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Tortoiseshell whist marker set

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In the early 1800s, Whist was becoming more and more popular at the expense of many traditional card games. This meant that large sets of gaming counters used for betting were no longer required: in Whist players did not wager on individual hands or even cards but the 'pot' was won by the players or players who reached the required number of games at short or long Whist (5 or 9 respectively - sometimes 10). So the need was for a scoring and recording method. Whist markers were produced in large numbers both in Europe and in China. In Europe they were produced in fours: each player or team will have had their own set of four counters and there was a specific method of displaying the counters to enable scoring up to nine or ten called the Hoyle's Method. Competiton came from China, though, where sets were nearly always made up of eight counters, presumably so that each player or team could have their four counters for scoring. ( One exception to this is the superb sets of 14 counters - see the article on Chinese mother-of-pearl whist markers).

The Chinese produced whist marker sets of high quailty - small round boxes of carved ivory with eight mother-of-pearl counters. But the set featured here is a very rare alternative: the box is almost identical in size and style to the ivory boxes but it is carved from tortoiseshell. And the eight counters it contained are also made of tortoiseshell. This substance is much more fragile even than ivory and it is a wonder that this box and counters have survived intact. It is noticeable that the decoration on this tortoiseshell set is not as fine as the equivalent ivory: the charcater scenes on the counters are much less detailed than ones on mother-of-pearl or even ivory. The counters and box however are extremely tactile and the visual effect is very satisfying in my view.

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