March 2014



Spring has officially begun this month, but even before the 21st we've had some splendid, sunny weather. The people who organize the outside markets obviously weren't ready for it yet and there were only inside flea markets this month. Joop visited just one, spent 15 minutes wading though clothes and ended up empty handed.


We will mention the "Moyen Age" deck from around 1870 by the Belgian maker Daveluy, the "Golden Diamond" deck from 1925 by the Hanzel Card Co. from Chicago and a Greek deck, published there by Ballentines and the Playboy, of which the faces show an exact reproduction of the famous Vargas pin-up deck.

He did visit the Belgian collectors meeting in Lokeren on the 9th and brought home a few new decks for our collection. But Ebay also was a good source for decks again and the Dutch auction site held a nice surprise too this month. So we had a very interesting short list by the end of the month.

But when we stumbled across two of these decks, the decision was easily made.

The deck was printed in color lithography and according to the Braun catalogue published as No 194 from around 1867 until 1920. The pattern was called "Einkopfige Englische Karten" (single headed English cards). Because a similar deck from the Cary collection was in a box that was made for the "Hegt & Co" company from Rangoon, the capital of Burma, the pattern is also known as "Birma Spielkarten" (Burma Playing Cards).

The deck was produced for export to England and its colonies too, countries where players were not used to German suits and patterns, but had been playing with English patterned decks since they were born. So a deck had to be designed of which the courts would be easily recognized by these players. 

We present the Queen of Diamonds to show that Bernard Dondorf has humanized the then usual pattern features and added a bit more life to  the courtly figures in his company's version of a single imaged English pattern from 1867.

Bank brothers (late Hunt), England c1870.

A randomly chosen, contemporary example of the English pattern was nicked from the WOPC website. Here above it illustrates the typical and rather flat design of the English pattern, consisting of colored and partially decorated fields. There's no depth in the figures. Only on the Kings there's just a hint of  shadow on the ermine boarders.
In the Dondorf version there's hardly a colored field without decoration. Black is also applied as shadow, so the Queens suddenly have recognizable robes and a visible, slim waist. Here emphasized by the knotted cloth waist belt, which has so much shadowing that it almost seems to pop up from the image.

Recognizable? Yes. But an English pattern? Not really. There are several distinctive features missing, like the suicide king (of hearts) or the one eyed  jack (of spades), and the other court cards don't have a similar pose to those of the true English pattern. However, there are enough other elements to compensate for that. A beautiful decorated Ace of Spades, with lion and unicorn. The single tone faces and the colored -although heavily decorated- fields. The kings and queens are presented in about the same 3/4 of a full figure, and the jacks in full. And talking about the jacks: in the Banks version they too look a bit like short people. Just like in the Dondorf version their heads have about the same dimensions as those on the kings and queens, so it's inevitable that these heads will seem larger when put on a full single figure, rendering the figure as too small in comparison with the head: features befitting a midget or -pc- short person. A nice detail is that the tiles on the floor are different in each suit.

It's a multi-lingual deck too: with the exception of the King of spades ("Dondorf Frankfurt") each court card has "Dondorf Francfort" and "Made at Frankfurt in Germany" printed somewhere in design. "Francfort" is the French and "Frankfurt" the English way to refer to the German city Frankfurt am Main.  The Main is the river on which Frankfurt is located. In French this would be written as "s/M", as can be found in other Dondorf decks, and in German it would be "a/M". In view of all this the ace of spades is a bit confusing. Here "Frankfort" is used twice and in both cases it's followed by "o/M", which stands for the English "on Main". However "Frankfort" is not the English way to refer to this city, nor the French, nor the German. It is the Dutch way though!

Still... with this deck the Dondorf company has created a highly recognizable version of the English pattern with an unsurpassed quality of the designs and eye for detail.

The deck consists of 52 cards.
No joker was ever issued.



The deck has been printed on rather thick card. The backs are blank, but with a white finish. As can be seen above, this is a little brighter white than the off-white on the fronts.