Update: Rare 17th century heraldic playing cards from Edinburgh
Original post from 29 June 2011
We were contacted by members of the Scottish media shortly following an early post on this blog on a set of heraldic playing cards printed in Edinburgh in 1691. This post, and its subsequent Twitter and Facebook links, generated over 100 hits in its first few days and has continued to be one of the most popular items on this blog. Sue Gyford, a reporter at the Edinburgh Evening News, caught wind of the story and contacted our press office in hopes of publishing an article on the find. Her page 3 article was printed in the 30 June 2011 edition of the Evening News, and was also posted online. This find was also published on the University’s news page on 01 July 2011, and then recycled in many local newspapers including The St Andrews Citizen, Deadline News, Think Scotland, The Herald and Metro.
This series of media coverage brought in some interesting queries, the most fruitful was from two members of the Fairmilehead Association, Louise Maguire and Carolyn Lincoln, who got in touch with us through Ms Gyford. They claimed to have seen two other copies of these cards in the National Library of Scotland (NLS), one of which had the name “James Hamilton” on a card our set did not have. The only mention I could find of any possible match to St Andrews’ set of cards was in the Scottish Book Trade Index for James Hamilton which reads:
HAMILTON, James of Little Earnock paper maker Restalrig and Edinburgh
Restalrig [Clockmill] Mill 1690-93
[shop] on the South side of the head of the Canongate a little above St John’s Cross Edinburgh 1691
Bought from Peter Bruce his patent for playing cards and his papermill at Restalrig in 1690. The papermill was on the ‘River of Tumble’ and is perhaps the clockmill of Clockmill Lane. A clock mill is a watermill with a horizontal wheel used when a stream was too shallow to take a vertical wheel. Two sets of his ‘Cards armorial containing the Arms of the four Kingdoms’ are in the National Library of Scotland.
After finding this, I got in touch with our contacts at the NLS, Robert Betteridge and Anette Hagan, to confirm that these sets were indeed the same as ours. They came back with a positive confirmation; however, they had been part of the Rosebery Collection and had not been catalogued on-line. Following this line of queries, they provided a catalogue record as well, which can be found here. One of their sets did, indeed, include a wrapper/title card which provides us with our lost title and printer information as well as a card for the Lord Lyon King of Arms (Sir Alexander Erskine, 2nd Baronet of Cambo), a card which the St Andrews set lacks. Since this find, we have updated our catalogue record to reflect the true identity of this set.
This is generally where this exciting story would end; however, the Edinburgh Evening News did a follow-up article on this find in their 23 July 2011 edition. This article prompted a query from a reader of the Evening News who thought she had a matching set in her private collection. After sending along an image of the set (pictured right), we were able to confirm that this was indeed another set, and the first set that we’ve seen mounted as cards. The red suits in this set also appears to be press-coloured.