Near-complete set of Robert Morden ‘miniature map’ playing cards, £11,000 at Special Auction Services.

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Robert Morden ‘miniature map’ playing cards, first published in London in 1676, may be regarded as the first pocket atlas of the 52 counties of England and Wales.

When pieced together, the pack of 54 (52 spot cards plus a title and explanation card) creates the first map of the whole region to show a wealth of information about principal towns, roads, distances from London, hills and rivers. Ogilby’s Britannia was published the previous year.

Morden’s cards were printed from engraved copper plates, with the suit marks being applied later by stencil. The king is Charles II and the queen Catherine of Braganza. According to the explanation card: ‘The four Suites are the 4 parts of England, the 13 Northern Counties are Clubs, the Western are Spades, the Eastern are Hearts, and the Southern are Diamonds’.

The set appears in a catalogue for Easter 1676 as: ‘The 52 Countries [sic] of England and Wales, described in a Pack of Cards … Sold by Robert Morden at the Atlas in Cornhill, Will. Berry at the Globe in the Strand, Robert Green in Budge Row, and George Minikin at the King’s Head in S. Martin’s.’ There was a later edition published in the same year, a third edition in 1680 and a fourth in 1773.

It is thought that only one wholly complete pack of the 1676 edition survives so even incomplete packs of Morden map cards are rare. A set of 37 cards took £6500 in 2017 at Dominic Winter, a saleroom where single cards have regularly sold for around £150 each.


Detail of near-complete set of Robert Morden ‘miniature map’ playing cards, £11,000 at Special Auction Services.

Small but select

The set offered at Special Auction Services (20% buyer’s premium) in Newbury on December 6 numbered 53 cards.

As many as 52 of these were from an early (possibly the first) edition, with the eight of clubs a later addition. Housed in a modern box, they were modestly guided at £2000-3000 and made £11,000.


Near-complete set of Thomas Bowles’ South Sea Bubble Stock-jobbing Cards or The Humours of Change Alley, £12,000 at Special Auction Services.

It featured in a small but select private collection which was led by a set of satirical cards on the theme of the world’s first stock market crash.

Dated c.1720-21, they are titled Thomas Bowles’ South Sea Bubble Stock-jobbing Cards or The Humours of Change Alley.

Two different packs were printed by Bowles: this one portrays dozens of genuine or bogus joint-stock companies set up in 1719 and 1720 at the time of the South Sea Bubble to entice investors. The other set depicts domestic scenes of despair as scheme after scheme instilled hopes and then collapsed.

Together they provided ample opportunity to point the blame at greedy stockholders and corrupt stock jobbers and mock the victims who had hoped to get rich quick.

Back in 2019, a full set of 54 cards (52 standard cards plus two subsidiaries) sold for $20,000 at Christie’s New York.

The set offered at this Berkshire auction numbered 52 cards (possibly from two sets). Guided at £5000-8000, it made £12,000.