My Best Pick

Text to ill.: Animal-tarok produced by Mayer, none of which is comparable to the earliest complete deck from 1752. The cards are hand-coloured and are kept in a wonderful little leather case in the shape of a booklet.

Text to ill.: Hans Jørgen Hinrup keeps in contact with many collectors over the net and subscribes to the Swedish journal Hans Jørgen Hinrups pick: The National Museum owns only 6 single whist cards and a Danish Kartofilen, where he has written, among other topics, about these unique cards printed by Holmblad around 1850.

A good deck on hand

Denmark’s oldest complete deck of playing cards was not cheap, but still it was a scoop.

From the account books of King Hans we know that one day in 1487 he lost in a game of cards. This is the oldest reference to playing cards in Denmark.

Stories like that are abundant when you visit Hans Jørgen Hinrup in the village of Haarup north of Aarhus. He is one of only two or three serious collectors of playing cards in Denmark. He has re-tired from a job as subject specialist in History at The State and University Library in Aarhus, and it is exactly his historic interest, that inspires him, even if the beginnings were completely by chance.

“At a flea market in the mid-80es I found a shoe-box with playing cards, which I bought very cheap. Back home again I sorted them, and out of ignorance threw away all the cards without pictures on them. This has been the most stupid thing I have done as a collector. It still comes to me, but my interest was aroused, and since then I have taken no similar regrettable decisions as a collector”, tells Hans Jørgen Hinrup.

“Many collect advertisement cards, or perhaps jokers, which by the way is a quite new, American, invention from the beginning of the 20th century. Others collect decks from all over the World, but I have chosen to focus on complete decks produced in Denmark, and I am so fortunate as to own the oldest extant deck, from 1752. It was put on an auction, and I was willing to pay DKr.40.000, but was lucky to get the top bid at DKr.18.000. It is produced by Jean Friderich Mayer, who as the first one ever, was given the monopoly to print decks in 1752. They were printed in black-and-white and then hand-coloured.”

The origin of playing cards is uncertain, but probably they were invented in India or Persia, and we know, that the Italians were playing with cards as early as in the beginning of the 13th century. At that time in southern Europe there were other pips than now used, so their cards might have swords, jingle bells, oak leaves, big bells, coins and other pips, instead of spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs.

Two big companies have dominated the Danish market, that was Holmblad and Handa. In the mid-1800s the Holmblad Psalmbook was quite popular, and when someone suggested, that they should open the psalmbook, everyone knew, that it was not a question of hymns and singing, (but about playing cards) but the outer appearance (of the box) was of a baffling like.

Until Denmark had its own productionin 1752, Denmark imported playing cards. There are however indications of an earlier production a few years earlier. In an invetary list of the Papermill at Strandmøllen it says in 1693 “two wooden tables used for the production of cards”, and also that, the paper was made of “good cloth”.

Hans Jørgen Hinrup , who now and then also plays whist and bridge, have made other good finds. Not least, when in an antique store he found two rare decks at a price of DKr.10.00 each. They are worth at least DKr.1500.00.