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A number of lots in the enormous collection offered by Stroud Auctions (15% buyer’s premium) on May 8 brought three-and four-figure bids.

One of the earlier lots, sold at £750 via thesaleroom.com, was a group of 39 cards from a ‘Knavery of the Rump’ pack issued by Randal Taylor.

Dated to c.1680 by the auction house, the engraved cards reproduce work by Francis Barlow depicting events relating to Oliver Cromwell’s Rump Parliament of 1648-53.

Issued only a few years later and sold for £3200 on a matching £500-800 estimate was a near-complete pack catalogued as ‘The Reign of James II 1685-88’.

This pack, said the cataloguer, focused on reaction to the pro-Catholic measures instituted by the king that ended with arrival in England of William of Orange. With plain backs, this was a deck that lacked only three cards.

Bid to £1000 was an unopened pack of ‘Great Mogul’ cards issued by Gisborne & Gisborne around 1790.

Reference is made on the wrapper to the tax levied on playing cards. For centuries, the production of playing cards was carefully controlled by the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards.

The Crown received the benefit of the duties levied by the company on all packs, with the ace of spades typically chosen as the card to mention the maker and the tax paid. This tax on playing cards was not abolished until 1960.

European origin

By and large it was English cards that made the higher sums in Stroud but some surprises emerged among the packs of European origin – among them Austrian and Italian packs, each of which was valued at just £80-120.

Dated to c.1860 was a group of 36 Austrian cards by Karl Albrecht of Bozen, or Bolzano, that sold at £1300.

Catalogued as bearing a Tyrol pattern and German suit signs, they feature rural scenes along with an imperial eagle tax stamp on the seven of hearts.

The backs bear a blue, red and yellow trellis pattern.

Bid to £1800 was a pack of 78 Italian cards by Felice Rossi of Milan, dated to c.1815 and described as a Lombardy tarot pack featuring “single figure courts [and] turn over edges”.

The backs bear the legend ‘Milano’ beneath a leaf pattern design in blue on a white background.

Shakespeare packs auction punch

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Hand-painted playing cards with Shakespearean scenes sold for £2000 by Kingham & Orme.

Sold for £2000 rather than the estimate of £80-120 as part of a May 3 sale held by Kingham & Orme (20/15/12% buyer’s premium) of Evesham was an unusual group of hand-painted playing cards.

Featuring scenes and characters from Shakespeare’s plays, they were catalogued as being of 18th or early 19th century origin.

A selection of cards from the ‘Shakespeare’ pack is shown above. Some also have inscriptions on their backs.