Playing cards

South Germany or Alsace, last quarter 15th century
Woodcut, hand coloured
diameter ca. 4.5 cm
Inv. 1975.48.

4822px x 3797px
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In 1377 a Dominican named Johannes of Freiburg praised card playing as a mirror of the divine world order. But by 1367 strife among players and losses of worldly goods had led to a ban on the 'devil's stuff' in Berne. All the more intriguing, therefore, is the discovery of these cards, cut to a round shape, underneath the medallions of a Gothic crucifix owned by the Christkatholische Gemeinde (Catholic community). In view of the figures' clothing and by comparison with the earliest depiction of a card game in Switzerland, on a needle woven tapestry in the Museum of 1471, the cards should be dated in the last quarter of the C15. About 1440 the Basle councillor and merchant Heinrich Halbysen the Elder set up a paper mill, probably with an eye for an increased demand for paper during the Council of Basle in 1431-48; thereafter it supplied paper for playing cards. For more than 200 years Basle manufacturers supplied the Confederation with cards. The suits were shields, bells, acorns and roses. However, Basle card games from that early period are not represented in the collection of the Historisches Museum.

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