The Columbia University Libraries has digitized cards from nearly two hundred decks of the Albert Field Collection of Playing Cards.
The cards date from the 16th century through to 1801, and were mostly European – French, German, English, and Italian, though we slipped in one deck from a very new United States.
The decks are imaged as they were mounted by scholar-collector Albert Field (1916-2003; CC ’38), in order by suit and noting any interesting aspects. The online images give a structured way to view the cards, whether for research into printmaking, geography or costume, or for pleasure. And now, we can move the cards off the mounts into more conservationally sound housing.
We hope to image more of the collection in the future, and there is plenty more to do: the Albert Field Collection of Playing Cards contains more than 6300 individual decks of playing cards as well as extensive ephemera and a library of reference books.
The decks, ranging from the 16th through the 20th centuries, and across the world, are a rich vein of primary source material in popular imagery, costume, advertising, propaganda, as well as elite culture. Holdings are especially strong from early modern England, revolutionary France, the early American Republic, across a broad range of nineteenth-century national styles, and especially in transformation cards.
If you want to do research with the collection, contact Jane Siegel, the Rare Book Librarian.