3. William Bowes 1605


Prior to cards that we recognise as playing cards, various memory cards had been produced. These rarely had suit marks as they were used mainly for instruction. But, in 1605 a pack of memory cards complete with thumbnail sketches of the counties appeared with suit marks. From the first introductory card it is clear that the cards were produced during the reign of James I and the imprint is W. Bowes Inventor. In 1590 a set of cards (2) was signed W B inuent so it is assumed both packs were by the same hand. The inscription Gillam A Cart on the Jack of Clubs led to the suggestion that the designer was William Bowes. However, in a recent article, Gillam A Cart has been identified as Guilleme Acart, a member of a Rouennais family of playing card makers.

The pack produced in 1605, only known in a proof copy in the British Library1, consists of 59 cards, 7 being introductory cards. The cards are divided into ten panels, in four rows. The suit marks and card values are contained in the upper and lower central panels: each card is so divided as to provide instruction on such subjects as philosophy and morals, religion, agriculture and geography and also a perpetual calendar. The map is very similar to the earlier 1590 map but at approximately half the scale - and measures 16 x 21 mm; and the topographical description below it is, as in the 1590 cards, from the text of William Camden’s Britannia. The same towns are marked with initial letter as on the previous cards. A further map of Devon, 6 mm2, is present on one of the introductory cards to the set. This contains a miniature reproduction of all the county maps in one suit as well as instructions.

Maps next appeared on playing cards in 1676 with the appearance of cards by Robert Morden and William Redmayne (15, 16).

Size of card 90 x 42 mm. Scale bar (10 = 3 mm).
Map panel 25 x 25 mm. Scale 1M = 0.3 mm.

DEVON S: in panel bottom right. King of spades; King in upper and lower middle sections, spade sign only in upper central panel. The card has been cut from a sheet and mounted on board.


1. 1605 Set of memory cards  
  London. W Bowes. 1605.                                                                      M&K2, BL.


[1] The complete set of cards is illustrated on-line - see the British Museum page at: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database.aspx. Unfortunately, the pages cannot be linked directly; use the search function and enter william bowes.