All of the items in this article are taken from my own collection of whist and gaming counters/markers put together to demonstrate their evolution from the 18th Century to modern times.
Card games and various forms of whist have been around in Britain for hundreds of years. The earliest form of scoring was with the use of counters. My earliest examples dating from the 18th Century are ornate mother of pearl counters imported from the Far East in a wide variety of shapes. Crafted between 1720 and 1840, the best ones are highly decorated with patterns, scenes, animals and birds, coats of arms and the like, and justify very close inspection.
From about 1840, whist became the game of choice for socialising and gambling, so production and importing of the delicate style of counter declined in favour of more hardy alternatives.
I am still in search (at a reasonable price) of a set of four counters in a purpose-built container (sometimes in metal, frequently in ivory) with one, two, three and four dots used for “Hoyle’s Method” of scoring. Using these counters in appropriate combinations every score from one to ten can be shown ie. 3 + 4 = 7, 2+3+4 = 9 etc.
Even coins without dots 1 to 4 were frequently used in fours to reduce the number of counters deployed at any one time. Blank markers (or inscribed with “Keep Your Temper” or similar homilies) were arranged in two rows. Each coin on the top row indicated three points, each on the bottom, one point.
All of these tokens were capable of being used in a wide variety of gambling card games associated with the period. But as whist began to take over as by far the most popular social gambling card game, markers were designed specifically for this purpose. This ebony and ivory example is typical of markers produced for “long whist” (see below) from the early 1800s.
From 1842 to 1883 all new registered designs were required to carry this “kite” mark, confirming that they are registered and the date, in both cases above, is 31st January 1860 (click image to zoom).
By the middle of the 19th Century, however, the traditional “Long whist” method of scoring was rapidly being overtaken by a shorter version of the game. Long whist was played until one side or the other reached a score of ten points and the rubber was won by the first side to win two games i.e. 2 - 0 or 2 - 1; Short whist became more popular because it was played to a score of only five and was completed, for gambling purposes, more quickly.
In the late 1800s, card makers Goodall & Son produced one of their first card markers using a now familiar design (a). As can be seen from the lower circle, this example can be used for Long or Short Whist. The upper circle took account of doubling the stakes during play. The back is plain. Other manufacturers used the same basic design, this one in an early form of plastic (b).
From this time onwards, however, the competition between playing card and marker producers increased and the value of celebrity endorsement was in evidence for the first time. The name of the prominent whist guru “Cavendish” was used by De la Rue in promoting this revised version of the marker made from card and covered in “leatherette” (c).
The rules on the reverse are “arranged by Cavendish” (d). Cavendish was the nom de plume used by Henry Jones (1831-1899), who wrote several books on whist in the second half of the 19th century and who became very prominent in the story of the evolution of whist as a “scientific” game. The notes on the card refer readers to two of Cavendish’s own books, published in 1900, which helps to date the marker fairly precisely.
Competitors Chas Goodall & Sons were also in the market with a similar design, catering for both lengths of the game, but with rules “arranged by Capt. Crawley”. Chas Goodall & Sons (based in Camden Town) were at that time the largest producer of cards and card-playing materials in Britain and probably the world. Captain Crawley was another of the famous Whist players of his era and the author of several books on the subject.
Such markers could be purchased in pairs (e), or as part of a boxed set, with cards and “mini-books” containing the basic rules and methods of play.
As early as the 1860s, however, De la Rue tried a different approach and the link between the DLR company and Cavendish became even more established with the invention and promotion of the pressed-card slide marker, primarily directed at the dominant short whist market. As with earlier designs, each pair would have their own marker to be adjusted at the end of every hand. The slide markers at the top and right hand side are used to indicate points won; the sliders on the left, the number of games.
Once the move away from the rotating dial design had been made, De la Rue’s slider card was soon overtaken by their much larger competitors, Goodall & Son, with the development of a variety of wooden markers ingeniously designed with a series of “pop-up” tabs to be raised or lowered as the game progressed. The large tabs indicate points scored; the three smaller tabs, the number of games won. Then there was the “Pall Mall Whist Marker”...
“Camden” Whist Markers
My personal favourites, initially, were the appropriately named “Camden” Whist Markers. This design and sheer tactile quality of this genuine antique was irresistible ... and I now have more than a few!
These standard size markers are 3.7 x 2 inches. Goodalls also produced a mini version (below).
Some of the standard size versions were labelled with the name of the retailer, in this case “Pelham”, the Boots cash stationers. Interestingly with no reference to Goodall & son.
Once this design was in the market place, there were many copiers in a wide range of different and more exotic materials to cater for the more wealthy players. I regret that I do not own any of the immaculately worked examples in gold and/or silver to illustrate, but I do have a pair of exquisite Japanese “Shibayama” markers. These are lacquered, painted and inlaid with mother of pearl, coral and a variety of stones.
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I started my interest in card games about 70 years ago, playing cribbage with my grandfather. Collecting card game materials started 50 years or so later, when time permitted. One cribbage board was a memory; two became the start of a collection currently exceeding 150!
Once interest in the social history of card games was sparked, I bought a wooden whist marker from the 1880s which was ingenious in design and unbelievably tactile. One lead to two and there was no stopping.
What happened thereafter is reflected in my articles and downloads on this site, for which I will be eternally grateful.
Also by Tony Hall
Limited edition gift set issued to mark the American Bicentennial, 1776-1976, produced by John Waddington Ltd and the Bristol Pottery for the British American Bicentenary Group, 1970.
Nursery rhyme playing cards by Waddingtons, Leeds, UK, 1975.
South Park characters and famous one-liners, by Carta Mundi for Hasbro Int. Inc., 2001.
Wedding invitation and thank you card in the form of playing cards. France, 2019.
A five-suited set of playing cards published by Fleet and Case Games Ltd., Rainham, Kent, UK, c.1980.
52 selected views of Scotland by De La Rue (Waddingtons) for GlenAlan Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, c.1960s.
Publicity items for a group of entertainers, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK, 1911.
Cards made by John Waddington Ltd. for the Madras Club, Chennai (formerly Madras), India, c.1930.
54 different personalities from the city of Inverness published by the Highland Hospice.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme covers from 1956 to 2016 published by Winning Moves UK Ltd.
Images from the Ministry of Defence Cape Wrath Training Centre, Sutherland, Scotland. Published 2010.
A few items used for advertising or displaying Dondorf playing card products.
A set of advertising poster stamps for C.L.Wüst playing cards.
Celebrating the work of Andreas Vesalius in the quincentenary year of his birth.
Great Britains’s Olympic gold medallists from 1964 to 2004 published by the British Olympic Association.
Celebration of the work of David Kindersley, stone letter-carver and typeface designer. Published by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, Cambridge, UK, 2015.
Pack celebrating the rugby world champions of 2003. Produced by MMcardz.
Pack designed by Jean David (1908-93) for El Al Airlines. The courts are named after Biblical characters.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Hall & Son
Comic Fortune-Telling Cards published by Reynolds & Sons, c.1850.
Comic Question & Answer cards by Josh. Reynolds & Sons, circa 1850.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
Playing Cards: A Secret History
Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith
We are deeply saddened by news of the passing of Anthony Rex Pitts (1940-2021).
The Story of Pepys Games by Rex Pitts
Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany
Chad Valley Co. Ltd (incorporating Johnson Brothers (Harborne) Ltd, the long-established UK brand bought by Woolworths in 1988 and now sold at Argos.
Multum in Parvo published a range of indoor games during the period from 1884-1927.
The founder of Ariel Productions, Philip Marx, was a prolific publisher of children’s books and comics towards the end of and just after the Second World War.
Kum-Bak Sports, Toys & Games MFG Co., Ltd, London S.E.11
Crazy People children’s card game illustrated by caricaturist and graphic artist Walter Trier, c.1950.
Panko (Votes for Women) suffragette card game published by Peter Gurney Ltd, c.1912.
Anonymous Snap game, 1930s.
Panto People published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Hats-Off! miniature card game published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Zoo-Boots published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
The XIXth Century published by John Jaques & Son, c.1875.