Very rare deck of astronomical playing cards

William & Henry Rock, [Publis]hers of Scientific Games , The Court Game of Astronomy, London, [ca. 1820s].
52 etched playing cards; each 3 ¾"h x 2 ½"w; pips stenciled in black (clubs), blue (spades), red (hearts) or yellow (diamonds) [with:] booklet of instructions; iv,31pp; 3 ¾"h x 2 ½"w with early glassine wraps [with:] original tooled wallet of black morocco over pasteboards with title in gilt.

A very rare early 19th-century playing cards designed to educate players on “the sublime Science of Astronomy.”

The set consists of 52 cards in 4 suits, as with a regular pack of cards. Here, however, each suit is assigned a season: Hearts represent Spring; Diamonds, Summer; Clubs, Autumn; and Spades, Winter. Cards 1 through 7 of each suit illustrate major constellations for the season; 8, 9 and 10 of each suit carry the signs of the Zodiac; and the court cards illustrate figures from the Roman pantheon. The constellation illustrations are remarkable for naming their principle stars and employing symbols to indicate their relative magnitude.

The tiny rule booklet, explains the relatively straightforward rules: All the cards are dealt to the players, and the dealer leads 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.

The set appears to be very rare. This writer locates a complete set at the British Museum (#1905,1019.213.1-52) and two at the New York Historical Society, though it is not known whether either of these is complete. The set is listed neither in the on-line catalog of the Cary Collection of Playing Cards at the Beinecke Library, nor in OCLC. OCLC does however record a “Court Game of Geography,” also attributed to the Rocks.


Cards moderately soiled, with tiny losses to corners of two cards. Front cover of instructions absent and title page mounted with loss to lower left corner including several letters of the Rock imprint. Wallet somewhat scuffed and bumped and with minor interior damage, but otherwise completely intact including original green silk pull.