Comments on what features make a De La Rue booklet more — or less — desirable, from a collector’s standpoint . . .

My main focus has never been on the De La Rue card-game booklets.  I explained some of the reasons for that in an earlier post.  Nonetheless, I have acquired quite a few of the De La Rue booklets, and they are definitely of interest to me.

In this post, I want to mention a few of the things that I might think about when considering the purchase of a De La Rue booklet.  These comments will be limited to the Cavendish booklets, because, well, just about all of my De La Rue booklets are by Cavendish.

First and foremost:  The earlier, the better!  To my primitive way of thinking, anything in the twentieth century (say, 1900 onward) is going to tend to be of only marginal interest.  Now, you might say, “Tom, that is about the most arbitrary proclamation I have ever heard!  I really hope that you can support that wild claim!”

Well, first, I will mention the “chronological obsession” discussed by John Carter in his classic A B C for Book-Collectors.  I forget what Carter said, exactly, and it was not altogether positive, but there is almost a gene that many (not all) book-collectors have that makes them want earlier printings more than they want later printings.  Of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes later printings are more desirable, but the exceptions do not normally (or often) apply in the card-game booklet area.

Second, there is the “lifetime of the author” theory.  Cavendish passed away in 1899.  Up until that date, or thereabouts, there is at least some reason to believe that Cavendish was aware of the course of the printings of his booklets.  Also, there was always the possibility that he would revise a booklet.  After he died, though, you know that neither of hose things were going to happen.  (Actually, revisions — new ones by Cavendish — could of course appear after he died, but that was not apt to happen for long.  Whether he wrote anything new, or revised anything, toward the end of his life, I do not know, off hand.)

Thirdly, there is the “scarcer (and more mysterious) is more desirable” theory.  And I imagine — but I have not made a study of it — that the earlier pamphlets are scarcer, all in all, than the later ones.  And since they are not as readily findable, they are ipso facto somewhat mysterious.

Fourthly, there is the “mystique” factor.  If you hold and stare at a booklet was published in the 1860s, for example, it may evoke thoughts and feelings quite different from a De La Rue booklet of  the 1930s.

Fifthly, there is the “appearance” of the booklets — that is, “what they looked like.”  Of course, 1900 is not necessarily a good cutoff date in this connection — I am not sure what year would be.  But the relatively recent ones are not as elegant.

Sixth, there is the “hey, it’s Victorian literature” aspect.  Since Queen Victoria died in 1901, anything 1900 (the semi-arbitrary year mentioned above) or before is obviously going to be from the Victorian era!

But, of course, some people, me included, tend to stretch the Victorian era so that it ends somewhat later than that.  And even if you adhere to the 1901 date, we all know that the heyday of the Victorian era was way earlier than that.

Seventh, the year 1900 has a nice ring to it.  It’s easier to defend that year than a year like (say) 1903 or 1911, or 1893 or 1897.  One might collect “pre-1900” booklets, or one might collect “up to 1900.”  Or, one might collect 1901 or before, which ties-in with the Victorian era, but which doesn’t have the nice round number that 1900 does.

Somehow, the foregoing switched from “the earlier the better,” to “anything pre-1901 is fine.”  Anything pre-1900 may be fine, but earlier than that is still better!

So, earlier is (generally) better.

Then the is the “obscure titles are better” theory.  This one is highly subjective (and variable, for that matter).  It only works well when you have most of the common booklets.  On the other hand, you should think twice before skipping anything scarce (if you have a good opportunity to buy and can afford to), since you may never see it again.  You could theoretically collect quite a few obscure titles, but if you lack all of Cavendish’s booklets on bezique, or whist, or piquet, you are not going to have a representative collection!  (But some of Cavendish’s booklets on well-known games are quite hard to find.)

In another post, I discussed the “Cavendish” section of Frederic Jessel’s classic bibliography.  That book lists twenty “32mo” titles.  At the time I posted that post, twelve of the twenty were not represented in my collection.  And I assume that all of those twelve are pretty scarce.  I have since acquired Cavendish booklets on the games of Spoil-Five, and Dominoes (not precisely a card game), and Euchre.  So, if my arithmetic is correct, I am still lacking nine of the Cavendish card-game booklets.  Some of them are on obscure games (like those on Imperial and Drole).  Others I lack are not on obscure games (e.g. on Ecarte), though I guess one could say that the booklets are obscure.

So, I have discussed “earliness” and “obscureness.”

Another element is “condition.”

A surprisingly high percentage of old card-game booklets are in outstanding condition.  Still, many are not.  You want the booklets you acquire to be in great condition.  On the other hand, sometimes it probably is not wise to be too choosy.

So:  old, obscure, and in great condition.  That may sum things up!

Yes, I am sure that the foregoing essay is oversimplified, and incomplete — but it is better than nothing!

—Tom Sawyer

May 19, 2012

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