Die astronomische Spielkarten..

£12,000

Title card and 52 playing cards (97 x 56 mm), each with engraved plate and letterpress, title-card with engraved celestial hemispheres, 12 court cards each with engraving depicting the signs of the Zodiac with descriptive text beneath, and 40 cards, each suit numbered 1 to 10, with engraving depicting a constellation, the stars numbered with Greek letters, and 8 lines of text in German printed beneath, plain paper backs; a little wear, in excellent condition, with seventeenth-century manuscript annotations and numbered 1-52, preserved in a full vellum box.

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Title card and 52 playing cards (97 x 56 mm), each with engraved plate and letterpress, title-card with engraved celestial hemispheres, 12 court cards each with engraving depicting the signs of the Zodiac with descriptive text beneath, and 40 cards, each suit numbered 1 to 10, with engraving depicting a constellation, the stars numbered with Greek letters, and 8 lines of text in German printed beneath, plain paper backs; a little wear, in excellent condition, with seventeenth-century manuscript annotations and numbered 1-52, preserved in a full vellum box.

Extremely rare complete pack of seventeenth-century astronomical playing cards, intended as teaching aids. The wonderful engraved figures are based on the images in Johann Bayer’s Uranometria (1603), which was the first accurate celestial atlas.

The text accompanying each image gives a brief description of the constellation, and was intended to be memorised.

Such decks were intended as learning-cards (’Lernkarten’) and were invented by the Franciscan monk Thomas Murner (1475-1537). Initially intended as a means of teaching his students law and logic, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they became very popular in teaching all kind of subjects. The deck consists of twelve court cards with the signs of the Zodiac: 4 marked with a crown with crossed spears underneath, 4 marked with crossed spades and scythes, and 4 marked with an open book with crossed swords underneath, and 40 cards numbered 1 to 10 for each suit.

A complete pack of this card game is extremely rare. It was first published by the firm of Endter in Nuremberg in 1656 with a text booklet of 60 pages. Only one set of cards, similar to our set, but without the title-card, was present in the Sylvia Mann collection, and exhibited in the Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum in 1991. One single card only is present in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Provenance: purchase note 51dm in Leipzig, Germany, in 1938

Sammlung Sylvia Mann, no 270 in text vol, and full-page plate on p 262 in plates vol; Cat. Playing Cards, Victoria and Albert Museum, no 87 (1 card only); not found elsewhere

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