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Published May 04, 2023 Updated May 04, 2023

Eisbergfreistadt Panoramische Spielkarte 1923

‘Iceberg Free State 1923’ fantasy playing cards with a cautionary moral lesson, Germany, 2006.

2006 Germany Nicholas Kahn Richard Selesnick Fantasy Humour Add to Collection

In 1923, an iceberg drifted into the Baltic Sea and collided with the German port town of Lübeck. From this historical incident emerged the Eisbergfreistadt or Iceberg Free State in which the town’s residents "colonized" the glacier, established new laws, citizenship requirements, and an inflated currency. The short-lived utopian state came to an end when a large masked ball was held to celebrate the creation of the Eisbergfreistadt bank. During the celebration, the iceberg split under the weight with one of the parts drifting towards the arctic and the other melting. Although the creation of the Eisbergfreistadt is an actual historical incident, it is not clear to what extent it actually existed. See the box

In 2006-2007 two artists - Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, who specialize in fictitious histories set in both the past and future, blurred fact and fiction in a series of exhibitions in the USA and Germany, which told the story of the iceberg using a variety of invented media including newspaper clippings, photographs, postcards, cultural relics, banknotes, and period clothing.

This pack is described as a 2006 facsimile of an original hand-coloured pack printed in Lübeck in 1923 by the Royal Excavation Corps and published as a souvenir for the Iceberg Ball of October 13th 1923 in both German and English editions. However, it is unlikely that such a pack ever existed but is rather the creation of the artists themselves. There are four suits, birds, chimneys, icebergs, and thorns. Together they form a continuous panorama. A printed catalogue illustrating each card accompanies.

“Eisbergfreistadt: panoramische Spielkarte 1923” created by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, produced in Germany, 2006 “Eisbergfreistadt: panoramische Spielkarte 1923” created by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, produced in Germany, 2006 “Eisbergfreistadt: panoramische Spielkarte 1923” created by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, produced in Germany, 2006
“Eisbergfreistadt: panoramische Spielkarte 1923” created by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, produced in Germany, 2006

Above: “Eisbergfreistadt: panoramische Spielkarte 1923” created by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, produced in Germany, 2006. 52 cards + 2 extra cards. The pack was designed as an imaginary souvenir of a fictitious historic event of 1923.

A cautionary tale of environmental disaster is told on the two extra cards (Click to zoom)

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By Peter Burnett

Member since July 27, 2022

I graduated in Russian and East European Studies from Birmingham University in 1969. It was as an undergraduate in Moscow in 1968 that I stumbled upon my first 3 packs of “unusual” playing cards which fired my curiosity and thence my life-long interest. I began researching and collecting cards in the early 1970s, since when I’ve acquired over 3,330 packs of non-standard cards, mainly from North America, UK and Western Europe, and of course from Russia and the former communist countries.

Russian Playing Cards

Following my retirement from the Bodleian Library in Dec. 2007 I took up a new role as Head of Library Development at the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP) to support library development in low-income countries. This work necessitated regular training visits to many sub-Saharan African countries and also further afield, to Vietnam, Nepal and Bangladesh – all of which provided rich opportunities to further expand my playing card collection.

Since 2019 I’ve been working part-time in the Bodleian Library where I’ve been cataloguing the bequest of the late Donald Welsh, founder of the English Playing Card Society.


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