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Hand Painted and Varnished India Playing Cards, French Suits, British Indices, Sawantwadi Indo-French Ganjifa (?), c.1900 (?)
This is one of the most unusual decks of playing cards that I have ever seen; I wish I could be more certain of their origin and history.
They were made in India in much the same way as Ganjifa cards -- hand painted and varnished on some type of stiff composite material. But they are rectangular, not round, and have French suits and English indices. It is well known that “Indo-French” Ganjifa cards were made in Sawantwadi in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that occasionally, the sets were not round. It is tempting to describe this deck as a Sawantwadi product and date it to that period, and I have no better possibility to suggest. However, I have put question marks in parentheses next to both city and the date, because this deck is different in significant respects than those Indo-French decks shown in the literature from Sawantwadi during that period. In all Indo-French decks I have seen from that region and period, each of the four suits has a different colored background. Also, these cards are more crudely made than those pictured in the literature appear to be. On the other hand, an interesting feature of the Sawantwadi Indo-French cards is that the Heart symbol is upside down, and that feature is present here on a number of the cards.
The deck has 52 suited cards, plus 1 Joker. The court cards of all 4 suits have identical images (4 Kings the same, etc.) indigenous to Indian life and culture, including Jacks that are a composite of human and animal features. The deck is more than twice the thickness of a current, standard deck of playing cards. The cards are slightly small bridge size, measuring 88mm x 56mm. There is no box.
How to describe the condition of these cards? I have never owned anything with which to compare them. I once owned a set of 19th century dashavatara ganjifa cards and they were beautiful; these cards are “amateurish” in comparison with that set. However, the most that this means for certain is that they are not as well made as that set. [That set sold for $1500 and was missing 7 cards]. On this set, the varnish is not smooth, and the paint is fading, revealing the color of the material painted. If the cards truly date c.1900, then this degradation is probably not remarkable. I have attached pictures of the faces of all 53 cards, and a representative sample of the backs so that the condition can be evaluated.
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