hist-games: Early playing card recommendations

SeaanMcAy at aol.com SeaanMcAy at aol.com
Mon Jul 21 00:01:21 PDT 1997


   I've done quite a bit of looking for "period" decks.  I prefer to teach my
classes with people using period style cards, but have comprimised from time
to time.  I'll put a list of decks that I use below, with comments.  I got
some of these decks from Walter Nelson (although when I last contacted him a
couple of years ago was finding his sources drying up).  The best shop I know
of, is "R. Somerville" in Edinburgh ("www.playing-cards.demon.co.uk" or mail
cards at playing-cards.demon.co.uk).

   Probably the best French suited deck I've found is "Baptiste Paul
Grimaund; 1848" from J.M. Simon france CARTE.  It is not waxed, has square
cornors, and all the number cards are appropriate.  The court cards are
non-standard, in the form of historical figures such as Cesar and Rachel; but
I find these easy to live with.  Got my copy from R. Somerville.  
   I've got the 18th century replica deck JAS mentioned.  It has authentic
court cards (these changed very little over the years, perhaps I'll detail
the research on this at some future point), but does have a tax stamp on the
Ace of spades, which mentions George-III (according to "The Playing Cards of
the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards" which I just happen to
have handy, tax stamps were introduced in 1712).  Comes in a nice
reproduction wrapper.  I got my copy from Walter Nelson.
   There are a number of "show decks" dating around 1650-1700 produced by the
London Guildhall Library (in association with the above mentioned guild).  I
have "Arms of English Peers; 1688" and "Morden's Playing Cards; 1676".  There
are a lot of these decks suriving in various museums because of their
novelty, typically the suit signs and marks are limited to the top of the
card.  These are available from the Guildhall, or R.Somerville.  These are
playable, but not optimal.  One neat feature, is that some of them can be
assembled into a race game (resembling "The Game of Goose").
   If you wish to play with a period style deck, but don't want to compromise
the features of a modern deck, I'd suggest looking into "Editions Dusserre".
 These cards have a fascimile of the original card, surrounded by cornor
indexs on all 4 cornors, are waxed and have rounded cornors.  I have a deck
claimed to date from 1493 (this date seems a bit early to me upon examination
of the deck) called the "Jean D'Arc deck".  
   I have a deck from Rotterdam Press (perhaps this was the deck the previous
post mentioned printing) of Peter Flotner's 1535 German suited deck.  I got
this from Walter.  Quite good, I wish I had a few more copies.  I don't think
it is bein produced anymore.  Note that Piatnik has a "museum quality"
replica of this deck in a boxed edition (problems are expensie, and not deck
is not usable for playing because they reproduce card erosion and damage).
 R.Somerville still has some of the Piatnik decks in stock.
   I have three replica tarot decks.  The easiest to find is the c1450
Visconti-Sofraza deck from US Games.  These should be avaiable almost
anywhere Tarot cards are found.  They have no suit or trump marks, which
makes them a bit difficult to play with (have to memorize all trumps and the
order in which they play).  They are also a bit atypical of Italian suited
cards, in that the swords and clubs are not interleaved.
   I almost always teach Tarot games classed with one of the following decks.
 Both are made by "Heron Boechat, Maitres Cartiers, A Bordeux".  They are
both Italian suited tarot cards made by the French, so this led to the trumps
being numbered!  One deck is labeld "Tarot Jacques Vieville; 1643-1664".  The
other is labeled "Tarot des Centuries. D'Apres L'oeuure De Nostradamus".
 Both have typical characteristics of period tarot cards.  I got the
"Nostradamus" deck from Walter, and the "Vievilled" deck from R.Somerville
(who may have the other too).

   I hope this serves as a starting point for finding the earliest card
decks.  I'd love to find other sources.  Please feel free to drop a me a line
if you have any questions or corrections.

Michael McKay  (known in the SCA as Seaan McAy)

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