Rare first edition of 337-year-old playing cards sell for £15,000

A rare first edition set of 337-year-old playing cards, including one of the first cards to mention Shropshire, has sold for a staggering £15,000 at Sotheby’s in London.

The Shropshire and Staffordshire cards
The Shropshire and Staffordshire cards

The amount paid was more than three times the £3,500 estimate.

The 53 cards, one explanatory card and fifty two suit cards, were produced in 1676, during the reign of King Charles II by cartographer and publisher, Robert Morden.

Each card features the name and a map of a different county, names of its principal towns and the width, length and circumference of the county.

The Shropshire card is the 10 of clubs, while Staffordshire is the nine of clubs, Montgomeryshire is the five of spades, while Radnorshire is the Queen of Spades.

Catherine Slowther, maps and atlases expert at Sotheby’s, said: “With an attractive pre-sale estimate of £3,500 to £4,500, there was competition from county map collectors, playing card collectors and individuals who liked the look of these uncommon but detailed maps.

“In the end, they well exceeded their pre-sale estimate to sell for £15,000 to a private collector from the UK.

“They are over 330 years old and a remarkable survival. They have obviously been used during their history and so it is surprising that many were not lost or damaged.

“The first set of playing cards bearing maps of English and Welsh counties was thought to have been produced by William Bowes in 1590.

“Robert Morden produced a fine set of playing cards in 1676.”

This first edition set has the maps in a square panel in the centre, while the top section is the name of the county.

The number of the card on the left in small Arabic numerals and on the right in large Roman numerals. The court cards bear a head in the circle on the right.