The Keir Collection


In another thread (here) Ludophone spoke of several cards being located in the Keir Collection.

I am familiar with the first item on his list and have confirmed the card is well in the collection. The other four items, however, are new to me and I'm wondering if these cards were referenced by Robinson in his book on the Keir Collection but are actually referring to the cards that are apparently held by the Benaki Musuem in Greece?

Does anyone have any additional information about items 2-5? Or about any card fragments other than item 1 which might be in the Keir Collection?

Thank you.


Dummett wrote that the first four are in "the private collection of Dr Edmund de Unger". I'll provide the catalogue numbers if that will help. Keep in mind that these are the designations they had around 1980 when he published The Game of Tarot so things may have changed.

1) The familiar half card is I-27

2) Ace? of cups is I-28

3) 2? of swords is I-51

4) 4? of coins is I-52

5) The Benaki card is 9b

In addition, Dummett also cites another fragment which he doubts is a playing card but may be a coin suit card. Its Benaki catalogue number is 9c.

The following fragments may or may not be playing cards:

A) Mounted viceroy as de Unger 1-31

B) A seated king holding something in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo (15610/4-1)


The catalog numbers would be very helpful indeed. I am in communication with the curator of the Keir Collection and will, hopefully, be allowed to view the cards in the collection later this year. I am hoping I will be allowed to take, and share, new photographs of the fragments.


That would be great. The few cards that have appeared in publication have always been in black and white. Higher quality scans can let us make out finer details as well.


I've just seen the cards you've posted. I think the bottom card is 9c and the top left card is 9b. The top right is 9a. Dummett categorized it as 15th century Venetian in 1980 but I think he changed his mind around 1990 and assigned them to Ferrara.


To answer your question: Yes, Italians did export cards to Egypt, even after the Ottoman conquest of 1517. Dr Ettinghausen owned an 8 of batons and Mr Sa'd Khadam of Cairo owned a 6 of swords which were apparently 16th century Italian exports to Egypt.


Thanks for the good finding.


Thanks for the good finding.
Thank you. I think I might not have had as much success without Ludophone's catalog numbers.


The Benaki 3 of cups (9a) is from a rare suit system that Sylvia Mann labelled "archaic". Tor Gjerde has, I believe, conveniently organized all known cards and sheets of that suit system, with the exception of the Benaki card, into four groups. You can check them here: It is interesting to compare it with Wintle's Spanish sheet:

On a side note, the tarot deck that uses this suit system has been reproduced here:

Dummett has suspected that these cards are Ferrarese rather than Venetian for several reasons. The most important one was the spelling of "ten". In Ferrara it is "diexe" just like on the cards while in Venice it is "diese".

Ettinghausen speculates that the importation of European cards killed off local Egyptian/Syrian manufacturers who could no longer compete. As some of the cards found in Fustat, Cairo look deliberately damaged, it is likely that in the late 16th century, Ottoman authorities took a much harder stance against cards and gambling and banned them entirely. It won't be until the 19th century when cards were allowed back into their empire. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt claimed he saw Chinese cards in Mecca before the ban was lifted though.


Thank you. I think I might not have had as much success without Ludophone's catalog numbers.

... :) ... Well, it's the function of these forums that information of different sources run together.

Do you know about the recent finding at Palermo, Sicily (I think, from 2015)?
Do you know about the Assissi cards? Rather similar to the Rosenwald Tarocchi-Minchiate cards).
The single Minchiate card in Paris (came up c. 2004)?
2 Tarocchi cards (possibly 15th century) in France, found in 1990?
Minchiate cards in Ronciglione c. 1600 (found in the 1990s)?
Rovereto cards?
2 cards in similar style as the Charles VI Tarot?
Cards with dice results and motifs of the Schedel'sche Weltchronik?
Issy-les-Moulineaux Tarot card?
Similar Queen card sold at an auction?

If not, then ask.