hist-games: More questions (was: playing-cards Card History Question)

Michael McKay seaan at concentric.net
Thu Mar 11 22:55:45 PST 1999

Thanks for the responses to my "printing French number card" query.  Here is
more information, and some more questions.

Thierry Depaulis [depaulis at club-internet.fr] replied to my question:
> Cardboard stencils -- called 'patrons' ... or even 24

24 cards to a sheet?  Which were the duplicates?

>>3) A hand-held stamp (one for each suit).
>No. This would have been much too slow.

I brought this up, because it is currently believed that the Flemish Hunting
Deck (oval cards in the Cloisters Museum) was made in this manner.  This
deck was a "fancy middle-class" deck, and therefore they might have been
more willing to afford a slow production rate.  Of course it does slightly
pre-date the standard French suit pattern.  There is a 1480 document from
Tournai (my translation is from Timothy B. Husband's "The Cloisters Playing
Cards" book that accompanied the Piatnik deck) which states: "... these card
makers will have to execute their cards in the usual manner, namely, stamped
or stenciled on ...".

That leads to another question: what was the typical production rate of a
French card maker in this period?


Finally, there were a couple of people who mentioned illustrations of card
making with stencils.  This inspired me to search through all my books.  It
was frustrating that hundreds of pages were spent on court cards, while
number cards might total a couple of page if combined altogether!  Chatto
mentions stenciling in the mid-15th century, but does not identify the deck
and provides no illustrations.  I have found the following illustrations:

In Thierry Depaulis's pamphlet "Les cartes a jouer au portrait de Paris;
avant 1701" I found figure 22 which shows a Paris card manufactures from
1683/84.  It clearly shows stencils being used on court cards.  It also
shows sheets of number cards (4 across by 5 deep).  Interestingly enough,
although 20 people are pictured working on various aspects of card
production, I can't positively identify a stencil being used to produce
number cards.  There is a lady who is holding some number cards and looks to
be writing with a pen.  I also notice there are a good amount of number card
sheets next to the printing press.  I have not translated this book into
English, so I'm not sure if Thierry has comments about this illustration in
the pamphlet.

In George Beal's "Playing-cards and Tarots", there is an illustration of 5
people in a card shop.  A stencil is used in the mid-ground to apply ink
with a brush to what looks like a set of number cards.  Unfortunately, the
source of the illustration is not identified ("An early illustration showing
playing-card manifacture, in which stencils are being used to add colour and

I found parts of an illustration from L'Encyclopedie by Diderot/d'Alembert,
Paris 1751/52.  Detlef Hoffman's "The Playing Card" on page 8, and Roger
Tilley's "Playing Cards" have the same illustration (Tilley only shows the
top third).  A tip of the hat to Lee Ballentine who mentioned L'Encyclopedie
in a private email.  Lee mentions that the L'Encyclopedie does illustrate a
stencil technique.  The one illustration looks quite detailed, but neither
book has any explanation of the process.  I guess I'll just have to add
Diderot's L'Encyclopedie to the list of books I'm trying to find.

Michael McKay  (known in the SCA as Seaan McAy)

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