Delightful deck of cartographic playing cards

Published by Charles Hodges, New Royal Playing Cards.  27 Portman Street, Portman Square, London, [c. 1827-28.]
52 etched and engraved playing cards plus one engraved “duty” card, all printed on wove paper then mounted on card stock. Each 3 ¾”h x 2 ½”w, full original hand color with pips in stenciled color, all edges gilt. Housed in original telescoping pasteboard case.

A rare and delightful deck of hand-colored geographic playing cards, complete and in brilliant condition.

The deck consists of 52 cards in 4 suits, with each suit corresponding to a continent: hearts represent Europe; clubs, Africa; diamonds, Asia; and spades, the Americas. The ace of each suit bears a continent map, the two through ten feature maps of countries or regions, and the court cards bear images of historical figures associated with that continent. The American court cards feature two possibly mythical Indians as Jack and Queen and George Washington—ironically—as King. The European court cards feature George IV, Catherine the Great and—of all people—Robespierre, shown holding a liberty cap on a pole, trampling on a crown, and with a corpse at his feet.

Charles Hodges operated as a stationer and bookseller at Portman Square in London from 1825-6 through 1830. He issued a number of geographical and astronomical packs of cards, all using the same basic plates but some the stenciled on pips present on our deck. The firm of William and Henry Rock eventually acquired Hodges’ plates and reissued the decks in the late 1830s.

In his Miniature Antique Maps Geoffrey King refers to a small booklet issued by Hodges, titled A Brief Explanation of the Countries, &c. Represented by the New Geographical Cards. It is not clear whether that booklet was issued with these New Royal Playing Cards or another of Hodges’ packs. At any rate, no such booklet is present here, and I find no mention of one associated with other known sets of the New Royal Playing Cards. I have however had opportunity to examine a set of rules produced for the Rocks’ reissue of Hodges cards. These specify that all the cards are to be dealt out to the players, and that the dealer is to lead with his most predominant suit. Each successive player must match this suit with a card of his or her own or play a “stop” card to change the suit. Play continues in this manner until the first person runs out of cards and wins the game.

This lovely deck is rarely found complete and is especially desirable in such excellent condition. I find a complete deck at the British Museum and an incomplete deck at Yale’s Cary Playing Card Collection, though none are listed in OCLC. An incomplete complete set missing the ace of spades (bearing the Americas map) sold at Christies South Kensington for 2640 pounds in 2006 and another incomplete set at Garth’s in 2010.

Schreiber, Catalog of the Collection of Playing Cards Bequeathed to the Trustees of the British Museum, #49. Yale University, Cary Playing Cards Database, #2253 (incomplete). Not in OCLC. See also Geoffrey L. King, Miniature Maps, “1827 Hodges,” which describes a deck apparently identical to ours but giving it the name New Geographical Cards. Some background on Hodges from “Charles Hodges” at The World of Playing Cards.


Very minor soiling to cards and case somewhat scuffed with repair to lid, but generally excellent.