles, and is acceptable.  If you
      can't find any reproduction decks (e.g. Tarot de Paris, Vieville Tarot) then this deck is fine.  The
      Swiss 1JJ Tarot is also very common--most "Tarot" displays at game or magic stores will have this
      deck.  If you can get a good version of the Tarot de Marseilles, which is also common, choose that
      instead of the Swiss 1JJ Tarot.

Visconti-Sforza ($30) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - superb reproduction of a middle 15th century hand-painted Tarot deck
      Gorgeous.  Simply gorgeous.  Four cards were recreated to replace missing cards in the original deck. 
      This deck is attributed to the workshop of Bonifacio Bembo, around 1447.

Cary-Yale Visconti ($30) 86 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - superb reproduction of another middle 15th century hand-painted Tarot deck
      Also gorgeous.  19 cards were recreated to replace missing cards in the original deck.  This deck has
      male and female Knights and Pages, giving it 86 cards instead of the normal 78.  This one is also
      credited to Bonifacio Bembo, around 1445.

Vandenborre Bacchus Tarot ($12.00) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - reproduction of a 1770 Belgian Tarot deck
      This deck seems to be a good approximation of one of the common patterns for France in the late 16th

Tarot of Marseilles ($12.95) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - there are many decks with this name.  The Boechat/Heron deck is a reproduction from 1761.
      Any deck with this name has the Tarot de Marseilles pattern, which dates back into period.  The
      Boechat/Heron deck is the best one, reproducing a block-printed and stencilled deck.  Fournier's
      "Marseilles Tarot" is perhaps the worst, being a redrawing and interpretation by a modern artist. 
      Versions of this deck are very popular and easily found.

Tarot Classic ($12.00) 78 cards, Tarot (Italian suits + permanent Trump suit)
      - modern deck
      This deck is similar to several period decks, including the Vieville Tarot and Tarot de Marseilles.  The
      Coins suit is called pentacles, and the Baton suit is called Wands, but it is (minimally) acceptable if you
      can't find anything else.

Variant Suited Cards

Hofamterspiel ($30) 48 cards, Variant suits (arms of Bohemia, France, Germany, and Hungary)
      - superb reproduction of a 1445 block-printed and hand-painted German deck
      The variation in sizes of these cards is reproduced as well as the (simply beautiful) iconography, so
      they are not easy to play with.  Further, there are no "number" cards in the normal sense--each suit
      portrays 12 different court positions or jobs, from King down to beggar.  If I owned only one deck,
      this would be it.

Jost Amman (price unknown) 52 cards, Variant suits (Books, Printer's Balls, Vases, and Flagons)
      - exact reproduction of Jost Amman's 1588 deck
      Beautiful.  If you find this deck, buy it.  (Mine was a gift--I don't know where it was purchased).  A
      superb example of late German engraving.

Mantegna Tarocchi ($30) 50 cards, Variant suits (5 suits of 10 cards each)
      - excellent reproduction of a 1465 odd copper-engraved deck
      This deck is useless for playing card games, but has some really nice artwork.  The suits are (in
      order): the Conditions of Man, Apollo and the Muses, Liberal Arts, Cosmic Principles, and
      Firmaments of the Universe.

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