A 114-year-old card game promoting the suffragist cause was discovered in a cupboard in Castle Donington, Leicestershire. The cards are complete and in their original box. The game is entitled “Panko or Votes for Women,” named after Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the movement for women’s suffrage in the UK. It features illustrations of women activists engaged in the struggle for the franchise and of their opponents in government and the legal system oppressing them.
The box labels it “The Great Card Game Suffragists v. Anti-Suffragists” and the suits of the cards declare the two opposing sides. The Suffragist suits are illustrated in the iconic purple and green of the suffrage movement. The Anti-Suffragists cards are black with red accents. The pack of 48 cards consists of four suits of six cards each on each side. The game was played like gin rummy, with all the cards dealt at the beginning and the aim being to collect a complete suit of six. The suits each have their own catch phrase (eg, “Pank, pank, pank,” for the Suffragist suit and “Gaol, gaol, goal” for the Prisons suit on the other side) the player was to shout out when they won.
Designed by Punch political cartoonist Edward Tennyson Reed, Panko was published in 1909 by Peter Gurney. It sold for two shillings, but the ultimate goal was to advocate for the cause in middle class domestic environments where a more militant approach would have been rejected. The game was first advertised for sale in the December 10, 1909 issue of Votes for Women magazine. The pitch read: “Not only is each picture in itself an interesting memento, but the game produces intense excitement without the slightest taint of bitterness.”
The set was found by a Hanson Auctioneers appraiser in a box with other card and board games during a house clearance. None of the other games in the box were worth anything monetarily or historically, but these playing cards are quite rare, found in the collections of only a handful of libraries and institutions. Other than some basic wear and tear from having been played, the cards are in excellent condition, intact with the box and the instructions.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “This game played a part in history. It reflects life and the development of women in society in the 20th century. It was used to help people learn about the suffrage movement at a time when women were being jailed and persecuted for campaigning for the right to vote.
“The game was distributed by the Women’s Social and Political Union and originally sold for two shillings. It was heart-warming to see the suffragettes’ unmistakable colours of purple and green used on the cards. One illustration shows an activist wearing a Votes for Women sash challenging a line of policemen armed with umbrellas. In contrast, anti-suffragettes cards portrayed the stern faces of men opposing the women’s cause.
“One particularly moving illustration depicts a prison warden offering a meal to a hunger striker, the placard above reads ‘Holloway Restaurant’. Emily Pankhurst famously staged a hunger strike while incarcerated in Holloway Prison. She is now regarded as one of the most influential people of the 20th century.
The Holloway Restaurant card also has another cheeky joke on it. Above the platter of food the jailer is offering to the noble hunger striker is the label “Faim de Siècle,” a punny portmanteau of the French word for hunger (“faim”) and the French phrase for the end of the century (“fin de siècle”).
The Panko game will go under the hammer on August 22nd and has a modest pre-sale estimate of £100 to £150. It is likely to sell for 10 times that.