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Cartes à Rire

Transformed playing cards featuring satirical caricatures of political figures then in the ascendant, Paris, c.1819.

Cartes à rire transformed playing cards subtitled “des journaux”

This deck has 52 etched and hand-coloured cards with full-length court cards featuring satirical caricatures of political figures then in the ascendant. For example, the knave of spades features the politician and historian Vicomte de Chateaubriand dressed in clerical costume (see caption below). A second set of court cards was published relating to the major theatres in Paris but having the same number cards.

Original cards can be viewed on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website here and here

“Cartes à Rire”, Paris, 1819

Above: the suit of spades represents a figure of Chateaubriand as Bazile in clerical costume as the knave, concealing a Jesuit's cap under his robe and with a braying ass beside him; the queen of spades is Quotidienne, an old woman holding a book inscribed “Pensée Chrétienne quotidienne” ready to clap an extinguisher on truth emerging from the well; the king of spades is depicted as Conservateur, a Jesuit with a sword in one hand and a torch in the other. The suit of diamonds features Don Quichotte as the knave with a lance and shield attacking a windmill; the Queen is Lettres Normandes and the king is a brazen head on a pedestal with flags of various political parties and the title ‘Moniteur’.

“Cartes à Rire”, Paris, 1819

Above: “Cartes à Rire”, Paris, 1819, Subtitled “des théâtres et des journaux”. The knave of clubs depicts Talleyrand as ‘Clopineau’ with political zodiac signs at the top; the queen is ‘Gazette’ and the King of clubs is ‘Débats’ showing the editor carrying two large bags inscribed Débats and Empire with two asses in the background. The court cards from the suit of hearts are figures representing three popular journals: ‘Figaro’, ‘Minerve’ and ‘Constitutionnel’. Minerva is shown subduing certain evil spirits. The column which the king is defending is inscribed “Charte constitutionnel. Liberté de la Presse. Liberté Individuelle. Loi des Elections. Tolérance.” Cards from the facsimile edition using the journalism courts, originally titled "Jeu des Journaux", made in Italy by Il Meneghello and distributed/published in the United States by Cavallini & Co. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

REFERENCES

Chatto, William Andrew: Facts and Speculations on the Origin and History of Playing Cards, J R Smith, London, 1848 [online here]

Original cards can be viewed on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website here and here.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.


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