World’s oldest deck of cards exhibited in New York


King, queen and knave cards in oldest deck of cards

This photo shows king, queen and knave (court jester) cards in the oldest deck of cards known in the world.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Deck of cards discovered by Dutchman exhibited in New York

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in the coming period a special deck of cards will be on display. It is the oldest complete card game in the world and it has been discovered by an Amsterdam antiques dealer.

Harry Kenter bought the game in 1978 at an auction in Paris. He paid 8,000 guilders. In the catalog it was presented as an incomplete tarot game from the 16th century, but Kenter immediately thought the game was older.

The card game is from Flanders and is called Court Years Hunting Package. Instead of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs there are hunting pictures on the cards: hunting horns, dog collars, dog lines and snares to catch animals.

The medieval deck of cards

“It took years before we knew that the game must have been made between 1470 and 1480. Museums and institutes helped us with researching the clothes shown on the cards. There were also samples of the paper. That study showed that there were no substances in it younger than 1450.” The watermark in the paper of the game was used between 1466 and 1479 in the Netherlands and South Flanders.

The short jackets and hair cut above the ears was fashionable in dynasties between 1470 and 1480. Like the pointed shoes, which in 1480 went out of fashion.

I was taken under police escort to Sotheby’s – Harry Kenter

The hand-painted cards are in exceptionally good condition and were probably property of a prince who never used them. For what game they were intended is not known. Just like our current decks one can in principle play any card game with it, like a game of poker or bridge, although these games did not exist in the 15th century.

In 1983 Kenter sold the game to the museum for $ 143,000. That happened in London at an auction at Sotheby’s, where he was taken to under police escort.

“In Amsterdam I once cycled around with the deck of cards in my pocket, but the insurance told me to really never do that again. If I wanted to show the deck to friends, I had to take them to a bank, where the vault was. Then I told my wife that it was useless to us and that we should auction the deck.”

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6 thoughts on “World’s oldest deck of cards exhibited in New York

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