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Published October 27, 2022 Updated October 28, 2022

Trappola cards from Prague

15 Trappola playing cards possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760.

1760 Czech Republic Europe Johann Ziser History Trappola Add to Collection

The game of Trappola was described by Gerolamo Cardano as a popular Venetian game in the 16th century. From there it spread throughout Central Europe, including Bohemia, but continued to be played with Italian-suited cards.

The 15 (of 36) cards shown here were possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, for whom there are two records (dated 1754 and 1796). Similar cards were described by Zdeněk Stáhlavsky in an article in The Playing Card (Vol. XXIV, No. 5, March/April 1996). However, the cards shown there were not as finely executed as these ones: on the present cards the facial features seem finer, the colours are more subtle (some of the cards of the other known example are shown in colour on page 286 of Klaus Reisinger’s book on Trappola), and the cards appear to have been printed from blocks which were less worn. An odd feature is that the present cards measure 60 x 143 mm, whereas the cards described by Stáhlavsky are said to measure 48 x 142 mm. Is the latter measurement really correct?

What is beyond doubt is that these are masterly creations of great beauty and must surely have been a luxury item in their day. The combination of Italian suits, the charming vignettes in the centre, the range of colours used, and the four-line rhymes in German is very unusual. One is left wondering why the maker went to so much trouble. In later Trappola packs, the rhymes and vignettes were dropped and eventually the court cards became double-ended.

Trappola cards, possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760 Trappola cards, possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760 Trappola cards, possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760 Trappola cards, possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760 Trappola cards, possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760

Above: Trappola cards, possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760. 15 of 36 cards. Size: 60 x 143 mm. Purchased at auction in Yorkshire, 2018.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The information from Klaus Reisinger's book on Trappola came from Peter Endebrock who also sent the scan of a page from the book.

Footnote: the author of the present article would be interested to hear from anyone who has information to add about these cards or who has other such cards in their possession.

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By Roddy Somerville

Member since May 31, 2022

Roddy started collecting stamps on his 8th birthday. In 1977 he joined the newly formed playing-card department at Stanley Gibbons in London before setting up his own business in Edinburgh four years later. His collecting interests include playing cards, postcards, stamps (especially playing cards on stamps) and sugar wrappers. He is a Past President of the Scottish Philatelic Society, a former Chairman of the IPCS, a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards and Curator of the WCMPC’s collection of playing cards. He lives near Toulouse in France.


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