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Oldest playing cards in the world?

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Oldest playing cards in the world?
« on: May 20, 2017, 05:11:31 PM »
 

variantventures

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I just returned from a visit to the Dallas Museum of Art.  The DMA recently (a few years ago) became the new host site for the Keir Collection.  The Keir Collection (named for the building where it used to be hosted) was acquired over the course of many years by Edmund de Unger.  The DMA has devoted one small gallery to the exhibition of some of the more durable objects in the collection.  Not on display are four fragments of paper that might be playing cards.  The owners of the collection and the curator at the DMA granted me permission to view the fragments.

I'll start by telling you that I'm not allowed to share the photographs I took.  Sorry.  I'm working on putting together a PDF with my observations and sketches.  The examination took place in a rather dimly lit room and I wasn't allowed to use flash photography.  The fragments have been rather cleverly mounted on archival paper sandwiched between two sheets of frameboard (the thick, stiff material used to matte items for framing) in which a window has been cut.  The clever bit is that two of the fragments have markings on the back and cutting away most of the archival paper allows this to be viewed.

The first fragment is the familiar de Unger fragment which is frequently mentioned in connection with the Topkapi playing cards.  Viewing it in person allowed me to see traces of the colors.  I'll save a detailed description for later but I'll tell you this card had a red border and made use of gold leaf or metallic gold ink/paint (probably the latter).  The fragment appears to be of two sheets of paper and I found this surprising as I expected it to be thicker.

The second fragment is an ace of cups.  At full size it was probably very close to the size of the Topkapi cards.  It made extensive use of red, probably a non-organic red like cinnabar, and what looks like an organic yellow and, possibly, an organic red/pink.  If found the red to be very similar to the middle eastern playing card in the Benaki Museum in Athens.

The third fragment was completely unexpected.  It's actually two fragments and I suspect the fragments are from two different cards of the same deck.  The larger fragment is at least a three (possibly a four) of coins that are striking similar (but clearly different) in design to the Topkapi cards.  At full size the larger fragment would be very close in size to the Topkapi cards.  The smaller fragment is of a suit that's not really possible to determine.  If I had to guess I'd say swords, but that's a pretty wild guess.  It has the typical arched top of the Islamic-style decks and there's a rectangular square above it that had gold ink/paint in it.

The fourth fragment shares some design similarities with other Islamic cards but I don't believe it's actually a playing card.  If it is, it's completely outside my experience.

The first two cards are dated to the 13th Century.  So, in addition to being part of the extremely small corpus of early middle eastern playing cards they are perhaps the oldest surviving playing cards in the world.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to see these in person and am very grateful to the curators at the DMA (who worked with me for two years) and the de Unger family (who gave me permission to view the cards).  As soon as I have my observations and sketches put together I'll let y'all know.
 

Re: Oldest playing cards in the world?
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2017, 07:05:03 AM »
 

Lee Asher

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Wonderful! Looking forward to hearing & seeing more. Thank you for sharing!

Lee
Lee Asher
President - 52 Plus Joker
The American Playing Card Collector's Club

 

Re: Oldest playing cards in the world?
« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2017, 08:58:32 AM »
 

TheBadJoker

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Thank you for sharing your observations.
 

Re: Oldest playing cards in the world?
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2017, 04:58:47 AM »
 

shimmering

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Really interesting, thanks!
 

Re: Oldest playing cards in the world?
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2017, 09:57:58 PM »
 

variantventures

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My report on my visit.  Images of the cards.  Awesomeness.  https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B15SAMYZtejMdXU3LWh1UzRiZU0
 

Re: Oldest playing cards in the world?
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2017, 09:33:12 AM »
 

Eddie Hughlett

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Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

-eh