Death by hanging
You will all have probably noticed that, in a pack of playing cards, the Ace of spades is invariably more elaborate in design.
From 1711 and right up until 1963, taxes were charged on a pack of cards.
Initially duty was paid and a random card in the pack was hand stamped to show it had been paid, but in 1765 the Ace of Spades was given a special design and designated as the card on which duty would be shown as paid.
The Ace of Spades was stamped using a metal plate and designed to be hard to copy – hence it’s detailed features.
There was a high price to pay for failing to pay duty however.
On 21st September, 1805, at The Old Bailey, Richard Harding, card-maker of Grosvenor Square, “a genteel looking man, powdered and dressed in black” was indicted for forging a stamp on the Ace of Spades “with intent to defraud the duty charged on playing cards” and for selling cards with forged stamps.
It was stated in evidence given in the case, that suspicion fell upon Harding when it was noticed that, despite his extensive business, his demands for Aces from the Stamp Office were small.
Harding’s premises were searched, where forged plates were found and over 2000 forged Aces found in the possession of his daughter. Evidence was given by an engraver to the Stamp Office that the Ace of Spades in a pack purchased from Harding was a forgery.
The judge told the jury that ‘”there could be no doubt” and Harding was duly found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
The cards in the picture above were given to me by my father in law. They were made during the reign of George III (1760-1820) and, most interestingly, are wrapped in newspaper dated Oct 21st, 1810 giving reports of the Napoleonic Wars which were being fought at the time.
I slightly wonder if the newspaper is more valuable than the cards!