Rare set of geographic playing cards

P[ierre] du Val, Geographe du Roy / Cordier Sculp., LES TABLES de GEOGRAPHIE, reduites en un JEU DE CARTES ("Tables of Geography, Reduced to a Game of Cards"), Paris, 1669.
Engraving on laid paper, 16"h x 21"w plus margins, spot color (some of which likely later)

A complete and uncut set of a charming geographical card game, scarce in this condition.

The game includes 52 cards arranged in the usual four suits, each dedicated to a different continent: hearts to Europe, diamonds to Asia, spades to Africa, and clubs to the Americas. Each card features a kingdom or region followed by a list of its major subdivisions and their capitals; for example, the clubs include among others cards for Canada, Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, New Spain, Peru and Chile. The eight of clubs, dedicated to Canada, describes its “8 principal European colonies,” including New England (capital at Boston) and New Holland (capital at “Manhatte”). The face cards feature medallion portraits of actual or legendary national figures, such as Montezuma on the card for New Spain. The rules of the game are not specified, but presumably required players to commit to memory the subdivisions and capitals shown on each card.

At the top the sheet are the title, dedication to the Dauphin (Louis of France, 1661-1711, who never acceded to the throne), and four tiny continental maps. The American map may be of particular interest, as California is shown as an island, there appears to be a land bridge to Asia, and a massive southern continent looms in the southern Pacific.

The game was issued separately but also appeared in one or more editions of du Val’s atlas Cartes de geographie les plus nouvelles et les plus fideles. Tooley writes that du Val (1618-1683) “published a large number of maps which each appear in many different states and in more than one of his publications. He also compiled atlases in several editions, map games or ‘jeu de l’oie’ and town plans. He died in Paris and was succeeded by his widow and two daughters.” (Mapmakers, revised edition, vol. 2 p. 406.)

This example is peculiar for bearing on the verso extensive ink offset from a still-wet impression of what is likely a piracy of Pieter van den Keere’s 1608 Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica Ac Hydrographica Tabula (Shirley #264). That map first appeared in 1608, but according to Shirley the plate passed through many hands, was repeatedly revised by the Janssons and others, and survived long enough to be reused by Englishman Moses Pitt in 1680. By contrast the offset on our map closely matches the 1608 first edition, even though it is from an impression pulled in 1669, by which time the original plate had been significantly changed. Piracy would seem to be the simplest explanation. Shirley makes no mention of any such map, however, so the present item adds an interesting footnote to the cartographic record.

Yasha Beresiner, “Cartographic and Map Playing Cards 1590-1798” (previously at http://www.intercol.co.uk but no longer accessible). OCLC lists a single example, bound in the BNF’s copy of du Val’s Cartes de geography, though the game is not especially rare. Antique Map Price Record lists a number of impressions sold in the past 25 years, and five years ago this firm sold another to an American institution.


Patch to a tiny loss (ca. ¼" x 1/8") at far lower left, margins trimmed close. Traces of binding on verso, along with extensive ink offset from an impression of an early world map.