3400 Rare Playing Cards Presented to University in Thorndike Collection

Colorful Persian Card Painted On Wood and French Historical Set Included in Gift

An ancient Persian playing card painted in bright colors on a thin block of wood, and a pack with Braille markings for use by the blind are among the interesting items in a collection of rare cards, which has been bequeathed to the University by the late Albert Thorndike '81 of Boston.

Front and Back Designs Shown

Numbering 3,400 cards in all, the collection was acquired by Mr. Thorndike over a period of many years, and has been painstakingly mounted for exhibition purposes to show both front and back designs. It will be combined with the collection donated several years ago by James E. Whitney '89.

Cards both ancient and modern, coming from almost all the countries of the civilized world, are included in the bequest. The largest, of American make, measures 12 inches high by 8 inches wide; the smallest, coming from Switzerland, is only one-half by three-quarters of an inch. A unique item is a pack of modern round cards, which the manufacturer asserts are waterproof.

Historical Cards


Many of the packs have historical significance. In one very valuable set issued in 1680 the identification characters at the top are all but crowded out by wood cut illustrations of the suppression of the "horrid.. popish plot" of 1679. One of the pictures shows the hanging of five Jesuit priests and another a public book burning. Another set, made at Brianville in 1667, carries the hand made coat of arms of a noble French family.

A portrayal of the appearance and garb of inhabitants of far-off lands is given on a pack of 18th century French "educational" cards. The artist's conception of the American aborigine is a dusky savage dressed in skins with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. Local color is provided by a backdrop of a crocodile, representing American wild life.

Part of Mr. Thorndike's collection is arranged to show the history of American playing card design in the United States since 1800. Among the historical packs is one made by Jazaniah H. Ford of Milton in 1815, celebrating the naval victory of Decatur against the Mediterranean corsairs.