Rare 17th century heraldic playing cards from Edinburgh

Wednesday 29 June 2011

To see an update on these cards, view this post from 1 August 2011.

I recently catalogued a very interesting set of playing cards from late 17th century Edinburgh. These cards turned out to be highly rare and almost impossible to track down: they are not recorded in Wing, and playing cards (along with other types of ephemeral material) are currently out of ESTC’s scope.  Phylarcharum Scotorum gentilicia insignia (Family signs of the princes [royalty] of Scotland), illustrated by Walter Scot, is a set of 53 cards (52 playing cards plus the title card) all mounted on 18th century paper.The two and six (pictured below) of clubs are roughly hand coloured. These cards are a great piece of the ephemeral history of Edinburgh and Scotland. Sir Walter Scott, in his copy of this work at Abbotsford, recorded the name Walter Scot as belonging to “Walter Scot, goldsmith of Edinburgh, was admitted into the fraternity of his craft in 1686”, although another contemporary Capt. Walter Scot (ca. 1614-ca. 1694) was a published genealogist.

The only other mention of this set of cards I could find was in volume 3 of John Gough Nichols The herald and genealogist (London: J.G. Nichols, 1866), pages 80-85. Nichols records, at the time, that one set had been recorded in the possession of “Capt. W. E. G. L. Bulwer, of Quebec, East Dereham,” another set was located at Drummond Castle, and two other sets were in the great antiquarian collections of David Laing and Benjamin Nightingale. Both the Nightingale and Laing copies were sold by Sotheby’s in the 19th century, and the St Andrews copy is almost assuredly the copy from David Laing’s library. Although Laing donated all of his manuscripts to the University of Edinburgh, St Andrews purchased many important books from his collection, of which 38 have currently been identified through recent cataloguing efforts.



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5 thoughts on "Rare 17th century heraldic playing cards from Edinburgh"

  • more than my typical blah blah blog « Diplomatics Books – Evan Knight
    Thursday 30 June 2011, 3.17pm

    [...] st andrew’s (scotland) special collections blog, Echoes from the Vault: – some very interesting and rare 17th C. Edingurgh playing cards  &  – embroidered dos-a-dos binding (week 2 of “52 weeks of fantastic [...]

  • St Andrews Rare Books
    St Andrews Rare Books
    Wednesday 13 July 2011, 12.06pm

    For those interested in other early playing cards, two other great finds were announced earlier this year: A set of 16th century Swiss cards: http://www.worldradio.ch/wrs/news/switzerland/archivist-uncovers-deck-of-500-year-old-swiss-play.shtml?24652 and a leaf of uncut 16th century Austrian cards: http://www.ub.uu.se/en/Collections/Picture-collections/Engravings-and-lithographs/Deck-of-cards/ enjoy!

    • John Sings
      John Sings
      Saturday 23 July 2011, 6.50pm

      The Swiss cards are really quite something. Not unusual to have uncut sheets used in binding but the playing cards are a an eye opener for me. John Sings Council Member International Playing Card Society

  • John Sings
    John Sings
    Saturday 23 July 2011, 6.48pm

    You will find 'colour' reproduction of these cards in the Memorial Catalogue HERALDIC EXHIBITION Edinburgh 1891 The book was "Printed for the Committee by T and A Constable" 1892 and was limited to 250 edition. You will have this book in your collection I'm sure. An excellent find and thanks for sharing it John Sings Council Member International Playing Card Society

  • Update: Rare 17th century heraldic playing cards from Edinburgh | Echoes from the Vault
    Monday 1 August 2011, 12.51pm

    [...] Original post from 29 June 2011 Second engraved title card of St Andrews' copy of "Cards armorial, containing the coats of arms of the four kingdoms, and of the Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and Lords of the Kingdom of Scotland". [...]


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