Revolutionary-era ephemeron, on the verso of a four of Diamonds!

[John Holt, printer?], THE following five Gentlemen were nominated by the Committee of Correspondence… , [New York City, July 1774].
Letterpress, surrounded by an ornamental border. Printed on verso of a playing card (four of diamonds), the card block printed in color. 3 5/8"h x 2 3/8"w at sheet edge.

New York City’s proposed delegates to the First Continental Congress, printed on the back of a playing card.

In the Spring of 1774 the first Continental Congress was announced, with the goal of providing a venue for the 13 colonies to develop a unified response to the high-handed actions of the British government. The most recent of these were the so-called “Intolerable Acts,” passed to punish Boston for the Tea Party.

The conservative-leaning New York Assembly was however unable to muster enough votes to support the Congress or send a delegation. This decision was left to local revolutionary committees, with the New York City Committee of Correspondence (also known as the Committee of the Fifty One) taking the lead. This body nominated as delegates Isaac Low, James Duane, John Jay, Philip Livingston, and John Alsop, all members of the city’s mercantile and professional elite. This slate was approved by popular vote and supported by the other counties between Long Island and Albany, and the five men participated in the First Congress, held in Philadelphia from September-October, 1774.

This extraordinarily-rare ephemeron consists of the New York Committee’s endorsement of its five nominees printed on the verso of a playing card. The reason for using playing cards is not clear, but may have been as mundane as a lack of adequate card stock. More tantalizing however is the possibility that playing cards were used to facilitate concealment from prying eyes, for both the Committees of Correspondence and Continental Congress were extralegal bodies.

The text reads in full:

“The following five Gentlemen were nominated by the Committee of Correspondence as very proper Persons to go as Delegates for the City and County of New-York to the Congress, and they beg Leave to recommend them as such as all their Friends.

Isaac Low, Philip Livingston,
James Duane, John Alsop.”
John Jay,

Alsop (1724-1794) was a New York merchant and politician, who served in the Congress from 1774 to 1776. Duane (1733-1797) was a New York lawyer whose conservative inclinations lead him for a time to advocate reconciliation, though Britain’s intransigence soon turned him into an ardent Patriot. After the Revolution he served as Mayor of New York City and a Federal judge. Jay (1745-1829) was a lawyer from a wealthy merchant family, served for a time as President of the Continental Congress, and after the Revolution helped write the Federalist Papers, served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and became the first Chief Justice of the United States. Livingston (1716-1778) was a New York merchant and politician who had been active in organizing the war effort during the French and Indian War, and served as the first President of New York’s Provincial Congress. Low (1735-1791) was a New York merchant and landowner who abandoned the Patriot cause after Independence, lost his property after being accused of collaboration with the British, and emigrated to England after the war.

I have been unable to locate any other examples of this printing, though slightly-earlier playing cards of the period are known bearing patriotic slates for the 1769 election for the New York Assembly. There are also at least two known examples of patriotic verse printed on the versos of playing cards, also dating from 1769. All have been attributed to New York City printer and patriot John Holt, and all are extremely rare.

Not in Evans, Bristol or Shipton & Mooney. OCLC lists digital and microfilm editions only. Americana Exchange lists no examples having ever appeared on the market.


Minor soiling, else excellent