Saturday, 31 December 2016

Playing Cards, part 3: Political Packs

In England of the late 17th and early 18th centuries there was a craze for packs of cards illustrating some famous event, with a different picture on each card. Here are some examples. All are taken from modern reproductions, since the originals are extremely rare.

These cards are from a pack called "The Knavery of the Rump", produced soon after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. (The "Rump" was the nickname given to the House of Commons after the expulsion of all the anti-Cromwellian members)

 The cards constantly denounce or ridicule Cromwell and his friends and military commanders, often drawing attention to their humble origins, sometimes inaccurately. Thus, the Seven of Clubs shows Major-General Thomas Harrison, who was in fact a lawyer, not a carpenter. Harrison was a "Fifth Monarchy" man; believing from prophesies in the Book of Daniel that Christ was shortly to return to earth and initiate the "Rule of the Saints". Harrison was hanged, drawn and quartered after the restoration. I particularly like the Four of Spades, with the Earl of Argyle, chief of Clan Campbell, described as "A muckle Scotch knave in gude faith sir"!

The next set is entitled "Marlborough's Victories", and celebrates England's triumph, led by the great Duke of Marlborough, over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-13) in the reign of Queen Anne. (It is worth remembering that this was the first major successful war that England had fought on the continent since the Middle Ages). The cards are in no particular sequence, and feature battles, famous incidents and leading personalities, and also make propaganda points. Anne is shown triumphing over Louis XIV of France, and also over the Pope, as on the Six of Clubs and the Ace (One) of Hearts 
The Five of Spades, where the devil is shown knocking together the heads of King Louis and the Pope, makes a crude reference to the fact that Louis, at the age of well over seventy, had had to undergo an operation for an anal fistula. The Knave of Hearts shows a government official embezzling money intended for the army. A spectator exclaims, "Oh rogue!", to which the official responds, "I am not the first!", and the lines underneath invite the reader to reflect whether he would have behaved any differently,given the opportunity.  Finally the Knave of Diamonds shows three nations each fighting for what each loves: The Frenchman exclaims, "Ambition!", the Englishman, running him through, exclaims, "Honour!", and the Dutchman, scrabbling on the ground between them, "Money!"

This card is from a pack of 1720, illustrating the "South Sea Bubble"; the world's first-ever stoack exchange "boom and bust". Each card illustrates some ludicrous prospect offered to gullible investors, with an appropriate verse underneath.
This one concerns one of the oddest invention of the time: "Puckle's Machine Gun", which was to fire round bullets against Christians and square ones against Turks. The verse below reads:-
   "A rare invention to destry the crowd
    Of fools at home instead of foes abroad:
    Fear not, my friends, this terrible machine,
    They're only wounded that have shares therein".

The nearest approach to these in my collection is this series, produced in the U.S.A. around 1970, with a different political figure on every card. The black suits are Republicans, the red suits Democrats.
Here we see President Nixon as King of Spades, Henry Kissinger as a puppet-master pulling the strings, Billy Graham with his flock, and Ronald Reagan (then Governor of California) jumping on a hippy. Below are Jane Fonda as Joan of Arc, Mayor Daley of Chicago (the ultimate "machine" politician, George Wallace of Alabama as a cop, and Teddy Kennedy as the would-be King Arthur, completely failing to pull the sword from the stone.

Nowadays a great many commemorative packs of cards are produced. They are colourful and inexpensive things to collect.


  1. I just finished your Welsh castles post. I'm just finishing up a career in construction (demolition/masonry) and have had the opportunity to watch building decay or see them in various states of decay.
    Of course you guys have got a lot more of the older types laying around, but I've noticed a few things.
    Buildings built after the introduction of AC are are of a different design and different materials and decay much differently than pre AC buildings. There are some similarities.
    It's very cool though to look at the pictures of the old ones that you have.

  2. Just gotten down to and finished history; 1968. I remember those times fairly well and it was interesting to see it from you guys side of the ocean. Though general it was one of the more fair handed accounts of that time. The China "Cultural Revolution" part caught me for I think the US is going through something very similar right now.