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Vanderbilt Library Acquires Collection of Playing Cards, Gaming Memorabilia Dating Back to the Renaissance

Posted by on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 in HART, News, VRC.

Playing-Card-Gaming-CollectionThe George Clulow and United States Playing Card Co. Gaming Collection—one of the world’s premiere collections of books about card games, games of chance, playing cards and chess—has been acquired by Vanderbilt University Libraries.

The collection of approximately 1,000 volumes dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries was acquired from The United States Playing Card Co, who bought the bulk of the collection from the English playing-card maker George Clulow in 1898 and have augmented and enhanced it during the past 100 years. Also included in the collection are archival records that document the development, design and manufacture of playing cards in America.

“This stellar collection offers a wealth of materials for faculty and students across a wide variety of disciplines, including history, English, French, German, law, economics, physics, religious studies, ethics, art history, mathematics and education,” said University Librarian Valerie Hotchkiss.

Playing cards probably originated in China, though the earliest literary reference to a card game suggests an Arabic source. The books in the new Vanderbilt collection come largely from England, France, Germany, Italy, India, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.

There are original sketches for playing cards designed by the influential design and color theorist Owen Jones (1809–1874), who, in addition to transforming European interior and textile design with his Grammar of Ornament (1856), also ushered in the standards of modern playing-card design with his tessellated and geometric patterns devised to thwart cardsharps and cheaters.  Another noteworthy item is an important fifteenth-century manuscript with the earliest recorded mention of Tarot cards.

Mike Slaughter, CEO of The United States Playing Card Co., is excited that Vanderbilt has become the home for the collection’s preservation. “We think of card games as entertainment—and they are—but this collection shows how games have shaped our world and influenced the way we think about so many things from mathematics to the arts,” Slaughter said.

Vanderbilt’s Special Collections Library plans to catalog the collection and make it fully accessible in the very near future.—Excerpts from Ann Marie Deer Owen’s Vanderbilt News article

*The George Clulow and U.S. Playing Card Co. Gaming Collection (photograph by Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)

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