Thursday, March 31, 2011

French Postcard with Card Cheats

The moment I laid eyed on the eBay listing for this postcard I knew I had to have it. It was listed on eBay by an international seller, from France, and it cost me €9.99, plus shipping. A bargain for such a great looking image that I might never see again, if I hadn't bought it.

postcard card cheatsThe caption says, "Le gain sera commun - Et l'enjeu partagé," translated, "The gain will be common - And the stakes shared." I'm not sure if I can read the handwritten message correctly, but it says something about "His fortune..." then possibly "...departed," followed by what appears to be an illegible signature.

card players
For whatever reason, this postcard has been postmarked on the front. The date is not visible, but I did a quick search for French stamps and I was able to determine that this 5¢ stamp was used in the years 1900 and 1901.

This is not a photographic postcard, like most postcards from that era. This one is a print. I'm not sure how they printed in color in those days, but when I look under a magnifying glass the image looks like a colorized black & white print.

I have no idea in what quantities these post cards were printed or haw many have survived, but this one will definitely end up on my wall.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

19th Century Pack of Playing Cards, by De La Rue

Here is a historic 32-card deck of cards, made by De La Rue & Co, of London. For those that are not familiar with the history of playing cards, I should at least mention that De La Rue was an important maker from the 19th century, not so much because they were one of the biggest makers of playing cards, but because they were the first to introduce Pneumatic Playing Cards, an invention that has been adopted by all other makers of playing cards and is not better known under the terms air cushion finish, or cambric finish, or linen finish, depending on how each brand decides to call it. In a nutshell, smooth finish playing cards tend to stick together, which makes it difficult to shuffle the deck. But this post is not about De La Rue's Pneumatic Playing Cards, it's about this deck, that's around 140 years old and appears to be in mint condition. A rare find. How these cards have remained in such stunning condition, with no box or wrapper of any kind, is a mystery.

This pack was made between 1870 and 1877; we can tell this because the pips on the numerical cards are all pointing one way and the suit symbols on six of the court cards are still on the right side. The ace of spades says, "Duty Three Pence - when used in Great Britain and Ireland." The backs are an intricate basket weave pattern.

One detail that's interesting about this deck is that, for whatever reason, all the court cards are slightly longer than the rest of the deck. In the image below all the cards are in numerical order and squared up against the table.

The next photo is even more interesting. If you shuffle the pack overhand style and if you hold the cards softly, you will notice that the longer cards can easily be stripped out of the deck. In the photo the cards are still in numerical order, so the stripped cards appear in four groups of three.

I can't really say that the discrepancy in the length of the cards is deliberate. It's probably just the way the cards were cut, because the court cards were probably produced separately. It's also possible that the numerical cards were trimmed by some cheat, or would be cheat, a century ago. This might help explain why the cards are in mint condition. If the trimming was done as an attempt to make a stripper deck (which obviously worked) and if the person that trimmed the cards never actually used this particular deck it could have ended up in the back of a drawer, only to be discovered a few decades later, when those kinds of cards were no longer commonly used. But that's all speculation.

I am not really sure what game this deck was made for. Bezique was a popular game at that time, played with two 32-card packs shuffle together, thus making a pack of 64 cards. So, this is quite possibly a bezique pack.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gaffed Camera-Ready Dominoes

Dominoes are closely related to playing cards. In fact, some historians think that the first playing cards might have been paper dominoes. So, anyone interested in playing cards should also have an interest in tile games.

About a year ago I published a blog post about a Chinese crooked mahjong set. Those mahjong tiles were marked and came with a set of contact lenses. Here is similar set of domino tiles, but the dominoes are not marked, not exactly. This gaffed domino set is now available through the CARDSHARK Online Sporting Emporium.

The tiles are made from a special material that becomes see-through with certain cameras. So, the tiles are made from two layers. The top layer is the face of the tile and is made from regular white acrylic. The spots are drilled through and filled with black plugs. So, the spots go completely through the top layer. The gaffed part of the tiles is actually the back layer, which is a solid black piece of acrylic. But that black acrylic is a special camera filter material that becomes 100% see through with certain video cameras. The next image is a still capture from a video recording that was made with two cameras. The image on the left was produced by a regular camera, and shows how we see the back of the tiles, and the image on the right was produced by the gaffed camera.

The beauty of this gaff is that, unlike the gaffed mahjong set, the tiles are not actually marked. If the back layer was made from a regular piece of black acrylic, the tiles would not be gaffed at all. So, for argument's sake, if the gaff were ever discovered it might be hard to prove that the dominoes were deliberately gaffed, as no one can exclude the possibility that the maker had no idea the black acrylic would show up clear under certain cameras.

Following is a short video demo from which the still image was captured.

This gaffed domino set should be of interest to collectors, because there are only six sets in the world. Two of them are in private collections and the remaining four sets are for sale. This is truly a limited edition and as far as I know, a one of a kind gaff.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Postcard with Gambling Still Life Motif

This postcard was listed on eBay fro $12, plus $4 for S&H from Latvia. The postcard is postmarked November 3rd, 1912, from Riga, Latvia.

I don't know what the message on the back of the card says, but I really doubt the card was used as a "Hallmark moment" for an announcement of death. I think it's pretty clear the morbid motif is a memento mori, a Latin phrase translated as "Remember your mortality," "Remember you must die" or "Remember you will die" - literally "[at some time in the future] remember to die."

What attracted me to this postcard was the presence of cards and dice. It's hard to know for sure what the artist meant, exactly, when making this picture, but I don't think I'm far off if I say that the artist didn't think gambling leads to a bright future. In any event, I think the postcard is rather unique and as soon as I have some free time I'll pick a frame for it and place it on my bedside table.