Russian Playing Cards, late 19th century
Pasteboard
95 (height) x 57 (width) mm
Moscow, Russia

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Playing cards around the world in the late nineteenth century varied in both the suits and the number of cards in the deck. This complete pack of thirty-six Russian playing cards, which can be viewed in the British Museum’s Prints & Drawings Study Room, is illustrated with hand-colored etchings and uses the German suit designs of acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells. Individuals in historical costumes illustrate the court cards, while the numbered (commonly called “pip”) cards have scenes of costumed animals, equestrian performers, and various other entertaining figures. The deuce of hearts, used as an ace in this game, is designated by a cupid. The deuce of bells, pictured with an elephant in ceremonial costume, bears a duty stamp of Moscow’s Imperial Foundling Hospital, indicating that the duty paid for the cards went towards the maintenance of this institution. Unlike a medical hospital, a foundling hospital functioned more like a children’s home, housing and educating abandoned children. Empress Catherine II founded the Moscow institution, and several other foundling hospitals across Russia, placing them in the hands of the provincial officer of public charity.

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