Superb set of wonderful cards called, “Kyd’s Pickwick Papers Playing Cards” depicting characters from Dickens’ classic, “The Pickwick Papers,” as originally drawn and designed by Joseph Clayton Clark aka “Kyd.” The cards were made by Carta Mundi for the Navarre Society and published in 1982 by the Society in a limited edition of 10,000; this deck is from that original edition. Two years later, in 1984, the cards were published under license from the Society by U.S. Games Systems, but this set is from the original run.
In any event, the cards are extraordinary. Gunther Andersen describes them at his wonderful website as follows:
“Originally designed and executed in watercolor by J. Clayton Clark, who called himself "Kyd," the Pickwick Playing Cards is a collection of caricatures of characters from Dickens' classic, the Pickwick Papers. The artwork is suitably comic, and I'm sure if I'd ever read the book I'd recognize the characters, but alas, I haven't. Each of the sixteen face cards (including the Aces) shows a different portrait of one of the major characters, and the number cards include small drawings of that number of characters. Each card of the same number shows the same drawings, but imposed on the appropriate pip symbol. Thus, for instance, all the threes have Dr. Slammer, Dismal Jimmy and Raphael Wardle. And, conveniently, this deck too has a paper insert with some information about the history and design of the deck. However, it's long enough that I'll paraphrase it instead.
“The history of these cards is an interesting story in itself. Originally rendered in 1931 by Kyd, the item was offered for sale the same year by Charles J. Sawyer, a dealer in antique books. Before offering the item for sale, Sawyer requested that Kyd redraw the Ace of Spades, which is a portrait of Dickens, because the first one he did was from a portrait of Dickens as an old man. The Pickwick Papers was written while Dickens was only 24, and so a younger drawing (based on the "Nicholas Nickleby" portrait) was executed. The deck was bought by an American collector, Mrs. Marjorie Wiggin Prescott, and added to her collection of Dickensania. There it remained until 1981, when her estate was offered up for auction.
“The drawings were bought by a private collector, who then authorized their publication in a limited edition of 10,000 decks by the Navarre Society of London, in 1982. That deck included a "frontispiece" card (a tradition I keep hoping will come back in style) which is similar to the front of the box, shown above. Two years later (in 1984, if you've not been paying attention), USGS published the deck presented here, under license from the Navarre Society. . . .
“The artist himself also offers an interesting story. Joseph Clayton Clark was born in 1856, and worked as a freelance artist and cartoonist until 1900. From there until 1920, several sets of cigarette cards and postcards based on his Dickens drawings, among others, were published. He made his living in his later life from his watercolor sketches, mainly of Dickens' characters, which he sold to and through the London book trade. And he was also an expert in fore-edge painting, a technique whereby a painting on the front edges of the pages of a book only became recognizable when the book was fanned out. He died in 1937, at the age of 80.
“Kyd is described as a "flamboyant character," always wearing a grey suit, spats, a homburg hat, and gloves, and always with a flower in his buttonhole. Despite his artistic talent, he was never financially successful, with horse racing and pubs quickly consuming his income. Still, his artwork flourishes, in collections in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert, the Dickens House in London, and even the Dickensania collection at the Univerity of Texas in Austin.”
The deck is complete with 53 suited cards (it has the 2 Aces of Spades described by Anderson!), the Joker and the Frontispiece card. It also has the paper insert mentioned by Andersen, from which he derived the history that he recites. The cards are wide, measuring 89mm x 64 mm, and come in a handsome original box.
The cards and box are “as new.”
Reference: Fournier, Playing Cards II, British Isles 531.
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