Monday, May 7, 2012

Hoyle's Scoring Method and Whist Counters

In Hoyle's day, whist was a game played to ten points and it would take several deals to reach that score. At that time, paper was dear, and it is not surprising that methods evolved to keep score without it. One method used four counters for each partnership to record progress towards ten points. It came to be known as Hoyle's Scoring Method, but like so many things that bear Hoyle's name, Hoyle never had anything to do with it!

Whist scoring tokens, obverse.
(click to enlarge)

I've become interested in these counters because of a recent acquisition, somewhat outside my usual sphere. Pictured at left are three scoring counters (originally from a set of four) bearing the bust of an English gentleman under the word "Hoyle". The counters are dated 1740.


Whist scoring tokens, reverse
(click to enlarge)

The reverses, numbered 1 to 3, are pictured on the right. The set would have been completed with another counter numbered 4. The tokens are quite small, 17 mm in diameter, weighing 1.3 grams.



The counters are charming, but are they credible? Certainly, the date cannot be right. Hoyle's first book was published in November 1742 and there is no record of him prior to that time.

Is the portrait of Hoyle authentic? For well over a century, people have been searching for such a portrait. In a piece in Notes and Queries titled "Edmond Hoyle," "Xylographer" asked "Do there exist any engraved or other portraits of the author of the treatise on Whist?" (10th Ser. ii 409. November 19, 1904) Bibliographer Frederic Jessel (I discuss Jessel and Marshall here, and Cavendish here) replied:
Exhaustive inquiries were made by "Cavendish" and by Mr. Julian Marshall, but they both failed to discover any portrait of Hoyle (see 7th S. vii. 482). Since then I have examined a large number of catalogues of portraits without any result. I possess, however, a bronze medalet, rather smaller than a sixpence, bearing, on the obverse, a bust to the left, with the inscription "Edmund Hoyle"; on the reverse, the figure 4. It has been pierced, and was probably intended either for a whist marker or for the badge of membership of a whist club. The bust is very clearly cut, and the features are of a strongly marked classical type. The medalet appears to be of eighteenth-century workmanship, and gives me the impression that it represents a likeness, not a fancy head." (10th Ser. ii 536. December 31, 1904)
It sounds as though Jessel may have the counter missing from my set! But his is inscribed "Edmund Hoyle" and mine "Hoyle." It is clearly a different counter.

Mitchiner 5644
(click to enlarge)
Indeed three distinct varieties of early Hoyle counters are known and described in Michael Mitchiner, Jetons, Medalets and Tokens, volume three, British Isles circa 1558 to 1830, London: Hawkins 1998. My tokens are identified as number 5645, while both 5644 (at right, containing symbols for the suits in lieu of a date) and 5646 (below, dated 1747) are inscribed "Edmund Hoyle" and pictured below.

Mitchiner 5646
(click to enlarge)

Mitchiner writes:
The date when these counters were made and their place of origin, must remain uncertain. They appear to be the earliest counter made specifically for the Game of Whist. One can suggest that manufacture was in the late eighteenth century. (p1858)

As I look at the three portraits, they do not appear to be of the same person, so I reject Jessel's suggestion that this is an actual likeness of Hoyle.

Withy, Hoyle abridged
(click to enlarge)
How were these tokens used and when was the scoring method introduced? The earliest mention I have found to using counters for scoring at whist is from Robert Withy's Hoyle Abridged: Or Short Rules for Short Memories at the Game of Whist, dated 1791. I discuss this work here. No earlier edition Hoyle, or other work on whist appears to show such scoring counters. Pictured at right is an early 19th century copy, but the text of the 1791 edition is identical.

Jones 1796, page 3
(click to enlarge)
After Hoyle's death in 1769 and the end of perpetual copyright in 1774, the dominant edition of Hoyle was that edited by Charles Jones, a book I discuss frequently. The use of whist counters is not mentioned in the 1790 edition, but did appear in the next edition of 1796, likely in response to Withy's Hoyle Abridged. It is amusing to note the slightly mangled typography on page 3 (pictured at left), necessitating an erratum in the preliminaries. 

Jones 1796, page viii
(click to enlarge)
Note that none of these references attribute the scoring method to Hoyle. That happened later, as you can see in this nineteenth century set of counters, clearly called Hoyle's Scoring Method. More evidence that what passes for Hoyle biography is actually someone's use of his name as a marketing brand.

One last thought. The four-token system for scoring at whist was likely introduced not long before it's first appearance in print in 1791 and that seems like a reasonable date for the tokens with the left-facing bust. If Hoyle had died some twenty years earlier and no portraits of Hoyle exist, could that possibly be Hoyle's likeness on the tokens?

No comments:

Post a Comment