Establishing a Standard by Comparing 8 Decks

JC

 

JC

 

JD

 

JH

 

JS

 

QC

 

QD

 

QH

 

QS

 

KC

 

KD

 

KH

 

Packs used and the process of comparison

The comparison was a matter of scanning and arranging good examples of standard English cards made before 1801, these to act as the basis for a ‘pattern sheet’.  In assembling the chosen packs, an important goal was to include a good variation of makers and dates within the period.  One of the examples – the Christopher Blanchard - is owned by the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards and stored in the Guildhall Library with the reference number 425.

In the illustrations that follow, the packs are identified by maker as follows:

Hewson
“C Hewson” is inscribed on the Jack of Clubs, a fairly common early practice that normally denotes the maker.  The date is fairly well established as circa 1675, as similar examples are owned in the USPCC Collection described by Hargrave (ref 2) and in the British Museum.

Interestingly, Hewson is not a name otherwise associated with card production, and there is no record of a Hewson in the WCMPC membership, so the designation on the Jack could be a historical or humorous reference, and the maker would then be unknown.  There are several known examples of ‘Hewson’ packs among the earliest English cards, and their correct attribution is a very interesting open question.

Hewson 2
These cards were found together with the Hewson cards, and there is no duplication between the court cards – it seems that at some fairly early stage they were deliberately combined to form a complete set.  However, their separate origin is very clear from their appearance – these cards appear both earlier and more realistically drawn than the other cards here.

Unknown 1745-56
This pack is dated by a Stamp on the Ace of Spades that was in use from 1745 to 1756 – the manufacturer is unknown.

Blanchard c1756-65
The cards are in the WCMPC collection held at the Guildhall Library.  Christopher Blanchard was Master of the Company in 1742-3.  His father Philip was an earlier Master of the Company and it is believed the family has a link with manufacture in Rouen.  The exportation mark on the Ace of Spades establishes the date within the period 1756-65.

McEvoy 1765-1776
James Byars McEvoy was Master  of the Company in 1766-7.  The cards are dated by their Duty Ace.

Hart 1765-1775
Henry Hart was Master of the Company in 1763-4, and these cards are of the same period as the McEvoy pack.

Gibson & Gisborne 1776-1789
Charles Gibson was the successor to Philip and Charles Blanchard.  Gibson was Master of the Company in 1773-4.

Hall 1789-1801
The Tax Ace places the cards in the period 1789-1801, towards the end of the period covered here.  Henry Hall was Master of the Company in 1794.

Gibson 1789-1801
This is a later pack by the same Charles Gibson associated with Gisborne, above.  The Ace places these cards also in the period to 1789-1801.  Of the decks depicted here, this pack is probably the most characteristic of the standard English full-length cards.

   

Characteristics Elements of the Early English Standard Playing Cards


The basic and better-known features are summarised below.
directions L or R refer to the card as facing the viewer, not to the person depicted.

 

Card

Sign

Eyes

Hair

Carries

Jack of Clubs

R

2 L

Blue/grey

Plain staff, L

Jack of Diamonds

R

2 R

Yellow

Pikestaff L,  Sceptre centre

Jack of Hearts

R

1 R

Yellow+moustache

Long Axe L, Sceptre R to centre

Jack of Spades

L

1 R

Yellow+moustache

Spear R, Curved sword centre

Queen of Clubs

R

2 R

Not shown

Flower R

Queen of Diamonds

R

2 R

Not shown

Flower R

Queen of Hearts

L

2 L

Not shown

Flower R

Queen of Spades

R

2 L

Just shown - varies

Flower R, Torch L

King of Clubs

L

2 L

Blue/grey

Orb L, Sword R

King of Diamonds

L

1 L

Light red+moustache

Axe R

King of Hearts

L

2 L

Light red+moustache

Sword handle R

King of Spades

L

2 R

Light red+moustache

Sword R

 

In addition to the basic format, it does seem that many of the apparently random geometric decorations are indeed highly consistent between makers and over time, and can often be traced back to a particular feature – a sleeve or a hem say - of an early more naturally portrayed  card. The author has identified as many additional features as possible, as indicated in the annotations on the following pages.

 

Summary of the Development of the Standard English Pattern.

The table outlines a convenient – but personal – view of the development of the standard English pattern. The dates in the table are arbitrary, but the aim is to provide some context and to show why the period to 1801 has been selected as the basis for establishing the Early English pattern.  

Standard?

Playing-card development

Dates

Description

Mixed French/ English

Adoption

         – 1650

Beginnings of production in England.  Rouen pattern copied with changes/ inaccuracies.

Early English Standard
(full length courts)

Standardisation…

1650 – 1801

Emergence of a standard English pattern.  Designs become more abstract.

Early English Standard
(full length courts)

…Early Standard

1801 – 1830

Pattern now established, little change in pattern, some experimentation.
Earliest US cards.

Early and Modern
English Standard

Revolution…

1830 – 1890

Lithographic printing
‘Turned’ Courts
Double-ended courts
Indices
US manufacture
European ‘English’ cards for whist and so on.

Modern English Standard
(reflected courts)

…Modern Standard

1890 –

Little change to standard appearance
Worldwide mass production
Great experimentation on other kinds of cards

Characteristics Elements of the Early English Standard Playing Cards

It would seem useful to look at one of the cards in more detail, by way of example.   For this purpose I have selected the Jack of Diamonds- see the eight examples illustrated on page 7.

The positioning and stance of the figure and the suit sign placement is clearly the same throughout.  The Jack gazes in the same direction.  The colouring of the hair is the same and even the appearance of loops or curls (though varying between two and three) is always present on the right.   The red hat, otherwise undecorated, is always there and always cut off at the top of the card.  Six of the Jacks show a gold cravate.  The cape over the right (i.e. right-of-card) shoulder is blue with a gold ‘coin’ decoration.   The weapon carried on the left of the card is most clear on the earliest example, but remains largely unaltered.  The striped staff carried at the waist is also consistently present.  The colouring of the uniform is consistent apart from the first card which is uniquely red.  The herringbone or feathered pattern on the trousers/ breeches is present but the colouring varies somewhat.  The hose is typically red then yellow (reading from left to right) with some earlier variations.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the Guildhall Library, Particularly John Fisher, for access to the playing-card collection.
Thanks also to John Sings, Ann Smith, Ken Lodge, Mike Goodall and David Temperley, all of whom have shared their expertise and offered interesting comments and helpful advice on the early English cards and their makers.

References

John Berry , Taxation on Playing-Cards in England from 1711 to 1960,  IPCS papers No. 3, Jan. 2001.

Sylvia Mann, Collecting English Playing Cards, Stanley Gibbons, 1978.

Catherine Perry Hargrave, A History of Playing Cards, DOVER Publications 1930.

John G Thorpe, The Master Cardmakers of London, Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards, 2005.

W Gurney Benham, Playing Cards, Spring Books circa 1958. (this edition is a reprint)

Michael H Goodall and John G Thorpe, The Master Cardmakers of London and Their Apprentices, Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards, 2005.