Playing Cards and Gaming

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes

[Posted by Jacob Miller for “America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire” (AMST 838/438)]

A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming, compiled by Frederic Jessel, is a chronicle of all written works that reference or discuss subjects surrounding and including playing cards and gaming. Jessel was the dean of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and one of the foremost collectors of books about playing cards and gaming. His bibliography is still considered the standard authority on the subject and serves as the foundation for the continued collection of works about gaming in all of its forms. The fact that this book still holds weight amongst historians studying this subsection of history speaks to its niche nature, but also substantiates the longstanding historic curiosity and intrigue that surround the often-typecast world of gambling, gaming and cards. There are 1700+ unique bibliographic entries in the text, covering a massive variety of different games. The subject matter includes everything from illustrated informative rulebooks like Winterblossom’s 1875 text, “The Game of Draw-Poker Mathematically Illustrated,” to more psychologically minded texts that explore the compulsions and dark side of the gambling culture.

I discovered a catalogue for a collection by a rare book collector and trader, Natalie Galustian, titled All In: A unique collection of first and rare editions, photographs and prints on poker and gambling. When cross-checking this catalogue’s contents with Jessel’s bibliography, almost all of the works that bore the indexed label of poker and fit the time frame were a part of this catalogued collection. Since “All In” allegedly sold to an unnamed buyer for a sum of over $200,000, it is clear that Jessel’s work served as a foundation for a collection that holds the interest of modern collectors. Galustian was quoted as saying “The collection traces the development of the game through the 19th and 20th centuries, and shows how the wealth, quality and scholarly nature of the writing on poker proves it is a game of skill, not chance.” While I cannot speak for Jessel, the fact that he took on the challenge of chronicling the literary history of gaming in English suggests that he shared in Galustian’s sentiment for gaming as a whole. The existence of the resource he created allows someone to reference all of the scholarly writings along side everything else and draw their own informed conclusions about where gaming fits into the world.

While the impact of this book is specific to the subject matter it addresses, I think that the most important lesson I learned from my experience with this book is the role that a bibliography plays in collecting as a hobby. I would imagine that the bibliography is the foundation for many collections as it allows for a collector to serve their subject matter with the due diligence and background that will allow for fulfillment of the collection’s true purpose. If a collection seeks to preserve a time period, or concept in history through its presence, it must offer an unbiased and complete documentation of all the relevant books and texts associated. The work of a bibliographer and a collector are inherently linked, as their respective work can often serve a common goal. Just as a bibliographer may peruse pre-existing collections to confirm the meticulous reliability of their own work, many of these very same collections and the collectors who created them probably began their journey utilizing the works of famous bibliographers who came before them. Jessel’s work has maintained integrity, as his work seems to be one of the cornerstones for the historical literary contextualization of this subject mater.     

For me, Jessel’s text helps to confirm the validity and importance that the bibliographic medium provided to the intellectual and literary world. Without a collection of all these relevant texts, there is truly no way of substantiating or contextualizing modern day arguments or histories of any game or the culture that surrounds it. This book served its purpose in a multifaceted way as it not only got me thinking about the chronicled history of the world of gambling, but it also led me to make my first acquisition of a collectible book. After recognizing the intricate and diverse subject matter associated with the history of gaming, I purchased a first edition copy of a history of gambling referenced by Galustian’s All In catalogue. David G Schwartz’s Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling will be the newest addition to an ever growing collection of Poker instructional books and historical narratives surrounding the world of gambling. Utilizing the modern day manifestation of the legacy created by Jessel’s text, All In, I have begun the long process of building a collection that attempts to achieve the context and consistency achieved by Jessel and all those the implore the bibliographic medium.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 31st, 2014 at 6:17 pm and is filed under Americana, Classes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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