Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Swedish playing cards (Öbergs)

"Öbergs spelkort med de rätta figurerna" -- Obergs, 52 +2 c.

This deck is of the Swedish pattern. It resembles the patience cards made by Offason ( see However, the most curious thing about this deck is where it was sold. I purchased this deck from a hardware store in Rovaniemi, a town in Finland . It may be thus concluded that Swedish playing cards are exported to Finland, and that the locals have no problem using them.

Note the ace of hearts: The maker's name is printed on it in a fashion similar to a tax stamp.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

"Cego speilkarte" (FX Schmid)

"Cego speilkarte" -- FX Schmid, 54c. ( printed c.  1975)

Here is another Tarock deck, published by FX schmid. Although I have seen many pictures of this deck ever since I started collecting, I have only recently came across one such deck on sale-- on Ebay.It is apparent that this deck is no longer printed. The present deck ( which I incline to call the "cego tarock") differs greatly from any other tarock deck.

This pattern is extremely similar to the bourgeoisie tarot.( and I shall attempt to point out the distinguishing features of this deck as I go along.
As you can see, the numbers indicating the value of the trumps are located in the centre of the cards. Likewise, the trump cards are illustrated by pastoral scenes. Note the fool ( 1st from left) He is dressed in green wearing a red hat, and playing a mandolin. This particular card is often an invaluable aid in distinguishing decks.

Here are the rest of the trumps of this deck.
The court cards: Note the jack of clubs ( 4th from left) he wears a shawl over his shoulder.

as you can see, the figures in this deck are rendered in a markedly different style from the other decks, with a greater use of green

Note the knight of diamonds ( 3rd from left). his back faces the viewer. This card is almost identical to the knight of diamonds in the bourgeoisie tarot

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A ballad on Quadrille - John Gay

The following poem was written by the poet John Gay ( best known for his beggar's opera),and is on the hugely popular card game of Quadrille. The poem reflects on how immensely popular this game was ( especially amongst ladies). As far as I can tell, this is the first time this ballad has been digitalized.
EDIT: Apparently, some editions attribute the poem to a Mr Congreve - see:

NOTE : this edition ( published 1784), uses the long s ( ſ). This was an obsolete version of the letter "s", used when S occurred in the start or middle of the word. So, what is here printed as "ſpirit" ( line 6), pronounced as "spirit"

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Soldier's prayerbook or the devil's bible? Religious interpretrations of playing cards

Some of my readers would be familiar with a legend that goes under the name,  of "The soldier's prayer-book" The tale has been existence since at least the 18thc, and has been retold time and again in various forms. Here is one current version of the legend, from This example should serve as a representative or most of the versions published:
  After heavy fighting, a soldier returned to camp. The next day being Sunday, the Chaplain had set up church service. The men were asked to take out their Bible or Prayer Books. The Chaplain noticed one soldier looking at a deck of cards.
After service, he was taken by the Chaplain to see the Major. The Chaplain explained to the Major what he had seen. The Major told the young soldier he would be punished if he could not explain himself.

  The young soldier told the Major that during the battle, he had neither a Bible or a Prayer Book so he would use his deck of cards and explained:

You see, Sir, when I look at the ACE, it tells me that there is one GOD and no other.
  When I see the "2," it reminds me that there are two parts [in] the Bible, the OLD TESTAMENT and the NEW TESTAMENT.
  The "4" reminds me of the FOUR GOSPELS, MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE and JOHN.
  When I see the "5," it tells me of the FIVE UNWISE VIRGINS who were lost and that five were saved.
  The "6" makes me mindful that GOD CREATED THE EARTH IN JUST SIX DAYS, and GOD said that it was good.
  When I see the "7," it reminds me that GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY.
  As I look at the "8," it reminds me that GOD DESTROYED ALL HUMAN LIFE BY WATER EXCEPT FOR EIGHT PEOPLE, Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their three son's wives.
  When I see the "9," I think of the NINE LEPERS that GOD healed. There were ten lepers in all, but only one stopped to thank him.
  The "10" reminds me of the TEN COMMANDMENTS carved in stone by the hand of GOD.
  The "JACK" makes me remember the Prince of Darkness. Like a roaring lion, he devours those that he can.
  When I look at the "QUEEN," I see THE CHURCH, THE BRIDE OF JESUS.
  As I look at the last card, THE KING," it reminds me that JESUS IS LORD OF LORDS and KING OF KINGS."
  There are 365 spots on a deck of cards,and that is the number of days in each year.
  There are 52 cards to a deck and that is the number of weeks in a year.
  There are 12 picture cards and that is the number of months in a year.

  There are 4 different suits in a deck and that is the number of seasons in a year..."
  And so, the young soldier then said to the Major, "You see, Sir, my intentions were honorable. My deck of cards serves as my BIBLE, my PRAYER BOOK and my ALMANAC. Most importantly, my deck of cards reminds me that I need JESUS... 365 days, 52 weeks and 12 months a year and that I should always PRAY 4 others."

May you never look at a deck of cards the same way!

Of course, there are variations and inaccuracies in this tale: The total number of pips on a deck of cards is not 365, but 232. Other versions ascribe different significances to the numbers. For example, the Queen, for example, is said to represent Mary. Likewise, the five also may represent the five wounds Christ suffered on the cross. 
  However, in recent years, other denominations of Christianity have posited a wholly opposite interpretation of these objects . Instead of being aids to religious meditation, they are instead awash with satanic symbolism. Variations of this interpretation may be found on some Christian sites; this is one of the more extensive examples, from I quote the pertinent part of the page:
Facts About Cards and Card-Playing
Many times the question is asked, "What is the difference between cards and other games?"  It is said, A game is a game; and if it is all right to play dominoes, why not cards?
There is a vast difference.  Water and whiskey are both drinks, but everyone admits that there is a difference between them.  The following facts show plainly the difference between cards and all other games.
In the first place, cards were invented to amuse an idiotic king*, not for the entertainment of Intelligent people.  Every thought suggested by them is in direct opposition to God and rightousness.
1. The "ten spot" is in opposition to the Ten Commandments.
2. "Clubs" represents a weapon of murder.
3. "Spades," a tool to dig graves, suggests death.
4. "Hearts," holds up the broken heart of Christ for deririon instead of devotion.
5. "Jack" represents a libertine who lives off the gains of fallen women; one who makes business of comerbliplized* vice.
6. "King" represents the devil, the king of darkness, the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, in opposition to God, the king king of all the univers.  Satan, the king of darkness, leads and entices men away from God and heaven, downpiano coversd to hell.
7. "Queen" represents Mary in a slanderous way.  Semiramis, the mother of Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, set herself up in opposition to God and instituted, with her son, every pagan type of religion, all of them opposing God.  Knowing that a "Deliverer" should come (Gen. 8:15), Semiramis set herself and son up to be the "Mother and Child."  Ancient sculpture shows this plainly.  She took the name "Queen of heaven," also "Queen of angels," "Mother of God," etc.   She is the "Queen of harlots" and is worshipped as such in every country under different names such as "Diana", "Juno," "Venus," etc.  Knowing God's plan, she ran ahead of God under Satan's direction, and every licentious religion on earth and every anti-Jehovah religion sprang from her unholy, rebelious mind.  She us a slander on the name of the virgin mother of our Lord.
8. "Joker" represents Jesus, and this is the most horrid blasphemy of all; for the joker is supposed to be the product of an illicit union between the "Jack" and the "Queen."
-- Could any but Satan be the inverntor of a deck of cards?
-- A person is known by the company he keeps.
-- Every dissipation of youth has to be paid for by a draft on old age.
(Furnished by Grant Clofax Tullar)
Editor's note:  The "Joker" as discribed above points to the clown-fool character of ancient religion.  This figure, a real man, was sacrificed in place of the King of the land.  It is refered to as the "ritual sacrifice of the king."  Since the King had to be sacrificed yearly (relating to sun worship and/or Saturnalia), but he of course was indispensible, a Fool (or Clown) was selected for the "privilege" of dying for the King.  He was then called the "King" and treated "royally" before he was killed in place of the real King. :
* The king in question is probably K. Charles VI "the mad" of France, whom, according to legend, cards were invented to cure him of his insanity. However, this legend is now known to be false.It is widely accepted that the earliest evidence for any type of playing cards is in a 1377 work, Tractatus de moribus et disciplina humane conversationis, ( ). Charles would have been 9 when this was  written, and he only suffered his first bout of madness in 1392. It is not inconceivable however,  that he may have played at cards in his youth.
It should be noted, despite the conflicting message of the texts, they both agree that the Jack or knave as representing of the devil. In case, we may conclude, from these two texts, the sheer power of the human mind to produce interpretations of this world.


Monday, 14 October 2013

"No.85 Carte di giuoco" (Piacentine pattern )-- Grimaud

"No.85 carte di giuoco italiane, tipo bologna"-- Grimaud, 40c.

Despite its name, the deck is what is known as the "piacentine" pattern. However, the maker's use of the designation is somewhat accurate, as the pattern is used around much of central and northern Italy, a region that encompasses both Piacenza and bologna.

Here is the rather elaborate box in which these cards come in:

Note the differences from the more standard Piacentine pattern -- the ace of swords ( top row, first from right), is straight. In the standard pattern, the sword is curved, and has a cherub perched in it ( see )  

The ace of coins ( top row, first from right), is represented here as an eagle with a blank circle in it's chest. Although this may seem rather odd, in former times, the tax stamp ( to prove that the tax had been paid on this deck)  was stamped on the ace of coins. Hence, the makers left a blank space on the ace for this stamp. As the stamp had a coin-like design, when the stamp was impressed, the card looked more like a member of the suit.
However, when the card tax was abolished, there was no longer any need for such a stamp, and the card is left blank.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

"Playing cards" ( International pattern VII)

"Playing cards"[ international pattern]  ( Anon) , 52 +2 c.

The following example of the international pattern is somewhat of a curiosity. The only information of the maker is 'made in china". Despite this, our anonymous maker has clearly put some effort into his designs, as they are far more elaborate than more conventional decks, indeed, by more exalted makers.
For comparison, see, for a more ordinary deck

Observe how the maker has carefully layered the blue and yellow to give the impression of green on some of the cards
The deck comes with two jokers. One is shown here. Unlike most modern decks, not all of the suit signs are in the top left corner. This feature is common to more ancient decks, printed before the late 19thc.
Here is a comparison with a more conventional deck, in this case, the famous bicycle brand

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Decorated papers-- the blog

I have a new blog:
it is on the subject of decorated papers. Go and have a look!
I would be greatly delighted if you have any interesting material for this blog. Wrapping paper, wallpaper, anything!
Here is an example of the marvels that are in store....

Friday, 16 August 2013

Oracle patience-- two descriptions

This game of patience( or solitare, if you prefer), is perhaps unique amongst all it's relatives, as it is the only one that propounds to be of a oracular nature. I have so far only came across descriptions of it in 2 books, Basil Dalton's games of patience ( first printed 1924, Richards press limited. this edition sept.1941), and games of patience for one or more players by Miss Whitmore Jones ( second edition, L . Upcott Gill, no date*). I reproduce here scans of the relevant pages from the two texts.
* I guess the late 19th, early 20th century?
 Basil Dalton's "Games of patience" . Despite the fact that it is dated 1941( in the middle of WWII), the book is printed on surprisingly good laid paper

Miss Whitmore Jones' Games of patience for one or more players .
 Note that the cards in the illustration are actually of the Paris pattern, despite the book being printed in England. I suspect that the reason is that only people who had ready made playing card type were the French. The English printer, who could not be bothered to have English playing card type made for him, decided to use what was already in existence

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Chinese chess/xiangqi set ("Butterfly brand")

" 中國象棋 " ( Chinese chess set) , 32 pieces, butterfly brand.

This set is a typical example of the Chinese chess, or xiangqi set. Despite chess and xiangqi having evolved from the same ancestor, or so we are told, the sets are very different

the pieces are as follows. :.
Red pieces                兵      ,   炮      ,    車     ,      馬     ,  相       ,士    , 帥
black pieces              卒      ,   炮      ,   車      ,      馬    ,   象      , 士    , 將
Equivellant in chess  pawn  , ( none) ,   Rook , Knight,  Bishop, ( none), King

Note the fact that equivilant ranks are written differently for the opposing sides

Some pieces, like the 炮 ( cannon) and 士( valet) have no equivalent on chess. The cannon is a most  perculiar piece. It can only make a capture, when there is a piece in between it and the target . The cannon has to "jump" over a piece , so to speak. The Valets are another curious piece. They perform a function somewhat similar to the bishops in chess, moving diagonally within the confines of the "square" in the back of the board.
As can be clearly seen from the above diagram, the pieces are made of roundels of wood, on which are engraved the characters. The characters are then coloured in with paint. The colours used are, in this case, red & black, although I have seen green replace black in some sets.

the pieces laid out on the board
Chess sets such as this one come in plastic cases, which are in the form of a rectangle with 2 semicircles attached to the short edges. They are almost invariably supplied with a chessboard, printed on a thin plastic, much like the sort plastic bags are made of. In some of the older sets, we find that they are made of paper.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Crooked playing cards- US games systems

" The Crooked deck "- US games systems - 52c. + 3 jokers
We have here another of the species of novelty cards. These cards ( of which there are many makers, ) possess the feature of being cut into a curious shape
As you may see from the picture, not only are the cards themselves bent into this curious shape, but the images upon them are also distorted in this fashion. This is particularly prominent in the court cards.

One of the three jokers has the following inscription upon it. I find it worthy of being quoted here in whole:


What some of our delighted customers have said about the CROOKED DECK...
"This is the best deal I've had in years..."Hot Hands Herbie, Poker Flats, Idaho
"Will add a new twist to your card parties..."
Mrs Zelda frobishier, Crooked creek, Pa.
"You will get ine fast shuffle from the CROOKED DECK ...'
Arnold freed, President, A.freed novelty inc.
In view of the age old truths that all glitterings are not rhinestones nor iron birds a cage make; then we cannot in all justification refund part or whole of purchase under any conditions which.
Rather surprisingly, given the odd shape, these cards are surprisingly easy to hold and grip, at least much easier than the circular decks.
The cards in hand

Circular playing cards-- Fournier

"Circular" -Fournier- 48c. + 2
 Another circular deck, this time from the Spanish maker Fournier. This deck is another example of the circular sort, save that it uses Spanish suits instead of the more common French ones.

 the suit of coins
as with the house of marbles deck, Fournier seems to have come up with more or less an identical solution to the placement of the pips and court figures on the deck. ( for a more conventional spanish deck, see
However, unlike the house of marbles deck, which has 6 indexed around the circumference, this one has 4.
The suit of cups-- Again, much as coins.


Swords: I find the placement of the swords , with their tips all pointing towards the center, vaguely threatening.
For another example of circular playing cards, see:

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Making a tarot deck

A rather curious way of being able to produce a tarot deck without buying one is as follows.
 I quote the following instructions from the RationalWiki.

You will need two decks of 54 standard playing cards with identical backs and different faces; in the US, a Bicycle Standard or Jumbo Index deck and a Bicycle Lo-Vision four-color deck will do. (This example is based on that combination.)[4]
Take the cards from the standard deck minus one joker (the other joker will be the Fool). Mix in the A->10 cards from the clubs (blue) and diamonds (green) from the Lo-Vision deck along with the Ace of Spades (black) and the jacks from all four suits; the clubs will be trumps 1-10, the diamonds (because a diamond's worth more than a stick) will be trumps 11-20, the big-index jacks will act as cavaliers,[5] and the ace of spades will be trump 21. You are now ready to play any tarot game using a standard 78-card deck, and you won't have to frustrate yourself with the artsy-fartsy markings on a cartomancy deck or pay obscene shipping charges to import a playing deck from France or Italy
4- Total cost approx. US$ 7, depending on suplier
5- You could also use three decks with three different index sizes, making the cavalier-jacks the middle-size index cards, but it's probably a waste of money to tear apart a third deck just for the jacks

To sum it up, Here is a little table which breaks down the deck's structure
 ( the Letters in colour represent the cards of the Lo- vision deck, the "C" stands for a knight )

trumps (normal tarot deck) - Fool, 1, 2, 3, 4 , 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20,21
This deck--------------------   Joker, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, A,  2,   3,   4,    5,   6,   7,   8,   9,  10, A 

Suit cards ( normal tarot deck,) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ,7 ,8, 9, 10, J, C, Q, K
This deck --------------------------  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J,  J,  Q, K

However, In this blogger's opinion, isn't part of the joy in playing at tarot the beauty of the cards?

Transparent playing cards ( 1 )

Transparent playing cards- anon- 52 + 2 c.

Transparent playing cards would surely seem to be somewhat of an outright impossibility- How would one play with a deck that would allow light to pass through it, & yet conceal what cards you are holding from your opponents?
  However, such cards are made, and the are perfectly playable. However, it can be said that the makers almost always "cheat" when designing the cards. Firstly, to make them transparent, they ay are printed on thin sheets of plastic.
the cards overlaid on text , showing their transparent nature
As you may observe from the above image, only a certan portion of the cards are transparent, the rest covered with a form of design which is opaque. It is on this design where the face side of the cards are printed on. In this case, the maker has decided to only print the indexes of the cards and nothing else.
a closeup of the above. Note the ornamented borders and centerpiece.

the cards held up to strong light

the same, held up the other way. Note the opaque ovals, on which the indexes are printed
However, at least in this instance, the maker has decided, presumedly for reasons of economy,  not to make the whole of the back design opaque, but only the small oval on which the indexes are printed. This causes the little ovals on which the indexes are printed to stand up when the cards are held up to strong light.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Irinokichi ( 入ノ 吉) - Nintendo

"入 吉 / 入の 吉 " ( Irinokichi) , Nintendo - 48c. + Onifuda + blank 
    Another Kabu deck, with the rather pleasing name of "coming-in-luck"  this particular pattern differs from the others by several features.
Firstly, this deck uses the suit of batons, much like the Kabufuda . In fact, one could imagine that the kabufuda evolved from just such a deck, as the pip cards are almost identical.
  Secondly, unlike the other decks, this deck has all 3 courts. However, it is interesting to note that the knave has a rather realistic depiction of a person, unlike the knight and king, which are abstract forms

Key to Positions of cards in picture below:
Top row : 7, 8, 9, 10, [ knave] , [ knight] , [king]
Bottom row: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
 The pip cards.

from L-R, onifuda, special ace, special 4
Note the fact that the silver overprints on the cards are nearly transparent with age. The red on the onifuda has streaks on it, perhaps indicative of stencilling?

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Circular playing cards I- house of marbles

"Circular playing cards/ Round playing cards" - House of marbles, 52c.+2

  Circular playing cards, although unusual, are by no means rare. The Indian Ganjifa cards are mostly circular in shape. This is doubtless due to the relative ease of making circles of regular shape than rectangles ( To make circles, one only needs a pair of dividers or compasses to trace the designs, whilst drawing rectangles calls for much work involving straightedges, which is wont to be inaccurate).
   However, as far as the west is concerned, circular playing cards are more often than not produced as novelties. This particular example is an English pattern. However, some modifications have been made to suit the format.

Notice that the court cards are repeated four times on each card, much like spokes on a wheel. In order for that to be achieved, the figures have to be stripped down a bit, thus making the king of spades look like four skittles!. The indexes are also repeated around the card in a similar fashion
The Joker displays a knight ( St, George?) slaying a dragon.
Note that although the courts have been repeated 4 times, the arrangement of the pips are as with a normal deck.
The pips on the court cards seem to have been inverted


Friday, 5 April 2013

Cribbage boards

 Cribbage boards are pieces of equipment used to keep score in a game of cribbage. They are usually made of wood, with anywhere between 2 and 4 rows of holes, containing either 61 or 121 holes between them, reflecting the number of points the game is played to. The boards are supplied with several pegs, made of metal or wood, which are inserted into the holes, and advanced when points are scored.

  These boards come in a bewildering variety of shapes & formats. I have seen ones made of brass, others made of bone, but most are usually made of plain old wood. However, even wooden baords display a great variety in their construction.

Cribbage board- Jaques

This first example can be said to be representative of most of this species. It is made by Jaques of london , A famous maker of game equipment. It has 60 holes ( descounting the ones in which the pegs are placed in at the start), 30 on each side.

The pegs are stout little brass things. I coloured half of them black with a marker, so that I could distinguish them from the opposing side. Note the attractive trim down the middle of the board.

The pegs are stored in a cavity in the bottom of the board. It is closed with a metal lid.


"Cribbage"~ Piatnik

 This second example is of a folding board from a game set by piatnik. It is extrememly small ( -----) , and like the Jaques example, has 60 holes.

The pegs are also of metal, but inlike the jaques example, there are only 4 pegs, two of which are golden in colour, the others silver. They are much thinner than the jaques pegs.

They are also stored in a cavity on the back of the board.


Cribbage board- Hamley's 

Another folding board, this one from the  toy maker Hamley's. Again, it has 60 holes. Note the two cavities on either side of the board. These were meant to contain a deck of cards . The two cavaties in the middle of the board contain the cribbage pegs.
As you can see here, the side with the holes is on the inside of the boards.
The pegs are also made of metal, but there are 12 of them all in all. They are stored in a cavaty in the middle of the board.

cribbage board- anon

This brightly coloured folding board posses 121 holes, as opposed to the above 60 holed versions. The board also has 3 tracks, making it possible for up to 3 players to use this board for scoring a game, whatever it may be.
As shown in the above photograph, the track of the board has to be coiled in order for all 121 holes to be fitted into it. Here is a view of the start....

...and the finishing hole ( No. 121)

The pegs are made of plastic, but only one of them survives.