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Maitland - spelling mistake from Canton!

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A recent acquisition was a part set of crested counters made for the MAITLAND family. Already in my collection was an example of a similar counter made for this family - but one with a different border and without the motto. Some very rich families were able to afford more than one set of counters so that they were available in different properties which they owned, such was the importance of card-play as a social pastime; so it was not a particular surprise to discover another similar example of that even though the two sets were made at dates very close to each other: the wavy-edge style counter in around 1770 and the 'swags' type border in around 1780.

Maitland was Earl of Lauderdale and his crest was 'a lion sejant affrontee gules ducally crowned holding in the dexter paw a a sword proper pommel and hilt or, in the sinister a fleur-de-lys azure' ( see explanation below**). The crest was shared with other branches of the family, mainly in Scotland; the motto, Deo Juvante, was one of two used by the Maitlands at this time and as seen on the porcelain services recorded in Chinese Armorial Porcelain Vol. 1 p.386 (D.S. Howard). None of the Earls had the initial M (as seen on the 'swags' counter) but David Howard suggests that the services were made for one of the sons of the 7th Earl and one particular possiblility is that it was made for the sea captain Frederic Lewis Maitland who in 1767 married the Makgill heiress, the name being then recorded as Maitland-Makgill - MM as on the counter.

All this by way of digression! What immediately struck me on seeing the 'new' set of gaming counters was the spelling of the motto: DEO JUVANTE (By God's assistance) has become DEO JUVANTB. Not just on one counter - a slip - but on all of them! A disaster! What must the owner have thought on receiving his prized set of gaming counters - having waited several years for them to be commissioned from Canton and having paid a sizeable amount for them? Not a pleasant surprise for him. And that leads one to wonder: was the second set ordered and received (without motto!) to replace the first rather than supplement it? 

Such transcription errors in Canton were not unheard of. The potential for mistakes to happen were manifold. Most crests and arms and mottoes were copied from the bookplates which most wealthy families had printed (in black and white of course) in England for use in their libraries, so it was usually sufficient to send a bookplate when the East India Company boat set sail. Sometimes a hand-written version was sent, detailing the complexity of detail in the arms (one of these was copied so faithfully onto a whole service of armorial porcelain that instead of actual colours, the instruction 'red', 'blue' etc. etc. was inscribed). And conditions on the four-month journey to Canton meant that sometimes the bookplate must have been in less than pristine condition when it arrived in China. Actual errors by the Chinese artists were however few - it was generally the instructions given to them that were at fault. so we will not know why the 'E' was replaced by a 'B'. All we can do is picture the disappointment with the end product.

And such is the intriguing mystery of gaming counters: how many secrets do they hide from us?


**The crest is of a seated red lion facing forwards  wearing the coronet of a duke, holding in his right hand a a sword naturally coloured with the pommel and hilt gold and in hs left hand a blue fleur-de-lys

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