An early and rare pack of Jazaniah Ford playing cards commemorating Lafayette’s triumphal return visit to the United States in 1824-25.
In 1824, President James Monroe invited the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution and George Washington’s close companion, to the United States as the “nation’s guest.” During the next fourteen months he visited each of the twenty-four states and receiving a rapturous welcome from a nation nostalgic for Revolutionary glory. The tour was also a bonanza for publishers, as it yielded an avalanche of commemorative memorabilia such as the pack of playing cards offered here (For another example of Lafayette memorabilia, see a facsimile of the Bauman plan of the Battle of Yorktown offered some years ago by this firm.)
The pack was issued by Jazaniah Ford (1757-1832), the first playing-card manufacturer in the Boston area, who operated his business in Milton, Massachusetts from 1793 until his death. Ford based the cards on a pack he had issued in 1815 to honor the exploits of American naval hero Stephen Decatur, though he had the court cards re-engraved and replaced the portrait of Decatur on the Ace of Spades with one of Lafayette. This Ace is particularly appealing, with the portrait in a circular medallion with an emanating sunburst, accompanied by implements of war and surmounted by an American eagle bearing a sash with the phrase “American Manufacture,” all delicately colored in green and yellow.
Though Ford was active as a card manufacturer for almost three decades, his cards are very rare today, the Lafayette pack particularly so. OCLC has a grand total of six listings under his name, only one of which refers to the Lafayette cards (being a group of eight copies of the Ace of Spades held by the American Antiquarian Society). I also find the Ace and five of Spades in the Cary Playing Card Collection at the Beinecke Library, and an Ace of Spades at Lafayette College. As for complete packs, Charles Morris’ article on early playing card manufacture in Milton strongly suggests that that town’s Historical Society holds one or more in pristine, possibly uncut, condition. Thus the pack offered here, appears to be one of very, very few known.
In all, an extremely rare and unusual example of patriotic Americana.
Beinecke Library, Cary Playing Cards Database, #392 (Ace and 5 of Spades only). Dawson & Dawson, Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cards, #W3 (p. 217). OCLC 908992246 (American Antiquarian Society, apparently 8 copies of the Ace with the Lafayette portrait). Charles R. Morris, “The Devil’s Playing Cards—Made in Milton,” at miltonhistoricalsociety.org.
Cards bowed and somewhat soiled, 8 with small losses at corners (with partial loss to a pip on the 4 of Spades), a few other corners creased, and some areas of abrasion.