Friday, May 21, 2010

19th Century Etching of Gamblers

There are numerous prints and photographs of gamblers and card players on eBay, but in my opinion not many of them are worth bidding on. Every now and then a good piece of art shows up and sometimes I even get to be the lucky winning bidder.

This one is a 19th century print from a copper etching. It is titled Hard Hit and the artist that produced the etching is one P.A. Massé. The seller added his own title, in the eBay description, as Losing Badly at Cards, which I think is quite a good one.

The scan shown here is a bit cropped, so you can't see a hand written date in the lower right side, stating that the print is from 1899. I don't believe the writing is original from the period, but I do believe it is accurate. That's because the seller specializes in antique prints and he stated that this print was issued in London, in 1899 by Virtue for "The Art Journal." In fact the inscription at the top of the picture says London, J.S. Virtue & Co. Ltd., so I assume the dealer knows what it all means and how to date the work. Also, the inscription at the very bottom says, From the Picture in the possession of Humphrey Roberts, Esq.

The work itself is quite good, so it was definitely done by a skilled artists (which is not always the case with etchings one finds on eBay). The subject matter is obviously gambling at cards. The sucker is seen leaving a game of cards while three men remain in the room. The older man seated in the center of the table is shuffling a deck of cards, overhand style. There are hundreds of playing cards scattered around the floor and there is an overturned chair next to the table. I see no direct evidence that the loser has been cheated, but since this is a gambling theme it is not out of the realm of possibilities that there was more to the story than meets the eye.

I did catch one interesting detail, however. Right next to the older man, to his left, there are four objects that appear to be four decks of playing cards. Then there is also an inkwell with a feather stuck in it. Since there are so many playing cards on and under the table it would seem that the men are more than just recreational card players. The expressions on their faces seem to suggest that they've done this before.

Whatever the story behind this picture may be, this one's definitely going on the wall.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Two Historic Michael MacDougall Press Photos

Michael MacDougall who billed himself as "The Card Detective" was a prominent figure amongst gambling exposé artists in the first half of the 1900's. He authored books such as Gamblers Don't Gamble, MacDougall on Dice and Cards, Danger in the Cards, conducted lectures on crooked gambling, and was often featured in newspapers and magazine articles. His books have become rare and are now desirable amongst collectors of crooked gambling paraphernalia.

I recently came across two original press photos, featuring Michael MacDougall. The source was eBay (no surprise there) and I think I got a good deal, especially considering the rarity of these photographs, which must be one of a kind.

Since I really don't know anything about those photographs perhaps it's best if I let them speak for themselves.

The first photo is of MacDougall demonstrating the infamous mechanic's grip, to a couple of soldiers. The photograph is dated June 4, 1944. This one cost me $9.99.

The second photograph is a close up of a bottom deal. This photograph has been heavily retouched by a poorly skilled retouch artist, which is the reason why the fingernails appear as if they have nail polish. The date on the back is March 30, 1938, and I paid the sum of $13.50 to acquire it.

I think I got a bargain. The photos were $23.49, plus $3.99 for shipping and handling, which amounts to $27.48.