Playing Cards

Last Saturday my wife and I went to York. We sat at the very top of a very modern, but temporary building. We watched a play by an Elizabethan playwright about a king who ruled for only two years.

What we experienced was Shakespeare’s Richard III, performed in Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean theatre. It was a wonderful day and leads neatly into playing cards. Richards reign was right at the end of the Wars of the Roses and in 1485 in an important last battle, near to what was eventually to become a car park, Henry Richmond defeated and killed Richard III. Richard as we all know was later discovered under some 20th century concrete, while Henry went on to become king.

Now Henry was a clever man and he married Elizabeth of York and so united the two warring houses of Lancaster and York. This is where we have the link to playing cards.

Playing cards originated in China in the 9th century and it wasn’t until the 1360s that they appeared in Europe. In 1475 Baptista Platina recommends cards as a beneficial after dinner game for gentlemen, to aid the digestion, but warns against cheating and desiring to gain.

In the salerooms we see many thousands of 20th century playing cards which are largely worthless. Unusual Victorian sets can be collectable but going back to Shakespeare’s Henry VII, the cards are almost non-existent so incredibly collectable.

Our link between the play Richard III and the playing card is that Elizabeth, the wife of Richard’s slayer Henry, was the Queen on playing cards during and long after his reign.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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