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16th Century French Playing Cards based on Illustrations by Gurney Benham

This pack of cards by Rose & Pentagram is said to be based off Pierre Marechal, Rouen pack from the 1600s, but they are actually copies of drawings by Gurney Benham from his book Playing Cards: Their History and Secrets from 1930.

When the book Playing Cards: Their History and Secrets by Gurney Benham (see sidebar) was published by Spring Books on January 1, 1930 Benham didn't have the original packs at hand, so he recreated illustrations which were close approximations of the original pack, but not identical.

This pack by Rose & Pentagram Design, (www.historicgames.com) is a production of the 1930 illustrations, and unfortuately not the original 1567 Pierre Marechal pack of cards, which are the ancestors of the English pattern. The original Jacks of Hearts and Diamonds were missing and have been replaced with two similar cards also from Rouen. See the comparison below:

Original 1567 Pierre Marechal, Rouen pack

Above: two playing-cards, a king and queen of spades from Pierre Marechal, Rouen pack, the French city that originated the style. The design of the cards is similar to those produced in Rouen by Pierre Mareshal circa 1565. To learn more about the pack visit our Pierre Marechal page.

Gurney Benham illustrations

Above: Gurney Benham's illustrations.

Rose & Pentagram recreation pack

Above: photos of the Rose & Pentagram pack

Above: information card.

The pack is printed on regular cardstock (the type you might find at a stationary store), and seem to be printed on a colour laser printer. The images printed in the Gurney Behham book appear sharper.

The pack includes an information card: "This deck is based on a set of face cards by Pierre Marechal of Rouen, France dating to 1567. The original Jacks of hearts and diamonds were missing, but we have replaced them with two similar cards also from Rouen. The cards of Rouen are significant because in 1628 England banned the importation of cards, and English printers used Rouen cards as models for their own cruder, more stylized decks which have become the standard motifs still used in many modern decks. Source: Playing Cards: a history of the Pack and Explanations of its Secrets, Gurney Benham, 1931.

The information provided here isn't entirely accurate, as we have seen the pack is based on the 1930 illustrations by Gurney Benham and not the original 1567 pack, but "English printers used Rouen cards as models for their own cruder, more stylized decks which have become the standard motifs still used in many modern decks" is still accurate.

Other projects such as Rick Davidson's “Origins” are based off of the original deck, but then recreated digitally for a modern edition.

Playing Cards: Their History and Secrets
by Gurney Benham

Most people who have an interest in playing cards either own or have stumbled upon a copy of the book written by Sir Gurney Benham called Playing Cards: Their History and Secrets, written in 1930.

At the time the book was well received with good reviews:

Mr Benham is to be congratulated on finding a field in which there was so much to glean, and on making such a welcome and efficlent contribution on the lisghter side of history — The Observer

John Cooper (2002), says that Beham felt the book "did not get the reception it deserved and lost interest in the subject"

Sylvia Mann in her bibliography says Collecting Playing Cards as being "most uneven" but she comments favourably on the illustrations.

Mike Cooper (1999) concludes that "although he felt that his book Playing Cards was a failure, it remains a valuable referance book on the subject to this day".

Above: unfortuately the cards did not come with a box, only a plastic resealable bag and an elastic band.

Above: spread showing the courts from the Rose & Pentagram recreation pack.

References

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By Adam Wintle

Member since March 15, 1997

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Adam has been involved in developing the site as well as reviewing new decks and conducting research. He is particularly interested in innovation, Kickstarter and East Asian cards. He is a member of the IPCS and webmaster of the EPCS.


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