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Published September 26, 2019 Updated December 07, 2023

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables playing cards by I. Kirk, c.1759.

1759 United Kingdom Education Literature Add to Collection

Aesop was the most famous fable-teller of ancient Greece, over 2,500 years ago. He told fables on all matters where a moral could be added. Over the centuries these fables have been translated, re-told and presented in many different formats, registers and regional styles.

Boar and Ass illustration from a woodcut series of Aesop, Genoa, 1557

Above: the Boar and Ass illustration from a woodcut series of Aesop, Genoa, 1557.

Featured on this page are cards from the 1759 edition of Aesop's Fables playing cards by I. Kirk (St Paul’s Churchyard, London) based on drawings by Francis Barlow (c.1626–1704) and also from a facsimile edition of Aesop's Fable Cards published by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (USA).

Aesop's Fables by J Kirk, St Paul's Churchyard, London 1756-65

Above: Ace of Spades from the 1759 edition by I. Kirk (London) with the red tax stamp and ‘GR’ cypher. Image courtesy WCMPC


Boar and Ass, J Kirk, 1759
Wolf and Lamb, J. Kirk, 1759

Above: two cards from uncoloured facsimile edition of I.Kirk’s Aesop’s Fables playing cards published by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (USA). See the Wrapper


More Original Cards

An advertisement in the Public Advertiser for December 17, 1759 reads “Æsop's Fables exactly copied after Barlow, with fables and morals in verse, to be had of the proprietor, I. Kirk at the Grotto Toy Shop in St Paul’s Churchyard.”

Above: etching by James Kirk after Francis Barlow, c.1760. 15.9 x 17.2 cm. Courtesy The Elisha Whittelsey Collection.


The Wolf & Lamb from Aesop, Vita et Fabulae, Naples, 1485

Above: The Wolf & Lamb woodcut illustration and text from “Aesop, Vita et Fabulae”, Naples, 1485.

REFERENCES

Hargrave, Catherine Perry: A History of Playing Cards and a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming, Dover Publications, New York, 1966

Mann, Sylvia: All Cards on the Table, Jonas Verlag/Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum, Leinfelden-Echterdingen, 1990

Christie’s, Illuminated Manuscripts & Valuable Printed Books auction catalogue, June 1991.

Sotheby’s, Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts auction catalogue, September 1988.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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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