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The Secrets of Playing Cards – Part 1

This week is Volunteers’ Week, an annual celebration of volunteers to thank them for the contribution that they make. So what better time to share this blog by Holly who has helped document some of our old sets of playing cards.

At the beginning of 2020 I began to volunteer at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. My task was to sift through dozens of playing cards (fortunately, several at a time rather than individually else I would still be doing them now). Some of the cards and their imagery will be used in a future exhibition linked to Alice in Wonderland.

The imagery on the cards is very beautiful and some date from the mid-nineteenth century, whilst others were created in the 1920s and 30s. It is also interesting to mention that many of the cards have made long journeys from various parts of the world to reach their final destination of the museum. For instance, some have come from locations such as Germany, Austria and Italy, whilst others have found themselves in the UK from places as far away as China.

Lastly, as a historian, I wonder about the people who put so much time, effort and skill in to creating the cards, as well as those who played with them. Questions form in my mind such as where did they live? What people touched the cards and what lives did they go on to lead? With some of the cards being so old, I can imagine that many could tell a tale or two if they could only speak to us. With that being said, I would like to share with you some of the cards that stood out to me and some of the history connected to them.

Gibert, Paris

STKMG:LH.SH.1985.906

One of the first set of playing cards I came across were the one’s named ‘Gibert. Paris’. As you can tell from their name they originated from France and were produced between the years of 1820 and 1860. These cards were eye-catching primarily because of their hand coloured images.

‘C-Tesse De Rochefort’ from the ‘Gibert. Paris’ card collection, (1820-1860) STKMG:LH.SH.1985.906

One of the first sets of cards that stood out to me are the one’s named ‘Gibert. Paris’. They originated in France and were produced between the years of 1820 and 1860. These cards were eye-catching because of their hand-coloured images. One of the images that instantly caught my attention was of a woman named on the card as ‘C-Tesse De Rochefort’, which I would assume the ‘C-Tesse’ infers to the French word ‘Comtesse’, which in English means ‘Countess’. The woman in the image clearly looks like a countess and her clothing would suggest she originated from the mid to late eighteenth-century. She looks very similar to the tragic Queen of France Marie Antionette with her white hair swept back in to a chignon, jewellery adorning her neck and ruffles and ribbons decorating her dress. She is in fact a fictional character from the French book ‘La Comtesse de Rochefort Et Ses Amis’, which in English translates to ‘The Countess de Rochefort and her friends’ written in 1879.

‘Chever D’Eon’ from the ‘Gibert. Paris’ card collection, (1820-1860) STKMG:LH.SH.1985.906

Another image is that of a gentleman named ‘Chever D’eon’, who was is fact a real person known as ‘The Chevalier D’Eon’, whose life was very intriguing to say the least. In English, ‘Chevalier’ means a ‘Knight’ or a chivalrous man. Interestingly, D’Eon was both a French soldier and diplomat, who lived in London during the mid to late eighteenth century. However, D’Eon’s story becomes even more fascinating between the years of 1786-1810, as this was the period that D’Eon decided to live as a female.

Portrait of d’Éon by Thomas Stewart (1792), at the National Portrait Gallery.

In England, during the latter part of the eighteenth century there was constant speculation regarding D’Eon’s gender and this culminated in a court trial that declared D’Eon to be in fact female. At this time, the stereotype of a woman disguising herself as a male to join the army, often in pursuit of her sweetheart was widely recognised, thus the notion of D’Eon as a woman was generally accepted. Despite a perceived lack of feminine ‘delicacy’, D’Eon was defended by feminists such as Mary Robinson and Mary Wollstonecraft as an admirable example of ‘female fortitude’ to which British women might aspire.

‘Diane De Poitiers’ from the ‘Gibert. Paris’ card collection, (1820-1860). STKMG:LH.SH.1985.906

Another in the collection is the card named ‘Diane De Poitiers’. This card is very striking and the woman depicted in it incredibly beautiful, especially with her style of dress, which I assume would be common for a noble woman living in sixteenth-century France. After a little more research, it seems Diane De Poitiers was also a real person. A noted beauty of the sixteenth-century and royal mistress to King Henri II, Diane lived a fascinating life and is definitely worth a mention from this collection of cards. The playing cards also contain the names of other factual and fictitious historic French individuals such as ‘Comte De Brissac’, ‘Bussy D’Amboise’ and ‘Dame De Monsoreau’, which I compel readers of this blog to research, as all of these individuals lead very interesting lives as well.

Thanks to Holly’s help sorting and scanning these collections, you can explore them as part of our online collections.

Your Mini Museums

During the Covid-19 pandemic we asked you to share your own collections and ‘mini museums’. Here are some of the wonderful and heartfelt responses we received.

Hannah & Sophie’s Museum

Sophie (aged 6) and I have chosen to make our museum with some of our family history about Sophie’s great great grandma and grandad we have included cards and photos of them and a few momentos like grandads army stripes and his soldiers bible from WW2 some of grandmas jewellery and a bible which grandad was presented by the Salvation Army Sunday school when he left Canada to come to England as a small boy, there is also a hand drawn card which grandad sent to grandma during the war. It’s been nice for Sophie to learn a little about her past. 

Gillian’s Mini Museum

These items are special to me because they represent the meaning of family love and friendship. They were either given to me as a gift or a keepsake to remind me of my 2 nanas and grandad that are no longer here but will be treasured for me to pass on.

Janet’s Mini Museum

I chose these items as they have sentimental value. The plates numbered 1-7 were hand painted by my Dad at Longton art college.  My first job was a figure maker at Wedgwood in 1976.

Sylvie’s Amazing Museum

Left to right, top to bottom:

  1. Keys. The keys represent the fun time I had in America. My first time there. The keys are from toy handcuffs which I used to lock up my brother in pretend jail.
  2. Big marble.
  3. Emerald. I have a set of gems and I chose an emerald for my museum because it is my birthstone for the month of May.
  4. Mushroom. I chose the mushroom because me and my mum love mushrooms. My mum found this one in a junk shop in Whitby before I was born.
  5. Tin Whistle. My great grandmother ‘Ninny/Dorothy’ gave me her old
    Girl Guides whistle. I keep in on the shelf next to my bed.
  6. Photograph. I had a picture of me and my mum together in a photobooth which was in Fred Aldous art shop in Manchester
  7. Lock. The lock is from my secret diary which is very fluffy and I use my keys to unlock the book. I write a new story in it every day.
  8. Mexican Jumping Beans.
  9. Cat button and watermelon eraser.
  10.  Pop figurine of Harley Quinn. This was given to me by my friend’s dad.
  11.  Magical hatchling. This represents my love of magic and mystery.
  12. Pink beaded earring. Passed down to me from my Great Grandma Vigurs.
  13.  Squishies.
  14. Minecraft sheep. Minecraft is one of my favourite games. I play online with my friends.
  15. Lumpy Space Princess & Chad. Adventure Time is an amazing and very funny animated show.
  16. Harry Potter Lego figurine. One of my favourite movie series.
  17. Wade Pottery Tortoise. Made in Stoke on Trent, where I live and passed down to me from my Ninny
  18. Music Box. This is a musical instrument that, when you turn the handle,
    plays Yellow Submarine by the Beatles.

Connor’s Mini Museum

Here’s Connor’s mini museum nature table, made out of a vintage printing drawer.

Anna & Rowan’s Mini Museums

We are sending over our mini museums – one is mine (the bigger one) and one is my daughter Rowan’s. We both love to Collect tiny things to remind us of places we go and things we do.

Jenny’s Mini Museum

It brings me great joy… And the pink high-5 hand on top says it all! 

The Staffordshire Hoard

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, comprising over 4,000 items. Archaeologists believe the Hoard was buried during the 7th Century (600-699AD), at a time when the region was part of the Kingdom of Mercia.

The Hoard was jointly acquired by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Birmingham City Council after it was discovered by a metal detectorist in 2009, near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The discovery is still transforming our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon era.

In November 2019, the 10 year conservation project and research project came to a close with the publication of a major research monograph and the full catalogue published online via the Archaeology Data Service.

You can also view items from the Staffordshire Hoard in our online catalogue.

War Gear

Most gold objects found from the Anglo-Saxon era are pieces of jewellery such as brooches or pendants. The Staffordshire Hoard is unique in that it is almost entirely made up of war gear, especially sword fittings. Over 1,000 pieces are from a single, ornate helmet. It is the grandest example to have been found from the period and would have been fit for a king. An 18-month research project produced two reproductions of the helmet. You can see one on display next the Hoard at the museum.

Quality

Anglo-Saxon metalworkers were very skilled, and the Hoard represents the pinnacle of their work. The quality is even more striking when we consider that the items were crafted without the aids of modern jewellers: power tools, magnification, and bright, artificial lights.

Although most of the hoard pieces were parts of weapons and armour, they are still highly decorative. Many pieces feature elaborate designs made from filigree (twisted wire) and garnet inlays. The quality of the Hoard means it was probably associated with leading figures from Anglo-Saxon aristocracy or royalty.

Mystery

No one can be sure why the Staffordshire Hoard was buried. Many of the pieces are bent or warped. It looks like they were forcefully pulled to strip them away from the objects they were attached to. One theory is that the Hoard is a collection of trophies from one or more battles, buried for safe-keeping or as an offering to pagan gods.

Alternatively, stripping away fittings from swords, shields and helmets may have been a ritual way of stripping away the identity of the previous owner. The war gear was re-purposed and redecorated by the victor, and the old gold fittings buried as a gift to the gods. Such an event is documented in the famous Saxon peom, Beowulf:

One warrior stripped the other, looted Ongentheow’s iron mail-coat, his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too, and carried graith to King Hygelac; he accepted the prize, promised fairly that reward would come, and kept his word. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was.

On Display

You can currently seeing objects from Hoard on display in our gallery, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, located on the ground floor of the museum. The display features a raised wooden-floored mead hall, with columns and banners adorned with Anglo-Saxon artwork– representing ancient designs on the Hoard artefacts – along with a replica fire pit and king’s chair.

You can also find the Staffordshire Hoard on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

You can find out more about the Staffordshire Hoard through the links below:

http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/

Archaeology Data Service

Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs

Discovered in the Staffordshire Moorlands, these three gold neck torcs and one bracelet from the Iron Age were declared Treasure earlier this year and have been valued at £325,000. This fabulous gold jewellery, was unearthed by metal detectorists in 2016. The intricate decoration on the bracelet is a rare example of Early Celtic art. The British Museum, which has assessed the torcs, believes that they date to around 400-250Bc and are probably the oldest Iron Age gold found in Britain. They give us a tantalising glimpse of life in North Staffordshire around 2,500 years ago before the arrival of the Romans.

Once the torcs were declared treasure and the national independent Treasure Valuation Committee valued them the race was on to raise the funds to secure the artefacts for the museum and ensure that were not separated and sold to private bidders.

On 19th December 2017 it was announced that the Museum’s fundraising campaign, spearheaded by the Friends of the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, had reached its target. Donations from members of the public and major support from funding bodies as well as trusts and local businesses have been flooding in since the campaign to save the torcs was launched in September. In early December generous grants of up to £165,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and £80,000 from Art Fund took the total raised to its target. This follows on from a £40,000 grant fund provided by Arts Council England and managed by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and £25,000 from The Headley Trust – one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts – received in November.

Museum Friends

The Friends of The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery is a registered charity (no. 507834) whose aims are to promote, support, assist and improve The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Gladstone Pottery Museum. Support may be for the development of facilities to increase the enjoyment of visitors, or for purchases of important items for the museums’ collections. Over the last few years, the Friends have contributed more than £120,000 for acquisitions and facilities to enhance the visitor experience. Since the Staffordshire Hoard arrived on exhibition at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, the Friends have raised a further £120,000 towards the purchase of these wonderful treasures.

The Stoke-on-Trent Museums Service depend upon a healthy Friends organisation. Donations and other monies raised are targeted towards areas beyond normal running budgets and can make a very real difference.

Make a donation using Virgin Money Giving

Please consider joining the Museum Friends for a range of benefits and discounts – alternatively, you can make a one-off donation to help support our collection care, displays, education and outreach.

Privileges and Benefits

The Friends organise a lively programme of meetings throughout the year, including lectures, films, social events, visits to museums, galleries and private collections. You will also receive invitations to functions, openings and private views at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and the Friends Newsletter, mailed out three times per year.

Friends are also entitled to the following discounts upon production of a valid membership card:

Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

  • 10% discount café and shop
  • Free entrance to paying PMAG exhibitions

Gladstone Pottery

  • 10% discount café and shop
  • 50% discount Gladstone Annual Pass

Birmingham Museums

10% discount at café and shop* at:

  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
  • Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
  • Blakesley Hall
  • Sarehole Mill
  • Soho House

    *Some exclusions apply to items purchased in the shops. In all cases staff will be pleased to assist in advising on those products which do not offer 10% discount, prior to purchasing.

Annual Membership Fees

Member – £20 (Single), £25 (Joint)
Over 60, Student – £15 (Single), £20 (Joint Over 60)
International – £25 (Single), £30 (Joint)
Patron – £50 (Single), £55 (Joint)
Institutional – £60

Decorative Arts

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery holds a regionally important collection of costume and textiles dating from the 15th Century to the present day. The strengths of the collection include:

  • A world class collection of jade and ivory
  • The Bagot Collection of clothes, accessories and jewellery worn by Lord and Lady Bagot including the Bagot family ceremonial and court dress from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries
  • The Rawlence Collection of European textiles and lace, dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries
  • Dolls from the Young Collection, encompassing early to mid 20th-century costume dolls from around the world

Objects from this collection can be seen within the Design Gallery. Themed displays celebrate various aspects of the collection. In addition work by contemporary local designers and makers sit alongside the permanent collection. The museum also works in partnership with Staffordshire University whose students regularly show their work.