The magnificent private collection of the United States Playing Card Company contains 2 of 4 cards that were discovered in the binding of a 15th century book. [The other 2 are in the British Museum]. Together these 4 cards are among the very earliest known printed playing cards, dating c.1440. They are French knaves and have the names of the knaves on them: Lancelot, Hogier, Rolant and Valéry. The 2 that are in the USPC collection are Lancelot and Hogier.
The cards listed here are mint, sealed USPC Congress cards, with backs depicting the Lancelot and Hogier knaves. Each deck includes an extra card describing the significance of the card on the back. These insert cards state that the original 2 cards from 1440 are on “indefinite loan to the Cincinnati Art Museum.” In 1983 the USPC private collection was returned to the Company by the Cincinnati Art Museum (the Company opened its own Museum), and so it seems clear that these decks pre-date 1983. There are no tax stamps on the cards, and so I assume that they were made after 1965. It follows that the cards appear to have been made between the years 1965 and 1983. I know that they are Congress cards because the box says they are. In 2001, the Museum at USPC closed. It is my understanding that portions of the collection have been sold, and that the balance remains packed up. At one time USPC had a gift shop, and I suspect these cards may have been sold in that shop or in the gift shop of the Cincinnati Art Museum.
I assume that the faces of the cards are standard Congress cards of the 1970s and that each deck has 52 cards, plus 2 Jokers, plus the extra card seen through the wrapper. The cards are bridge size – I don’t know the size of the originals – measuring 88mm x 57mm, with gold and silver gilt around, and come in their original Congress box.
The cards are mint and sealed, except that the wrapper on one of the decks is coming off at the top. The box is “as new.”
And what were the original cards doing in the binding of a book? According to one of the extra insert cards: “Binders learned early in the 1400’s that the wooden boards were an ideal place for bookworms to breed. To solve the problem, they replaced the wood with heavy layers of pasted paper, using anything at hand to build up the needed thickness.”
Reference: Hargreaves, A History of Playing Cards, p.43
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