Gaming Collection comes to Vanderbilt

The Library has acquired The George Clulow collection, one of the greatest collections of books about card games, games of chance, playing cards, and chess in the world. This collection, owned since 1903 by the U.S. Playing Card Co., complements the library’s Parkhurst and Jane Wood Bridge Collection of Books and Periodicals and has the an additional connection to the university in the fact that Vanderbilt’s former chairman of the Board of Trust, Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, was the inventor of contract bridge.

Library employees enjoy a game of cards using items from the recently-acquired George Clulow collection.              Photos: Anne Rayner; VU

The acquisition has the enthusiastic support of Vanderbilt faculty from history, English, French, law, economics, physics, religious studies, and education.

Included in the collection are books and manuscripts from the 15th to 20th century dealing with the economics, mathematics and social consequences of gaming, as well as the legal ramifications, the art of playing card design, theological diatribes, literary treatments and the mysteries and science of games of chance.

Along with nearly every edition of Hoyle’s Game of Whist and plenty of strategy books on poker, bridge, patience, quadrille,
skat, and various Italian, French, German and Englishgames, come first editions of literary works in which gaming or gambling play a part, such as Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1st edition), Swift’s The Gambler (1777), and Thackeray’s Orphan of Pimilco (1876).

The collection has been called “one of the most complete and scholarly that has ever been gathered together” (Hargrave 1930).

It is a significant collection with some nice highpoints including a late medieval manuscript with the earliest recorded mention of Tarot cards (ripe for a PhD dissertation) and a scrapbook of playing card designs by important Arts & Crafts artists. Most of the books are of English, American, French, German, Italian or Spanish origin. The large and interesting collection offers numerous opportunities for original research in social, economic, and legal history, as well fodder for literary and cultural historians.

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