On The Square

Playing The Right Card

By Brett Morris

Apr 25,2017 | 19:00 EDT

For hundreds of years playing cards have been bringing people, young and old, together around tables. From competing at snap as a child, to all night poker games in college, to trying our luck at blackjack in Vegas, cards elicit memories involving friends, excitement and usually good times. Indeed, for many of us, playing cards are a reference point for the evolving phases of our lives. And while you might not have always won - sometimes it might even have been painful - but then isnt that element of chance the continuing source of their appeal?

On Saturday, May 6 Potter & Potter Auctions offers bidders the opportunity to take their interest in playing cards to a whole new level when they stage Day 1 of their Gambling Memorabilia sale. Over half the 634 lots on offer will be playing cards, a dazzling array of vintage pieces at price points to suit collectors at all levels, from high rollers to beginners. Its the the perfect place to try your luck!

Its no secret that playing cards can be works of great beauty - especially back in the days when they were hand painted. Lot 191, a hand-painted transformation pack by Goodall & Son, is the work of an unknown folk artist who used a standard Chas. Goodall pack and cleverly transformed the pip cards and three aces. After painting, the artist then put a coat of varnish over each card.

Jacquemin Gringonneur was a French painter commissioned in 1392 by Charles VI of France to produce three sets of tarot cards. And while speculation that names him as the inventor of playing cards is untrue, this double deck dating to 1868 is a worthy bearer of his name. Selling as Lot 215, it features clubs, diamonds and heart pips with flowers or birds delicately inscribed inside, and singularly named courts.

Who says you cant combine playing cards and learning? Lot 214, a Silvestre “Cartes Méthodique” Science of Heraldry deck, looks at first glance more like a teaching or historic deck. However, the numbered cards have the corresponding number of shields, plus the courts have a letter inside the pips indicating R (king), D (queen) or V (jack), making it possible to use them as playing cards. 


It was a fairly common practice back in the 19th Century for tobacco companies to use playing cards as promotional items. Lot 84 is a perfect example of this, a deck of Trumps “Smoke and Chew Long Cut” black back tobacco insert playing cards. The art work was obviously quite racey for its day...

Not all the exquisitely drawn decks in the sale eminate out of Europe, with Lot 93 coming from the Indianapolis-based National Card Co. Dating back to 1896, this mint condition offering features hand drawn transformations in pen and ink on a standard National Card gilt edged deck. 

Potter & Potter Auctions Gambling Memorabilia sale is set down for Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7.