This is on the subject of printing regular decks, the woodblock prints with stenciled colors which seem to have been the rule from the earliest days up to about 1750. In France, 20 cards per block seems to have been the rule, and I have found many blocks or uncut sheets of face cards that have two full decks worth of face cards, except the two red jacks. I find such blocks or sheets from cities all over France, and for every century from XV to XVIII. I predicted there must be blocks with only red jacks, and many copes of each jack. First, I found this sheet, with at least six red jacks, listed in the BnF catalog as by G. Cartier, of Lyon, and given dates 1475-1575.It is from here:
Now I've found this, with twenty jacks carved into it, ten of one pattern, and ten of the other.
It is from here:
and is called "Moule des valets d'un jeu au portrait anglais à une tête" and is dated 1850.
So I needed to check that the two patterns of jacks on this block, were the jacks of diamonds and hearts. This is the pattern called portrait anglais, English style portraits. Here is one of the carved jacks:
Here is an English pattern Jack of diamonds:
It is from here:
and is called in the catalog "portrait anglais à une tête" and dated 1850-1860.
And here's the other carved jack pattern from the block:
and here's the Jack of hearts from the same deck:
which I call a match. So this block has ten copies of the jack of hearts, and ten of the jack of diamonds. It would have gone with a block that printed 20 cards, two copies of all the face cards except the red jacks. So 10 decks of cards would have been produced by making:
1) 10 sheets of black pip cards, made by stenciling only
2) 10 sheets of red pip cards, made by stenciling only
3) 5 sheets of the face card block, printed from the woodblock and then stenciled in many colors.
4) 1 sheet printed from the block of 20 red jacks, which would be stenciled in every color except black.
The pips (the suit signs) even on the face cards, were produced by stenciling only: that is why I could not read the suits of the two jacks on the block from the block, and had to compare with finished cards of the same pattern.
What I find extraordinary is that the two evidences for this remarkable system of having a block of 20 red jacks, come from the very start, and the very end, of the epoch of producing cards by woodblock and stencil; the sheet of 6 red jacks dated 1475-1575, and the block of 20 red jacks dated 1850 (which is a very late date for this production method). I have only these two evidences of a block of red jacks, but I have found many sheets of all face cards that are missing the red jacks: from all over France, and all centuries from XV to XVIII. I have found very few evidences of any alternative system of printing the cards: one sheet that shows 24 cards, and one block that prints 12. Other than that it is always 20 cards per block, and when it is 20 per block, it is always the red jacks block solution. This is a logical way to solve the problem of needing just a few more cards than the size of the paper allows, but I still am really surprised to find such universal use of one system, over such a wide area, and long stretch of time.
On the matter of engraved vs. woodblock cards, I went through the Museo de Naipes catalog in a way that was careful not to selectively see woodblocks, but I was looking only for before about 1750. I certainly got the impression that few of these early cards I was looking at were engraved. But I will go back and check again.
My attempt to list every card printer in Europe up to 1750, with links to their work, is now over 400, and I have only started on the British Museum. The BM curiously refers to cards which I am quite sure are stenciled, as hand painted. They don't call any decks stenciled. They must consider stenciling as a kind of hand painting.
My list of 400 card printers before 1750, has of Italian ones, only about 20. I am becoming increasingly confused as to why this is. The scanning of all the French cards by the BnF is only recent, with dates as recent as this year, so I am not surprised not to find online decks from Italy, but I can't find the decks as entries in library or museum catalogs either.
An awful lot of the BnF's decks came from Paul Marteau, and an awful lot of the BM decks are from Lady Charlotte Schreiber. So maybe it is just that no Italian collector of equal scope existed, or I just haven't found those decks yet.
Thanks for the helpful replies.
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