January 2012


Joop had to wait for the monthly flea market in Utrecht until the very last weekend. It didn't bring any spectacular finds. The weekend before we've visited a bric-a-brac market in a former shipbuilding hall in Amsterdam. We used to avoid the regular flea markets in that high hall, because there was no heating, in some spots the roof leaked, the general atmosphere wasn't a very pleasant one and on offer was mostly lots of junk and second hand clothes. The atmosphere hadn't changed, but at least the offer at this special market was mostly of good quality. Miriam brought home a nice leather box, of course with suit signs on it and a joker printed on the side.
So again the cards had to come from the internet. The Dutch auction site did bring something special, but it's a card related object: another lithographic stone with back designs for playing cards on it.  Ebay was a good provider and brought us a good deal of new decks. So this month there was an interesting short list again. We had a hard time choosing between an American modern transformation deck, which we had received as a gift from Bill Schroeder and this vintage deck from Latvia from Ebay. An intriguing detail made us decide in favor of the latter.

The deck is known as the "Third Latvian Playing Cards", meaning that it was the 3rd deck produced in Latvia. It was designed by Reinholds Kasparsons and was first published in 1932 as "Highest Quality Playing Cards No. 1". 


It's often described as a Latvian costume deck, but by looking at the designs on the suits' courts, we recognized a "four seasons" deck in it too and because it's January we'll start with......


All the Queens are dressed in a traditional Latvian costume and as far as we can ascertain they don't reveal any specific season. But in the Spades suit the King and Jack are dressed in fur coats and the Jack's cap is a typical one for winter, with fur flaps that can be lowered to keep the ears warm.


It's probably not a coincidence  that the red suits are dedicated to the warmer seasons.


A season of new love and life and what better suit to put this in than  the Hearts. In the Queen's arms a big colourful bouquet of freshly picked flowers functions as a clear reference to spring. These colours are also found in the playful string around the King's staff. And the Jack represents the shepherd with his stick and flute to play in the lonely hours. It's time to lead his flock out.


The aces are embellished with a special center design. The Ace of Hearts is the most important one in the older, pre-WW II, Latvian packs. Here it carries the name of the manufacturer: the Valsts Papiru Spiestuve Un Naudas Kaltuve from Riga. But besides that you'll always find a Red Cross on this ace too. Only in the first Latvian deck, which was produced in 1921, there's no red cross on the Ace of Hearts. Why?

Latvia became an independent republic in 1918 and only two days later a protocol about the foundation of the Latvian Red Cross organization (LRC) was signed. Since then this organization has played an important role in the Latvian society. In 1922 legislation was passed, in which the LRC was appointed to receive the tax revenues of the manufactured and imported playing cards. This continued until 1941, in which year Latvia was occupied by the Germans. In this deck the Latvian coat of arms was printed across the red cross. There's a Latvian tax stamp by the LSK, the Latvijas Sarkanais Krusts (Lavian Red Cross), and their name is spelled in full on the banner too.



A blazing sun appears on the cloth of the Queen and the shield of the Jack, symbolizing the heath of the summer. There's another, more intriguing symbol in this suit and that can be found as the embellishment of the coat clips on the King. 
It's clearly a swastika sign and in the 1930's already incorporated in the flag of the German Nazi party. So why did the designer use this symbol here? A small reference to a hidden political preference or to one of its ancient Indian meanings.... the sun? We prefer to think it's to the latter.

According to Janis Metra (Latvian IPCS member) the swastika symbol "is an old Latvian ornament (in Latvian -- ugunskrusts -- a cross of fire) known at least already more centuries before Hitler". The Russians clearly had a different view and after Latvia was incorporated in the U.S.S.R on August 5, 1940, the swastika symbol was altered into a simple cross in further editions.



They even found this tiny symbol on a collar of the 

Queen of Clubs a little suspicious and had that removed too.



A time to harvest and enjoy all the things that were harvested.
Hop and corn for a well deserved beer for the King and the Queen is probably going to bake an apple pie.




The deck consists of 52 cards and a joker. 

Just like the deck, the accompanying joker isn't often seen either. On the left, besides the joker's shoe, the initials R.K. are found. It's the only card on which the design was signed by Reinholds Kasparsons (1889 - 1948).

Unfortunately our deck came without a wrapper or box, so we can't show you that here. The deck isn't in pristine condition either, but we were already glad to find one and to be able to share it with you here.

Epilogue of 01/03/2012:
And for those of you who have all this time been wondering what the Latvian indices K, D and S  would stand for, we have asked our Latvian fellow collector Oksana Afanasveja and she gave us the following information: the K stands for  Kungs and the D for Dama.

From Janis Metra we heard that the letter S for Jacks in Latvian earlier cards comes from the word Sulainis -- the synonym to word Kalps ( servant ) . In Latvian "Jack" is translated as "Kalps" and this name is still used for each Jack by Latvian players, when playing a game of cards. Well, the S is a pretty important letter in the Latvian language. Put it at the end of a word and it indicates that that word is masculine (e.g. Kungs). So the Jokers here above isn't a plural, but just Latvian for Joker.

And from our fellow collector Barney Townsend we received a picture of the box that came with his deck.........