Learning curve:delighted to be wrong

card players

Card Players – a painting in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

My repro pack of 17th century cards took a long time to come to the light. Mark One was a bit rough, but I felt confident enough to put Mark Two out to sale and gather reviews. Still, I was aware that more research needed to be done. I had been printing on Fabriano Rosaspina paper, a heavy printmaking paper 285 gsm. It is lovely to print on and the cards are very tactile. However, reading an article by Thierry Depaulis about the manufacture of French playing cards led me to doubt that this was the right support. It seems that cards were made in France of ‘pasteboard’ which consists of several layers of paper glued together. But was this also the English way? I came into contact with Mike Goodall, another member of the International Playing Card Society, and the books he had written seemed to confirm this view. Finally, just today I’ve had an extremely interesting visit to view the playing cards in the collection of the British Museum. I had a few questions which have now been answered! The big surprise was that the thickness of the cards of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, is the same as modern cards – thin and flexible. There are torn uncut sheets where it can clearly be seen that two whiter layers sandwich a brown sheet. Mike Goodall’s book mentions that the brown paper was home made English, whereas the white stuff tended to be imported. The process, I believe,  is to print the wood block onto light paper and then carry out the pasting to achieve the correct thickness.  Talking of wood blocks, I also viewed an original block of Tarot minor cards perhaps from a little later, and the carving on them was amazing. I’ve become aware that the carving on the blocks, especially in the white spaces, needs to be deep in order to avoid unwanted lines, but the relief parts of the block stood up a good 3 mm clear of the white space, and seemingly at right angles. I was surprised that such fine carving stood up to the rigours of the press, but Mr Goodall had informed me that at later times the block, once carved, would often be cast in metal. I’d also wondered if the pips were stencilled with paint or ink – the answer is paint. I use watercolour paint, choosing pigments available at the time, and extend it with starch.

So, the journey towards Cards Mark Three starts here! I’ll have to experiment with different kinds of paper, but the intention is to make the next batch with completely handmade paper glued to form pasteboard.  I want to make them as authentic as I possibly can. I’m not upset that Mark Two turned out to be inaccurate. I prepared them to the best of my knowledge at the time. Even when Mark Three are done, I’ll be ready to upgrade if I discover a new factor or a mistake. You can never stop learning!

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