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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

The Royal Historical Game of Cards

The Royal Historical Game of Cards invented by Jane Roberts and published by Robert Hardwicke, c.1840.

A very unusual series of 45 etched playing-cards, 9 arranged by centuries with text only, the rest show full-length figures of British rulers from William 1st to Victoria. The images are executed in elaborate detail. A descriptive pamphlet accompanies the cards which is titled “The Royal Historical Game of Cards, invented by Miss Jane Roberts. London: Robert Hardwicke, 26 Duke Street, Piccadilly, and all Booksellers.” Jane Roberts (1792 - after 1861) wrote a quantity of poetry, some of which was published anonymously (a number of unpublished poems and draft plots for novels survive in her notebooks), as well as inventing the Royal Historical Game of Cards, which was mentioned in her journal and published sometime around 1840.

The 9 Century Cards

The nine Century Cards are inscribed with calligraphic text listing the monarchs, which are shown on the remaining cards illustrated below.

The Royal Historical Game of Cards invented by Jane Roberts and published by Robert Hardwicke c.1840

Above: the nine Century cards with text only.

The Royal Cards

The Royal Historical Game of Cards invented by Jane Roberts and published by Robert Hardwicke c.1840

Above: the Royal Historical Game of Cards invented by Jane Roberts and published by Robert Hardwicke c.1840. Etched engravings printed with bronze powder. The card backs come in a range of colours.

CREDITS & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Royal Historical Game of Cards from the collection of Richard Green.

British Museum Prints & Drawings collection online

Extra research by Ann Smith - www.gamesetal.net

The January 3rd 1863 issue of Punch magazine includes a column entitled “Nursery Rhymes”, the last verse of which references cards:

“There was a young lady of Crick,
At cards when she lost the odd trick,
She'd stand on her chair
And she'd growl like a bear,
So they threw her down-stairs pretty quick.”

Courtesy Matt Probert.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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