Playing cards engraved in silver from Peru, 1745
Wealthy card players have always enjoyed playing with - or perhaps just looking at - expensive luxury sets of illuminated, hand-painted and gilded cards, or cards printed from finely engraved plates.
The example of Spanish-suited silver cards shown here is embellished and enamelled. It came from a former Spanish Viceroy in Peru and is dated 1745. The ace of coins displays the arms of Castille and León and the two-headed imperial eagle. A similar set is said to be in the Museo de America in Madrid and yet another in Italy.
The first Viceroy in Peru was Blasco Núñez Vela from Ávila Leyes Nuevas), but he soon entered into conflicts with local barons and was beheaded in 1546. His successor, Antonio de Mendoza, was appointed in 1549 and successive viceroy appointments were made until 1824, 40 viceroys in total., who since 1530 had been bringing shiploads of silver and gold from Peru to king Carlos I in Spain. He was nominated as Viceroy in 1543 and charged with implementing new laws (
The Viceroy of Peru resided in the city of Lima, in the sumptuous Palace of the Viceroys, surrounded by a brilliant court, in the midst of great luxury and riches, and a guard of honour.
Silver playing cards are recorded as having been used at the French court in the reign of Louis XV, probably not because silver was cheaper than paper or vellum! Engraved silver cards are said to have become fashionable as early as the end of the sixteenth century for inclusion in princely display cabinets and examples are known with French, German and Italian suits.
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Founder and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
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