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Seven different shapes in a set of counters

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If you have had the chance to look around this website, you will already be aware that even though the vast majority of sets made after 1750- whether armorial or not- were made up of of 140 counters in three shapes, there were special orders to Canton for sets comprising several more shapes. The people who placed the commission probably had a particular card game in mind when they designed their set. These sets must have been particularly expensive as the producers in Canton were organised in such a way as to deliver  standard sets  in quantity and quickly. Off-the-counter sets were by 1800 readily available with just the detail in the roundel to finalise when the orders arrived in Canton; all the artwork was complete and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, this meant that orders which a few years earlier would have taken at least two if not three years to arrive in London, now could be had in under a year. It does make you stop to think, doesn't it? about our  'must-have-it-now' society. But it also has the effect that these sets of counters - when thay finally arrived- were treasured: how many of our Christmas presents this year will still be around in two hundred years' time?? And will still be as beautiful as the day they they were made?? Enough of that!

This set is a very fine example. All seven shapes are inscribed with the single-letter monogram 'L' with extremely fine back-hatching. Drilled border with subsidiary point-in-point border  suggest 1810 though the flowers might indicate a few years earlier than that from their style.  There are very few examples of true square counters - and why that should be remains a mystery to me as the square is a very satisfying shape both aesthetically and practically for card-play. Perhaps it was harder to produce in quantity as a larger area of perfect mother-of-pearl was necessary than compared to for instance a round. But anyway here we have two squares in different sizes and of superb quality mother-of-pearl, with numbers 100 and 50 inscribed - interestingly there is no backhatching leaving the possibility that the numbers were later inscribed in Europe. Two rounds - one with 20 to the reverse and the other inscribed 'WHIST'. Two ovals  with numbers 10 and 5; and finally a shuttle with number 1 and another twist here- the 1 is inscribed upside down: all the other counters rotate to show their number apart from this one.

Unfortunately there is no way of knowing who these were made for. All we can tell is that they were made for a very special customer. The extra thickness of mother-of-pearl shows that whoever it was was not short of money! And this special order is just as much of a delight in 2009 (nearly 2010!) as they were in 1800.

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