Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A History of Playing Cards

I was out with Saarya this morning - many interesting stories therein, which I shall skip for the moment - and we had a chance to stop into a used book store for twenty minutes where I found this book for around $8.00.

It is dry, dry, dry, but exhaustive, with 1400 beautiful pictures of so many cards from around the world. Unfortunately, it reads more like a collector's guide: this card came from here, and this one from there, and so on. It could have gone into more about the lives and culture around the time, the games and gaming culture, and so on.

I truly recommend it if you're into the historical nature of cards, but not for a "good read".

More interesting is an amazing bibliography, not only for works cited by the book, but thousands upon thousands of books about cards and games of every sort, printed from the 15th century until the early twentieth century. Some of the books cited pre-date the printing press, and exist in only one copy made of gold clasps and lambskin.

The books are divided by subject, and one of the subjects is "Plays, Poems, and Satires on Gaming". There's a whole two pages of them! You can bet your bazookas that I'm going to report back on those, after I track some of them down on the Internet.

Update: Well what do you know? You can find the bibliography part of this book online in PDF format, for free.

Another thorough bibliography is "A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming" by Frederic Jessel. Catherine Perry Hargrave's book (which I bought) is a complete reproduction of the original book "A Bibliography of Card-Games and of the History of Playing Cards" by Norton T Horr.

Both Jessel's work, and the bibliography part of Horr's work, were published in "Bibliographies of Works on Playing Cards and Gaming" by Jessel and Horr, which is available here (warning: 415 page PDF).

This work was put online by the University of Calgary's Alberta Gaming Research Institute.

They have also put many, many other works online in PDF format, including seminal books on game theory, gaming, and gambling. You have to search through the results, however, because only some of them are online. I would have thought that it would go by date/copyright expiration, but some books as late as the 1970's are also online. I haven't figure out a pattern, yet.

What a treasure trove.


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