What some of the 1860s playing cards looked like, and a little on Professor Hoffmann

Note:  An earlier version of this post was published by me on September 26, 2010 (at 22:21), on a different blog.

In an earlier post, I began a discussion of the question of what types of playing cards Professor Hoffmann (author of many card-game rule-booklets published by Goodall) may have used.  The present post continues that treatment.

In my collection, I have a few early Bezique sets. One of the sets, from De La Rue, included an 1869 Second Edition of The Pocket Guide to Bezique, by Cavendish, published by De La Rue.  (Since I have at least three 1869 copies of that booklet, it seems unlikely that 1869 copies of that work are truly rare, though they might be somewhat scarce.)  Anyway, it seems likely that the cards shown below date from 1869, or thereabouts.

Old cards

De La Rue Bezique playing-cards, circa 1869, from a set containing four Bezique packs

There are a few interesting features about the cards pictured, which might not be immediately evident, or the significance of which might not be obvious.  First, they have square corners.  Secondly, the cards are unturned.  (You can see that the pips on the Queen of Spades and Jack of Diamonds are in what we today would usually consider consider the “wrong” corners, while the pips on the Queen of Hearts are in the upper-left and lower-right, was we might expect.)

The following is a picture of a portion of page 59 from Modern Magic, which was published in book form in 1876:

Modern Magic array

An array of playing cards as shown in Modern Magic

Notice that the Ace of Spades has essentially the same design as in the portrayal of the “real cards.”  That is, the cards pictured in Modern Magic are De La Rue cards. The company name actually appears on the Ace of Spades in the Modern Magic illustration, although it may be difficult to read.  (I’m not sure whether the backs are based on an actual De La Rue design.)  And De La Rue was (with Bancks Brothers) one of the two playing-card firms that Hoffmann mentioned in Modern Magic in connection with his playing-card recommendations.  (Hoffmann specified De La Rue’s “small cards of the French pattern [. . .] for use in France [. . .].”)

As mentioned, the actual cards shown above are from a set of Bezique packs. Professor Hoffmann recommend the use of a Piquet pack (for card-conjuring), but Piquet packs are comprised of cards of the same values as those in a Bezique pack, and both games use 32 cards per pack.

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