March 2013


We overslept and missed the 10th Int. Spring Fair for playing card collectors in Lokeren-Daknam, Belgium. So for us there was just one main event this month and that was the general collectors fair in Utrecht. It brought us only 2 new decks and they are not even worth mentioning here. So once again the internet had to supply ammo for our short list: the cute Odd Bods deck by the Folio Society was one, a rare French deck from Casablanca and a never seen French patterned deck from Switzerland: see our "Card of the Month" at the BOTTOM of this page!

Our Deck of the Month arrived on the 1st and we were already convinced that it could not be surpassed this month. This illustrates our excitement when we first held the deck. We had only seen it in books, but had never had the opportunity to actually see or hold it. It's a beauty and a rare one too, so.......... ENJOY!


The deck was printed in fine chromolithography by the Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkartenfabriken from Stralsund, Germany, and published by Van Duym & Co. from Soerabaja (Surabaya) around 1880. We've tried to find out what the nature of Van Duym & Co.'s business was, but haven't been able to find any information about that.
The designs are excellent and full of fine details. Unfortunately the name of the artist (or probably artisan/engraver) is not known, but he must have used photo's for his designs. In those days photography was done in black (or sepia) and white and this could explain the only oddity that we spotted in these fine portraits: 99.9% of the indigenous East Indian people has dark brown eyes and not blue or gray ones. The designer apparently had never seen any actual East Indian people and has probably used the colour of his own eyes for them. At least..... that's our theory.

The suits represent islands: Sumatra on Clubs, Java on Diamonds, Nias on Spades. Only on Hearts Borneo is represented as well as Sunda (a region of Java). The Queens and Jacks represent native people from these islands in the Dutch East Indies (since 1949 Indonesia). The QC shows a woman from Paya Kombo (Sumatra), QH a bride from Sunda, QS a girl from Nias and QD a woman from Java. The JC shows a man from Padang (Sumatra), the JH a man from the Dajak people (Borneo), JS a chief from Nias and the JD a man from Java.
But the Kings probably present the reason for this publication: the status of the Aceh War around 1880. Aceh (or Atjeh in Dutch) is located at the Northern end of Sumatra.
All the Kings represent successful generals of the Dutch army in the Aceh War,  during the period of 1873 - 1881.

Above their suit sign is the decoration of "Commandeur in de Militaire Willems-Orde" (Commander in the Military Order of William).

All these generals have been decorated as such and are depicted wearing this crowned cross on their chest.

KC - Johannes (Jan) van Swieten (1807-1888) started his military career in 1824 and had already served in different ranks in the Dutch East Indies. In 1862 he resigned as commander in chief of the Dutch armed forces there. In 1873 he was reinstated to lead the second Dutch military raid against Aceh. In January 1874 he captured the sultans palace and thought that the war would be over. He returned to Java with the main force and left a small occupying force behind. He also left instructions for a defensive policy against the Acehnese people and forces. Jan van Swieten was honorably discharged in July 1874.

KH - Gustave Marie Verspyck (1822-1909) had already been in command, as a general, of the Dutch forces in Borneo and was thought to lead the second military raid. But he was passed, when Jan van Swieten was appointed as commander in chief. Still, he did the honorable thing and lead the second military raid as second commander in chief, although he strongly disagreed with the tactics of general Van Swieten. He too was honorably discharged in July 1874. Van Swieten's decision to withdraw the main force turned out to be wrong one, just like his soft policy towards the Acehnese. King William III recognized Verspyck's military loyalty and better judgment of the situation in Aceh by awarding him several decorations and high positions, after his return to the Netherlands.

In 1824 a treaty was signed between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, in which the Dutch had taken on the obligation to safeguard passengers sailing along the coast of Sumatra, but also the obligation to respect the free state of Atjeh. In 1871 a new treaty was signed, which gave the Netherlands a free hand in Aceh. The sultanate of Aceh had rich agricultural soil, where peppers and spices were grown, and it was a well respected region of Sumatra. So besides merchandise, there was prestige to gain too.
But because Aceh controlled the Strait of Malacca and because that passage had become more important because of the opening of the Suez canal, there was also a strategic reason to intervene in Aceh: the Acehnese often acted as pirates and looted passing merchandise ships.
In 1873 the Dutch government officially declared war against the Aceh sultanate and a first expedition force was send in April 1873. It wasn't a successful one and in November 1873 a second expedition force was send.
All the depicted generals were active in the Aceh region between 1873 and 1881, when a civil government could replace their military one and, although the Dutch didn't control the whole region, a relatively peaceful period had begun. That period ended again in 1883, when the war between the troops of the sultan and the Dutch had begun over an escalated knidnapping of British citizens from a stranded ship in a part of the region that the Dutch didn't control. The war dragged on and officially ended in 1903.

The Harmonie Club was the place to be seen in Batavia since about 1780 and a place to meet Europeans. It should be spelled as "rivier" (river)
Padang is a city on the Western coast of Sumatra.
The Gap of Ambatjang was essential for the contacts between the upper and lower parts of Sumatra. Samarang, a large city on the northern coast of Java, was ruled by the Dutch since 1705.

The house of Raden Saleh, a famous East Indian painter of noble descent. He died in 1880.

"Raft on the Barito", a river in the central region of Borneo, doesn't refer to the canoe!

There were about 32 residents, civil servants in charge of certain regions or local kingdoms. 

The Gap of Aroe in the Padang upper region, situated on the western coast of Sumatra.


The logo of the Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkartenfabriken is on the King of Spades.

KS - Johannes Ludovicius Jakobus Hubertus (Johan) Pel (1823 - 1876) had the rank of colonel, when he was as appointed military commander of Aceh in February 1874, after Van Swieten had left with the main force. His orders were to maintain and not attack, but the situation changed drastically after the main force had left and Pel decided for a more pro-active defense. He safeguarded the sultans palace and build a line of defense, withstanding the fierce attacks by the Acehnese troops. In November 1875 he was promoted to general and during a successful raid he died as result of a ruptured artery -at night.. in bed.. in a small Aceh hut- on February 23, 1876.

KD- Karel van der Heijden (1826-1900) also was a colonel when he was appointed civil and military commander of Aceh in June 1877. Under his regime the Acehnese returned to the kampongs and rice fields, surrendering their  weapons and ammunition. Although peace was restored in Aceh, the governor-general in Batavia convinced the Dutch government, that Van de Heyden's regime was too harsh on the native people. In March 1881 the Dutch government released him of his task. He returned to the Netherlands in May 1881 and came close to being prosecuted for cruelties against the Aceh people, but was honorably discharged and a few months later appointed as commander of Bronbeek, a military home for retired soldiers in the Netherlands.

On the backs, together with the name of the Van Duym & Co. firm and their logo at the bottom, the shield of Soerabaja (Surabaya) is depicted. It refers to the mythical fight between a shark ("sura" or "soro") and a crocodile ("boyo"), which are said to have given their names to the city.

On the box there are two illustrations. The first shows the Societeit Harmonie in Batavia, the second Jan Pietersz Koen, the founder of Batavia. Maybe the choice for the first illustration reveals the reason for the publication. After decades of war the East Indies seemed to be in peace and harmony ("Harmonie" in Dutch) in 1881. Business could prosper again and maybe the deck was commissioned by this firm to express their gratefulness by honoring the men who had created this status quo.



We found this deck on Ebay. Maybe it was the coloring, but there was something in the thumbnail to make us take a closer look at the item. And now we're glad we did. This Jack of Clubs was shown too and nor the name of the maker nor the name of the place rang a bell here. We bought the double deck. It has a standard French pattern, in which the designs are quite close to the original, although there are differences in the coloring of the courts. However, when we started researching these names a tragic story presented itself about a man, who had one thing against him in life: he was of Jewish descent.
Walter Scharff was born in Landau, Germany, in 1893. He had finished the Gymnasium and had served in the German army during WW I, when he started working in Graphia, a Munich print shop. In 1919 he became a co-owner of the Heinrich Spindler paper mill. In 1923 he founded the "Deutsche Spielkarten-Fabrik A.G.", which was renamed into "Deutsche Spielkarten-Fabrik Walter Scharff K.G." in 1925. In 1928 the company was taken over by the VASS, then the largest producer of playing cards in Germany, and Walter Scharff became a member of the board of directors there. His former company became a sales office, the cards were printed by the VASS.
In 1931 a small Swiss printer, Atrac AG, went bankrupt in Ennetbaden. It was taken over by Walter Scharff and in 1932 continued under the name WASCO AG. Scharff himself still resided in Germany at that time.
In 1933 Hitler and his national-socialist party gained power in Germany and their anti-Semitic policies led to the dismissal of Scharff from the board of directors at the VASS in 1936. That same year Walter Scharff left Germany, together with  his wife and daughter, and went to Switzerland. There he sold the WASCO AG to J. Müller & Co. and with the revenues he went to Egypt in 1936. His family followed in 1937

In 1938 he founded a modern printing shop and playing card factory in Alexandria. His cards became famed all over Egypt and were even used at the royal palace of King Farouk. But after the nationalist revolution of 1953 the new Republic of Egypt took an anti-Semitic road and the "Zionist" properties were nationalized one by one and Jewish people left the country. In 1948 there was a Jewish population of 48.000 in Egypt and in the mid 1960's there were only around 1.000 left. Walter Scharff and his wife left the country in 1962 and they went back to Switzerland. He died there in 1967 in poor circumstances.