Court Fashions

No. 4, April - May, 1997

For other issues, related links, the catalog of my entire collection, and other administrative or trivial issues, please jump to the end of the page.

To see the individual pages about each deck, click on the small images on this page. To see full-size images of the cards themselves, click on the small images on the individual pages.

From their earliest European manifestations, playing cards have incorporated images of royal heirarchy. Kings, Queens, Knights and Knaves all found themselves pictured on the faces of cards, and while seldom was there a particular royal personage so enshrined, the images of the generic royalty was usually a reflection of the real thing. So, whether highly stylized or carefully realistic, playing cards have always been a representation of the fashions of court life. They form a sort of chronology of royal dress over the past four hundred years or so. And other decks depicted specific people or events, becoming, intentionally or not, a record of the fashion of dress at the time.

In this issue, I take a look at a handful of decks of cards whose whole purpose is to depict costume and fashion. They're all modern decks, but they depict costumes that span several centuries. The three Fournier decks have pictures only on the face cards, mirroring the classical organization of playing cards. The other three have a full deck of images: the Victoria and Albert and the Military Costumes are catalogs of costumes, but the Edland Man is a work of art only based on fashion photography.

[Victoria and Albert]First off this issue, we have Costume Playing Cards, the quintessential costume deck from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Arguably the finest decorative arts museum in the world, the V&A has substantial collections of all manner of objects, from sculpture and paintings to furniture, textiles and prints. Their clothing collection spans four centuries of European fashion through to the present day. This deck is a collection of fifty-three photographs of complete outfits in their collection, ranging from the 1600's to 1968. Whether you're a clothing afficionado, a history buff, or a costumer yourself, this deck is a both a great resource and a delightful diversion.

[Chinese Costume]Next we have three decks from Heraclio Fournier of Vitoria, Spain. First among these, we have the Chinese Costume deck, from the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, USA. The Winterthur estate is the legacy of Henry Francis du Pont, an avid decorative arts collector and horticulturist. His extensive collection includes all manner of decorative arts, including furniture, tableware, glass, paintings, drawings and prints. His estate also contains the reknowned Winterthur Gardens, where his vast collection of horticultural specimens can be seen, and Library, where his collection of rare and historic books is housed. This deck is composed of thirteen drawings of Chinese costumes, taken from books in the library collection dating to the early nineteenth century.

[French Costumes 1850]Next from Fournier we have the French Costumes - 1850 deck. An intriguingly deceptive deck, this one is a reproduction of a deck in the Fournier Museum in Vitoria. Painted originally by a Parisian artist named Gibert, this is a collection of twelve costumes used in Paris c. 1850. The clothes are well-reproduced, and the styles are easily recognizable. The detail on the depictions is remarkably meticulous, and for all their small size, these are quite useful as models for producing similar clothing. Each of the Kings and Queens is also named, affording, for the more inquisitive, an interesting lesson in history.

[Far East]And third among the Fourniers, we have the Far East Playing Cards. Each suit represents a different country in the Far East, and each face card has a drawing of a costume appropriate to the rank of the card. The point in this deck is neither authenticity nor painstaking accuracy, but rather an attempt at representative depictions of stereotypical clothing styles from the last century. The countries depicted are Japan, India, China and Indonesia, and the costumes are those of men and women of rank. The deck is distributed by Congress cards in the USA, and they put their sticker right over the Fournier logo. I can only hope that at some point they will find a way to promote themselves without defacing the very treasures they sell.

[American Military Costume]The USGS American Military Costumes deck is a collection of fifty-four drawings of military uniforms in use in the United States c. 1886. The drawings appear to have originally been cigarette cards from Sweet Caporal cigarettes, collected here as a complete deck. The deck is one of a pair of Military Costumes decks from U.S. Games Systems, the other being European Military Costumes. The drawings show some ranks of the various national services, but many more from State Militias, particularly Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. The variety of uniforms is fascinating, covering motifs present from the American Civil War through to the first World War.

[Edland Man]And rounding us out this issue we have an absolutely stunning deck by Dutch photographer Edland Man. Published by the Dutch photography magazine Focus, the deck evolved from a fashion feature Man did for Marina Fausti of Moda magazine in Italy involving a small number of playing cards. After completing the feature, he decided he wanted to do a complete deck. Showcasing his eye for presenting both clothing and the human form, the deck is much more than a collection of fifty-three fashion photographs - it's a collection of highly individual and yet greatly interrelated, striking works of photographic art. The cards themselves are oversized, being some six inches wide and eight and a half inches high. I can assure you that the space is not wasted.

The End of the Page

My collection, the list of publishers and manufacturers, and the history of my personal collection of cards can all be found in the "My Collection" page.

I thought about doing the standard Net thing and assembling a list of useful links surrounding playing cards, collecting and such, but no effort I could produce could possibly rival The Bob Lancaster Gallery of Unusual Playing Cards. He has a monstrous list of collectors, artists, manufacturers and just plain interesting sites about playing cards. And so, in deference to his monumental efforts, I provide only a link to him. I hope he doesn't have to pay by the hit...

And people are always asking me where to buy cards. There are plenty of places throughout the net that sell them, from little theme sites that happen to have a deck or two to enormous cards and games superstores. Bob's site lists many of them, but I have to confess - I just like Newt's Playing Cards. And they've got a heck of a selection.

Other Issues:

Issue 9, 10/99 - 12/99: Oh, the Places You'll Go

Issue 8, 11/98 - 12/98: Playing With Cards

Issue 7, 10/97 - 12/97: Sports Cards

Issue 6, 8/97 - 9/97: A Game of War

Issue 5, 6/97 - 7/97: Playing Cards As Art

Issue 4, 4/97 - 5/97: Court Fashions

Issue 3, 2/97 - 3/97: A Fortune in Playing Cards

Issue 2, 12/96 - 1/97: Literature on Playing Cards

Issue 1, 10/96 - 11/96: Handmade Playing Cards

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