A Contrast in Buyers

Kenneth C. Hoffman

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One of the few mementos that remained from my grandparent's estate was a deck of playing cards. The other was a finger ‘nappie’ cut glass bowl signed by the artist. Their seven children shared equally the inheritance and not a stick of furniture came our way. No one knows what happened to the collection of antique hand spun Christmas ornaments or which daughter in law got the Haviland china. I always meant to keep the cards in the family to hand down to my daughter (she did get the nappie), but hard times made us desperate for money to pay the bills.

A transformation deck dated 1871, these Tiffany cards were hand made. Scenes in and around the city and country depicted the various modes of clothing popular at the time. No two card were alike. People were dancing, skating, talking, shopping, walking their dogs, and playing instruments. A clever pattern of diamonds, spades, clubs and hearts were worked into the scene to allow regular play amd printed on a strong plastic for a good snap. They came with a custom leather case, stamped in gold with the owner's name (a relative). All fiftytwo cards were present plus two jokers. These playing cards could not be bought, but were given as a bonus for buying a certain amount of Tiffany wares in their New York store. I thought that somewhere a collector would love to own these unusual cards.

I discovered that the author of a book on the subject lived in a nearby town. I called and he said he would be glad to look at the cards. He glanced casually at the cards, quickly replacing them on the cocktail table. He said that they were not worth more than two hundred fifty dollars. I was surprised at the low amount, telling him of a story I read in a Life Magazine book on antiques that an exact deck was sold ten years previously for four hundred dollars. He said that he knew of that book and he believed it to be a misprint. Suspicious, I told him I would think about it. He called several times, but I wouldn't change my mind.

Back at the library, I found a source book with a list of known card collectors. I wrote to four of them, one in England, one in South Carolina and two in a western state, describing the cards and asking for an offer. The South Carolina person replied with an excited request to buy the cards for one thousand dollars. She related that she belonged to an antique card club and that the president owned such a deck, but in poor condition. She admitted that they might be worth more, but one thousand dollars is all the money she could spend. I wrote back that I would be glad to make her happy, not being a collector myself. Soon the certified check arrived, the cards were insured and sent off, the bills got paid and (almost) everybody was happy.

A retired portrait photographer. I enjoy refurbishing (near) antiques for grateful owners.


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