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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Popular pastimes

Nothing much has changed. Gambling was hugely popular in the 18th century, all sorts of games of chance. Gentlemen's clubs has betting books and everyone, I mean everyone, my dear, gambled.
Whist, deep bassett, faro, horse racing, bouts of fisticuffs. I need to do some more research on all of these games. They were forever appearing in Georgette Heyer novels.
I don't remember where I first saw mother of pearl gaming counters, I just knew I'd fallen in love. And finally thanks to eBay I now have some. Not a full set you understand, just a few. Beautifully fine, carved in China and with a monogram. M H. Did they belong to a man or a woman? They were carved around 1785 or so, with a typical Queen Charlotte border. Mmmm let's call the owner Mary-Anne Hartley!
In the main they conform to some standard shapes - leaf shaped (shuttles to the knowledgable), ovals, oblongs (short and long rectangles), and rounds. There are others of course, sublime little pieces of rococco design. Some are deeply carved and pierced around the edges, some have heraldic devices, flowers and some Chinese scenes.
The carving on my counters is not deep but it is exquisitely beautiful. How divine to have sent your chosen design off on a boat to China (often a family bookplate would have been sent) and then nearly a year later a parcel would arrive, your full set of counters carved to your specifications - all remarkably, almost identicial. I would love to know more about the craftsmen in China. What they used, how to did such fine work and all truly handmade. Counter after counter. I'm not sure but I believe a full set was around 140 counters of varying shapes. How they were used I don't exactly know but I suspect they have morphed into the current poker chip.
There is a scene in the Sophie Coppola movie Marie Antoinette where they are betting using counters but they didn't look carved. More like today's backgammon counters.
A photos of these sublime little pieces of art is just around
the corner.

You can see some of Queen Charlotte's own counters at The Royal Collection - royalcollection.org.uk - just type 'gaming counters' into the search engine.

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