A selection of cards from a full deck printed by Carington Bowles with words and music from The Beggar’s Opera, £10,500 at Dominic Winter.

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A dedicated and knowledgeable member of the International Playing Card Society, Ollis formed his collection over more than 50 years, buying from dealers on Portobello Road and Camden Passage as well as auction houses.

Considered the most important English private collection of playing cards, it includes rarities such as a set of English cards printed with the musical notation and lyrics from The Beggar’s Opera.

The London printer John Bowles probably produced the first set of playing cards based on the …Opera soon after it opened at Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in 1728. However, the great popularity of the worka, which paired music by the Anglo-German composer Johann Christoph Pepusch with the words of the dramatist John Gay, meant the pack was reprinted often during the next few decades.

By 1766 Bowles’ son Carington had taken over the business and was working from 69 St Paul’s Churchyard – the address that appears to this complete deck of 52 engraved cards.

At the time the printing of cards was heavily taxed (typically the ace of spades was stamped indicating that the levy had been paid) but here the duty ace requirement had somehow been avoided. Offered together at the June 14-15 auction with a folder of notes regarding the history of The Beggar’s Opera, the set, estimated at £1500-2000, sold for £10,500 (plus 20% buyer’s premium).

For more on this auction, see page this week's Books and Works on Paper section.