SOUTH SEA BUBBLE– A full set of playing cards satirizing the “South Sea Bubble”. [London: Thomas Carington Bowles, 1720-21.] [With:] April-kaart of kaart spel van momus naar de nieuwste mode [Amsterdam, 1721].
Extraordinary full set of the "South Sea Bubble" playing cards, rarely to be found complete. One of the most eloquently graphic accounts of the most pervasively devastating financial crash before the Great Depression: the collapse of John Law’s South Sea and Mississippi schemes. Two different packs were printed by Bowles: ours portrays dozens of genuine or bogus joint-stock companies been set up in 1719 and 1720 at the time of the South Sea Bubble to entice investors. The other set depicted domestic scenes of despair as scheme after scheme instilled hopes and then collapsed. Cards of satirical content belonged in a cherished genre, but it was only with the South Sea Bubble, which involved investors throughout Europe, that the satire targeted the financial world. After a few years, graphic commentary of this kind was replaced by caricatures. Though the dating in institutional catalogues varies between 1720 and 1721, an advertisement published in Mist’s Weekly Journal of December 1720 for "Bubble cards … tricks of Stock Jobbers … Humours of Change Alley" is likely to refer to one of Bowles’ packs. The cards are fully functional as playing items, with a full set of suits and numbers. Clayton (Book illustration, p. 235) points out that the packs were priced rather expensively, and would have attracted reasonably moneyed buyers. The second set of cards offered here, engraved on an uncut sheet, embodies the Dutch counterpart to the satire of John Law. The sheet was inserted as a plate in the collection of satirical sheets entitled Groote tafereel der dwaasheid ([Amsterdam?], c.1720).
South Sea cards: 52 individual engraved cards (each 95 x 63mm), with miniature standard cards in upper corner, of which the aces of hearts and diamonds are stenciled in red, blank versos, remains of duty stamp to corner of the ace of clubs (photographic reproductions of captions affixed to four cards: queen of spades, six of hearts, three of diamonds, and ten of clubs); lacking title card, cut, mounted with polypropylene corners and framed. Mississippi cards: 54 cards (52 standard cards plus two cards with a title and a large cock with the arms of John Law) (each 84 x 48mm), engraved on a single sheet (creased where once folded, mounted and framed). Not in Sperling. S. Mann, Collecting English playing-cards, 1978, p. 19. See Sperling and Cole, passim, for the plate in the Groote tafereel.