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Prisoners of War

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

Porchester Castle, Hampshire Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796

Above: the court cards stand on grassy ground in animated poses against white background, and the backs are plain. All images and notes courtesy Nick Thomas.

This deck of cards was hand made by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, UK. Prisoners were held in the castle over three periods: 1644 to 1652, 1756 to 1760 and 1793 to 1817. I believe these cards are from the early part of the latter period, circa 1796, as the forged ace of spades is the Hall ace for the years 1789 to 1801.

Hand-made cards by French prisoners of war c.1796

Above: the Queen of Diamonds and 4 numeral cards, all hand-painted and without any indices.

52 cards complete, with original hand-made box in lovely condition, hand-drawn and painted, really well done for a hand-made pack. I can’t discover if the court figures are based on any particular people but it was suggested that the Queens might be Goddesses: Diana as Q of clubs and Flora as Q of diamonds?

The forged ace is just fantastic, if only for its faults. It matches genuine aces for the years 1789 to 1801 The deck is given added provenance by the little business card with a hand-written inscription that came with the box when I found it. Dated 1947 it refers back to the writer’s named great-great grandfather who was actually a keeper at the gaol at the time. I do know of one other deck similar to this, the style suggesting it was perhaps painted by the same hand, but there is no box and I have heard some cards are missing, regardless I believe this deck to be unique.

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796

Above: The forged ace of spades includes the mis-spelling “Pense” instead of “Pence”. Cards and notes courtesy Nick Arden Thomas.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator 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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