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1863 Complete Set of Confederate Generals Playing Cards (52)

  • Sold For: $2,666
  • Year: 1862
  • Auction: 2013 fall
  • Lot #: 1102
  • Auction Category: Non-Sports Cards/Sheets/Card Artwork

Exceedingly rare complete set of fifty-two Confederate generals playing cards, issued in 1863 by M. Nelson, New York. The scarcity of this set cannot be overstated. While we have long been familiar with the existence of this issue, this is the first complete set of these attractive playing cards that we have ever actually seen, let alone handled. It should be noted that M. Nelson also issued a companion set of Union generals playing cards, which is equally rare, and that both card sets have been reproduced in modern times. In fact, the reproduction sets are extremely popular and can easily be found for sale. The original cards from 1863, however, are virtually absent from the collecting world. Card playing was one the main diversions enjoyed by Civil War soldiers during the many lulls in battle, so it is not surprising that a company issued cards picturing the main military figures for each side. The Confederate set features all of the important leaders and generals in the campaign, including Confederate President Jefferson Davis (ten of spades), General Robert E. Lee (three of hearts), and General Stonewall Jackson (four of clubs). Each individual is featured in a bust-length illustration, with the card's denomination and suit depicted in the upper left corner. Like the tobacco cards of Civil War generals (issued in the late 1880s), which appeal to both Civil War and nonsport card collectors, the offered set has the potential to be highly prized by hobbyists from a number of different fields of collecting (nonsport cards, playing cards, Civil War, etc.). Unfortunately, its rarity has precluded it from being represented in all but the most advanced collections, and as far as we can tell, sets surface so infrequently that there is no consensus on value. Still, it is hard not to appreciate that this remarkably designed set of cards featuring Confederate generals and leaders, issued in 1863 during the heart of the Civil War, would not find a home among the same audience that so highly prizes cards issued of the same historical figures dating from decades later. Hence, their inclusion in this auction! All of the cards (2.5 x 3.5 inches) display handling wear commensurate with their age and former use, including minor soiling, corner wear, and a few tiny creases and/or age spots. Eight of the cards also display either a small corner chip or border tear. In Good to Very Good condition overall. Total: 52 cards. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $2,666

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