Three cards from the complete set of Charles Hodges’ Astronomical Playing Cards sold by Stroud Auctions for £3000.

A Marylebone bookseller and stationer, Hodges had previously produced a geographical pack and followed it in 1828 with this zodiacal companion.

Said to be one of the last English packs produced before chromolithography generally took over from engraving, it features diagrams of the constellations and their appropriate pictorial signs on the numeral cards and classical deities on the court cards. In 2007 Chorley’s sold another of these packs for £4200 in its Gloucestershire rooms.

The Stroud sale took place on January 8-10.


Cards from the ‘South Sea Bubble’ deck sold by Christie’s for £13,000.

A set of playing cards, inspired by the ‘South Sea Bubble’ scandal and satirising other such suspect speculation schemes, was one of two other exceptional decks seen at auction in recent times.

It sold for £13,000 at Christie’s (25/10/13.5% buyer’s premium) on December 11, though it had been hoped that the set might make as much as £20,000.

The cards are fully functional, and indeed those in this pack show signs of game use, but they also offer a fascinating catalogue of insurance and other devious schemes by which investors were persuaded to part with their money.

This set was issued by Thomas Carrington Bowles in 1720, or shortly thereafter, and in June of last year a framed set of these same cards offered in Christie’s New York rooms made a low-estimate $20,000 (then £15,625).

Deemed offensive


Sample cards from the ‘Proverbial’ deck that made £5200 in a Dominic Winter sale.

Sold for £5200 as part of a Dominic Winter (20% buyer’s premium) sale of December 11-12 was one of the many sets of cards issued by John Lenthall in the 18th century.

A similar set of these ‘Proverbial Cards’ had been first issued in 1698 by William Warder, to whom Lenthall was apprenticed in the following year, but was quickly withdrawn when some of the scenes were deemed offensive.

Lenthall eventually took over Warder’s Fleet Street business, c.1708-09, but the auction house catalogued this set as having been issued at some time between 1718-44.

The cards depict defecating humans and dogs, amorous liaisons, hangings and beheadings – even one in which a dog is hanged – but humour, albeit sometimes grim, persists: “Where there are Women and Geese there wants no Noise” reads the caption to one card.

In 2012 Sotheby’s sold another of these decks, one which it dated c.1745, at £6000.