Curators Corner

Curator's Corner

Curator's Corner provides information and articles about some of the cards in the WCMPC Collection to be shared with Members, collectors and other interested members of the public.

Current articles include:-

"Boer War Cards",  "A Unique item from WWI", "A Much Travelled Pack", "Take a Second Look!"
"From Poplar to New Zealand" and "The Masters Installation Pack  from 1893".

Masters Gift 2019

It is customary for the Master to offer a gift to the Company to mark his or her year in office. This often (though not always) takes the form of a pack of cards for the collection. In 2019, the outgoing Master, Mark Winston, presented the following item to the Company.

Standard English pattern pack by Gibson, Hunt & Son, c1801-03.
52 cards complete. Square corners. Plain backs.

This pack is interesting and important for several reasons. First, the maker’s imprint “Gibson, Hunt & Son” on the Ace of Spades was only in use between October 1801 and September 1803 so this pack can be dated very precisely to that period. Earlier packs featured the name “Gibson & Hunt” while later ones read “Hunt & Son, Successors to Gibson”.

Second, this is an example of a pack from the time when the duty on a pack of cards was at its highest in the UK, namely two shillings and sixpence (a lot of money in 1801, hence the temptation to forge the Ace of Spades – a crime for which one could be hanged).

Third, packs by this maker are normally found with reduced size courts, suitable for playing the game of Basset or Faro (our collection already contains an example of just such a pack). This one has full-size courts, which is most unusual, there being (as far as the Curator has been able to ascertain) no examples of full-size packs by this maker in any of the major public collections, including the British Museum, V & A, Fournier Museum, USPC Co. collection, the Cary collection at Yale, etc., and only one example in private hands (with a different die number).

Fourth, this pack now takes its place as the fifth oldest complete standard English pack in the collection.

(A similar pack is in our online collection but with a later version of the Ace of Spades)

See the Similar Pack in our Collection

Boer War Playing Cards

Possibly the earliest cards known to have been printed in South Africa, this rare pack was recently purchased at auction (April 2018) and added to the collection.

Unusually, the printer’s name appears on the reverse of every card together with the date. The full inscription reads “Printed by H.M. Guest, Klerksdorp, Trans-vaal, Feb, 1901, during Anglo-Boer War”.

Simple yet striking images of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra appear on all the Kings and Queens, respectively. The Joker is suitably macabre for wartime – a skull and crossbones with the text “No Joker”.

All in all, a remarkable early 20th century pack.

A Unique item from WWI

Midway through the commemorations marking the centenary of World War 1, it seems appropriate to highlight a pack acquired by the Company which takes as its subject the Flags of the First World War Nations.

Featured on every card are one or more flags of nations which took part in the Great War accompanied by a significant date (or dates). The back design shows two versions of the US flag.

One of the additional cards reminds us that many smaller nations joined the war effort relatively late on in the conflict.

It also helps us to date the pack to circa 1918, or shortly after.

The pack is entirely handmade – hand-drawn and hand-coloured. The name of the creator of the pack is unknown but the pack was considered to be of sufficient artistic merit and interest to be added to the collection.


A Much Travelled Pack

Why should a German pack with a Mozambique tax stamp have a place in the Company’s collection?

The answer is to be found on the tuck box where the name of the following business appears – B. Rigold & Bergmann, London.

The pack itself is known as the “Four Continents” and was produced by B. Dondorf of Frankfurt between 1880 and 1906.

Rigold & Bergmann were not Dondorf’s official agents in the U.K, rather they were forwarding agents with offices in Old Broad Street, London EC.

They distributed goods (including porcelain and postcards) for German companies and had offices in Bombay and Singapore. One can speculate, therefore, that this pack started life in Frankfurt, then transited through London on its way to Bombay from where it would have been forwarded to the Portuguese colony of Mozambique (there were strong trading links between India and Mozambique at this time).

In Mozambique, the (rare) Quelimane tax stamp (seen here on the 4 of Diamonds) would have been applied. Somehow the pack found its way back to Lisbon where it was purchased for the WCMPC collection.

All in all, a much-travelled pack!

Take a second look!

Sometimes, when looking at two apparently identical packs of playing cards, one gets a surprise!

This happened recently during a cataloguing session at the London Metropolitan Archives.

The aces shown here are ostensibly from the same pack – the London 2012 Sports pack.

The packs are housed in identical tuck boxes. However, on close inspection you will see that the first ace has a traditional style of lettering in the four corners while the second uses the modern, angular, jagged style (called 2012 Headline) which was the official typeface of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Why were two different typefaces used?
Was the first one a mistake or a hasty reprint? Any ideas?

The Curator would love to hear from you if you know the answer!

From Poplar to New Zealand!

Every pack tells a story.

The four cards shown here come from a pack issued in 1929 to mark the 50th anniversary of the firm of T.J. Edmonds Ltd of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Thomas John Edmonds (1858-1932) was born in Poplar, emigrating to N.Z. in 1879. He established a grocery business but soon started to specialise in the production of baking powder, using the slogan “SURE TO RISE”.

The famous slogan and the sunray trademark are still in use today! Edmonds left his mark on his adopted city, funding the construction of many of its most famous landmarks. Sadly, a number of these were destroyed in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

From a playing-card point of view, what makes this pack interesting is the Maori totem design on the Ace of Spades – unknown other than on this item.

The pack itself was produced a long way from N.Z. – by the Universal Playing Card Co. of Leeds.

1893 Masters Installation (Pink) Pack Acquired

An exciting recent addition to the Company’s collection of playing cards has come in the form of an Installation pack from 1893.

Although it was listed in John Berry’s catalogue the Company did not previously own the version of this pack with a pink border.
The pack was purchased privately.

Apart from the border colour, the 1893 pack is unusual for two reasons. First, the portrait of the Master, James Edgell, appears on the back of the cards. Second, the pack has non-standard faces, using court card and ace designs from Goodall’s “Historic” pack.

So, special face designs were to be found on Company packs as long ago as the 1890s!

The WCMPC Playing Card Collection

The Company maintains and continues to expands its world famous collection of playing cards first presented by Past Master Henry Phillips in 1907 and housed by arrangement with the City of London at the London Metropolitan Archives.

The Company is currently undertaking an ambitious project to make digitised images of our collection available online.
Please click here to view some of the WCMPC Card Collection.

In 1908, Past Master Henry Phillips presented his own collection of playing cards to the company. He had been Master four times between 1854 and 1897. The collection at that time numbered 599 items, and these together with the John Berry and Waddington collections are now housed in the London Metropolitan Archive and total several thousand packs of cards dating back to the late 17th century. They are available for inspection by appointment.

A limited edition of 300 copies of a book written by John G Thorpe was commissioned in 2000 to celebrate and commemorate the Millennium. The book describes the history of the company as well as containing full colour illustrations of all the company's presentation packs and special packs. Copies of the book are available from the Clerk at the Company's address below.

There are also fascinating articles and insights to historical cards written by Dr Paul Bostock:  Find Out More Here