18th century inspired: Playing Cards | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: 18th century inspired: Playing Cards

January 19, 2011

18th century inspired: Playing Cards

I wanted to share this great find! Pimpernel Clothing is offering a line of playing cards recreated after historic decks.  If you get a chance take a look at all the sets. Some of  include "Fortune Telling" and "Arms of English Peers" (always useful!)

I think they would make not only great gifts, but would be perfect to set out at a party!  There are seven sets of cards in total and on the website each set comes with its own mini-history and many images.  These are some of my favorites, I love their descriptions!

South Sea Bubbles Playing Cards

Financial scandals and faulty projects were epitomised by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, as commemorated in this deck of cards. (1720)

What a unique contemporary record in cartoon form of' the feverish activities of traders in stock! Speech balloons are used to report the speech of those portrayed and each card has a pithy verse describing the situation. (Some of these verses may not be suitable for children!)

The cards offer not only a marvellous record of' fashions of dress of the period but also commentary upon those who were tempted and fell as a result of the apparent gold rush - cobblers, reverends, lawyers, "a Brisk Young Gentleman", and so on. (Full description and images here)

Marlborough's Victories Playing Cards 

Published in 1707, these are pictorially the most elaborately engraved set of playing cards ever issued, and demonstrate fully the adulation at that time accorded to the first Duke of Marlborough during his overseas battle campaigns.

Although primarily intended as a compliment to the Duke's successes, the pack deals with a variety of European political issues and includes several portraits of royalty connected with the campaigns. The spade suit comprises almost entirely a series of savage, not to say scurrilous, attacks upon the French king, Louis XIV. (More images here)

I am always looking for 18th century inspired items to share with you, so if you find anything let me know!


  1. The playing cards look great - love the images used. I don't even play cards but would be a good way to accessorize.

  2. If your looking for 18th century games that you can play in the U.S check out Jas. Townsend. They have playing cards and dice that have serveral games to play. You can also get a bilbo catcher that is pure 18th century fun! http://jas-townsend.com/index.php?cPath=13

  3. In addition, you can get Aesop's Fables Playing Cards from Williamsburg.I have both sets when I do 18th century presentations. The Aesop ones are really nice and are close to the pimpernel ones. http://www.williamsburgmarketplace.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductView?catalogId=12122&storeId=10001&langId=-1&categoryId=15922&parentCategoryId=26106&start=13&end=16&sortBy=featured&priceRange=

  4. So funny you posted this today! I was just talking to my hubby about ordering some for when we're in England next month!

    If only it were easier to find some suitably 18thC games to play with them

  5. Hi, I'm trying find someone who sells gambling chips, dice, etc similar to the pieces shown in the 2006 film "Marie Antoinette"? Also, do you know what kind of games they were playing during the birthday party scene? Thanks for the help!

  6. There are a number of really good resources for finding 18thC games - a subject truly next to my heart.

    Check out these googlebooks...
    This one is a 1754 edition of the Compleat Gamester, though it's largely a rip-off of the original 1674 edition:

    Here's a 1791 update of Edmond Hoyle's (theee master, to this day, of card game rules) games book:
    There's also a 1750 edition on there.

    Both will give you a VERY good sense of the type of games played in polite and not-so-polite (my favorite) society.

    If you have a few spare shillings, here's a place to order a really nice facsimile of the Hoyle book, from a 1778 edition:

    Plenty of other neat stuff there, including various gentlemen's and ladies journals.

    I,personally, would strongly suggest staying away from sources such as Jas. Townsend, as their standards for authenticity are pretty poor.

    Another source for info on all manner of games is this modern book:
    A decent reference, though the author also takes some liberties with his sources and dumbs down some of the rules. Still a nice little quick read on the overall subject of 18thC gaming - which is HUGELY broad, considering that games and musick are all they had to entertain themselves back then (well, there were other pursuits...), prior to TV, Roku, PlayStations, and Blogs...
    Personally, I'd just stick with the primary source material - which is becoming super easy to find these days!

    PS - GREAT BLOG!!! My wife and I just discovered it - she's been going nuts looking at all the fantastic images.

  7. @Niels-Viggo Thank you so much for sharing these excellent resources! I can't wait to check them all out!

  8. @Niels-Viggo : Thanks for the links!