Long before Frank Sinatra crooned the classic tune ‘Luck, Be a Lady,’ the gambling elites of Continental Europe, England and beyond were hedging their bets at low-lit games tables with painted cards and porcelain chips. The history of gaming reads like a modified version of traveling the Silk Road. Believed to have been first invented in China, card games became habits among Mamluk traders in the Far East and Arabia before they brought their indulgences to the Mediterranean and later, Europe. Playing cards, with their suits and royal hierarchies, were large and elaborately hand-painted, a characteristic affording them only to the very wealthy, until the method of wood-block printing became popular, and in turn, made cards more easily accessible.
Art history is rich with images dating from the 14th all the way up to the 19th centuries of the fashionably dressed elite – from Elizabethan lords to Italian Counts and Orientalist courtesans – trying their turn at games tables laden with dice, chips, drinks and closely guarded cards. The French, never strangers to excess and indulgence, delighted in card games and serious gambling during the reign of Louis XV. This after-dinner pastime quickly spread to surrounding countries. Games provided a much needed avenue for disposable income, a means of teaching the little ones of the house basic math and counting skills, and instilled a sense of gentlemanly honor – paying ones gambling debts was a duty and a matter settled long before your servants were even paid!
A reflection of this leisurely lifestyle is still evident with surviving games tables of the period and later inspired reproductions. One such example is a French carved walnut games table dating from the 19th century, which will hit the auction block at Great Gatsby’s Auction Gallery during their upcoming two-day sale on August 27-28, 2016.
This fine example on offer at Great Gatsby’s features a relief carved foliate scroll design and a single drawer with a lion’s mask handle, and of course, the circular felt playing ground with feltcovered corner grooves, not only for supporting latter day candlesticks, but perhaps resting one’s present-day cocktail? The decorative yet highly useful nature of this table, like many others dating from the period, allow the contemporary designer and decorator a chance to incorporate something beautiful yet functional into a contemporary interior. The warm wood would complement the coziest of corners or add a heightened sense of drama to a neutral space, allowing the eye to focus on the intricacies of this central piece. Take a gamble on your decorating sensibilities this summer and welcome the longer evenings of the fall season with a charming table for playing cards and sharing secrets. We think it’s a sure bet for whatever style ‘suits’ you!
Did You Know?
One of the more popular card games during the 18th century in England, Whist takes its name from the word ‘Hist’ or ‘quiet’ because table talk was strictly forbidden while playing. Similar games called Triumph and Ruff & Honors pre-date Whist by as much as two centuries, but Whist is the grandfather of all single-trick card games, such as Bridge, Spades, and Hearts.