Complete set of gilt silver playing cards from 1616

There are only 4 similar sets of Renaissance silver playing card known in the world, and this is the only complete one. The engraved and gilt silver cards were made in Augsburg, Germany, by Michael Frömmer in 1616. They’re the Italian deck – ace through 10, plus knaves, knights and kings in suits of coins, cups, sticks and swords.

They weren’t made for actual playing, though, but rather for a wealthy owner to display in an elaborate curio cabinet much like this one, which was also made in 17th century Augsburg.

These cards, according to family tradition, were given to Josefa Oribe y Viana de Contucci, ancestor of the present owner, by Infanta Carlota Joaquina of Spain (1775-1830). Princess Carlota was daughter of King Carlos IV and, as wife of King João of Portugal, Princess of Portugal and Brazil. During Napoleonic struggles, Carlota was exiled to Brazil with the Portuguese Court. When Napoleon forced her father to abdicate in Spain, she became claimant to the throne of Spain and Spanish America. Following the patriotic revolution in Buenos Aires in 1810, she ordered Portuguese-Brazilian troops into Montevideo to protect the interests of the Spanish monarchy. Carlota’s emissary in South America and the director of her military efforts there was Felipe Contucci. Carlota presented these cards to Contucci’s wife, and they descended to the present owner as follows:

Doña Josefa de Oribe y Viana (b. 13 September 1789), wife of Felipe Contucci, emissary of Princess Carlota in South America

Agustina Contucci y Oribe, daughter of Doña Josefa and wife of General Manuel Ceferino de Oribe y Viana (1792-1857), President of Uruguay 1835-1838, then by direct descent to the present owner

The set will go on sale at Christie’s Important Silver sale on October 19. The estimated sale price is $150,000-250,000 (a sum I can’t help but point out is far smaller than the what the Turner and Delahaye Roadster ending up going for).

Given the exquisite provenance, Michael Frömmer’s renown as maker of silver card sets including a French-suited deck that is part of the Pomeranian Kunstschrank, the most famous curiosity cabinet of the era, and it’s complete beauty, I would expect that estimate to be well exceeded.

Gilt silver Italian-suited playing cards by Michael Frömmer of Augsburg, 1616

I would love to play a rousing game of Scopa with that set, curio cabinet be damned.

9 thoughts on “Complete set of gilt silver playing cards from 1616

  1. I have collected silver art since I had my own independent income, starting with late 17th century English and Huguenot pieces. Then as the market became far far too pricy for my taste, I bought 18th century silver and finally I changed over to collecting porcelain.

    But always Augsburg and Nuremburg pieces from the early 17th century remained the benchmark for top quality design and craftsmanship. I’ve never seen silver playing cards before, but I will certainly recognise them if they come up again *sigh deeply*.

    1. The quality of the engraving and gilding is exceptional. I imagine even when the market in 17th century silver was relatively affordable, this set would have blown through the curve.

      You must have a beautiful collection. You were able to keep it together even after you stopped adding to it, I hope?

    1. I have thought about this long and hard. I have decided that first some kind of clear, thin but insanely strong protective membrane would be constructed to encase each card. Then I would do that shuffle where you throw bits from half the deck in front of the rest of the deck you’re holding in your other hand. You know the one I mean?

      1. Yes, but that doesn’t work so well. It mostly just looks cool while you’re doing it. Plus the membrane would have to be pretty slick. That’s always the problem with card protectors, they inhibit the free movement required for a proper shuffle.

  2. They are absolutely gorgeous.

    I wonder if all of the family members are in agreement about auctioning off the 17th Century Silver Playing Cards?

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