Monday, December 5, 2011

From the pen and library of Henry Hucks Gibbs

I am not the first to collect and studying gaming literature. It is always a special thrill for me to get a copy of a book that belonged to one of the earlier great collections. This essay will focus on one such collector, Henry Hucks Gibbs, Lord Aldenham (1819-1907). Gibbs had a stunning library, of which gaming literature was only a small part. Catalogues of the library were published in 1888 and 1914. ; Sotheby's sold books from the library at auction in 1937 and books turn up in the trade every now and then. A few of them have made their way to me.

Before looking at some gaming books from the Aldenham Library, let us discuss Gibbs as a gaming author. He wrote The Game of Ombre in 1874, with later editions in 1878 and 1902, all privately published.

1874 The Game of Ombre
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Ombre is a 17th century Spanish card game for three players, which evolved into the four-player game of Quadrille, the subject of a 1744 treatise by Hoyle. About Gibbs's book, bibliographer Jessel wrote:
A full and lucid description of this excellent game. It is a misfortune that the work has never been published, for there is even to-day a constant demand for information on the details of Ombre. (p110)

uncolored proof
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As it was privately published every copy I've seen but one has been inscribed by Gibbs to the recipient—and the one without inscription is the most interesting copy of all. It is Gibbs's own copy of the first edition from the Aldenham Library, with many features that distinguish it from other copies of the first edition.  It contains two versions of each of the plates, a colored copy with text and borders such as the one pictured above, and an uncolored proof, such as is pictured at right. Gibbs's copy also contains a proof of an introduction to the second edition and of a supplementary chapter that did not appear until the second edition—an account of Belinda's game of ombre as described in Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock.

Gibbs inscription
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Gibbs letter
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Two inscriptions from other copies are pictured to the left. In the top photograph, Gibbs presents a first edition to Margaret Eliza Adams, while below is a letter from Gibbs to Lady Alwyne pasted into a second edition. The letter discusses obtaining Spanish cards for playing Ombre as well as scoring counters.


Bindings from the
Aldenham Library
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Back to Gibbs as a collector—the Aldenham library must have been magnificent. Gibbs generally had the books rebound in gentlemen's Victorian bindings, some of which are pictured at right. From left to right, the books are:
I purchased the two with Morell bindings years apart and from different sources. I was struck to see that they are decorated with the same floral tool in the spine panels.

The books themselves are worthy of discussion. I described Seymour as a predecessor to Hoyle and noted that his section on Ombre (along with that on Piquet) was the earliest set of rules for a card game sufficiently detailed to teach the game. Gibbs undoubtedly consulted this copy of Seymour as he wrote his own book on Ombre. It is also the copy collated by Julian Marshall in his bibliography of the Gamesters (p382). This is certainly one of my most treasured books because of its associations with Gibbs and Marshall.

I have another book with similar provenance, though I cannot picture it here as it is off at the binder's for conservation. The book is Thomas Mathews, Advise to the Young Whist Player, 1804, the third important book on whist after Hoyle and Payne. Only two copies of the first edition survive. Mine bears an inscription in Gibbs's hand "Aldenham. 1901. Given me by Julian Marshall." Indeed the provenance is even better, both earlier and later. Julian Marshall bought a copy of Mathews's first, almost certainly mine, at the 1900 Sotheby's auction of books from the estate of Cavendish, whom I have anointed the successor to Hoyle. I purchased the book from the collection of Dr. Albert Ferguson, who wrote a couple of bridge books and put together an important collection of gaming books about which I shall write later. When I look at the Mathews, I see a line from Cavendish to Marshall to Gibbs to Ferguson and then to me.

Payne's Maxims is the first significant book on whist published after Hoyle's treatise and was incorporated into the Charles Jones edition of Hoyle's Games Improved beginning in 1779. Thomson is a minor Scottish poet, and one can get a taste for his poem from a short excerpt:
Whist, then, delightful whist, my theme shall be,
And first I'll try to trace its pedigree,
And shew what sage and comprehesive mind
Gave to the world a pleasure so refin'd:
The copies of Payne and Thomson are also ex-library Albert Ferguson.

Bookplate of Gibbs
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Books from the Aldenham Library are easy to spot as they bear an armorial bookplate with the words "Aldenham House. Herts." I hope I've succeeded in sharing the excitement good provenance adds to collecting. What is most astonishing is that none of the sellers of these books noted the provenance in their catalogues. When the books arrived, the bookplate provided a delightful surprise!

  • Frederic Jessel. A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming. London: Longmans, Green, and Co. 1905. Available for download (6MB).  
  • Julian Marshall, "Cotton and Seymour's 'Gamesters.'"  Parts 1 and 2, Notes and Queries, 6th ser., 9 (April 26, 1884):321-3, (May 17, 1884): 381-3. Available for download (70MB).

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