Floskaartjes is a children's card game played with a deck of 36 cards. They were produced on sheets of cheap paper ("catchpenny prints") and then cut apart and turned into playing cards by the children themselves. Judging from surviving examples, they were popular in the Netherlands and Belgium from (at least) the 17th century into the 19th century. The cards have numbers and names, and the series forms a social hierarchy. The exceptions are two allegorical cards, Life and Death, numbered 2 and 1 respectively. The social hierarchy, beginning with the Emperor and including nobles, religious figures, and assorted lower class figures, is reminiscent of other decks going back to the Italian Tarot and the German Householder deck, as well as the hierarchy in the suits of regular decks. The cards in Floskaartjes are not suited exactly, but they are paired. Even-numbered cards include an allegory of Life and the male figures; odd-numbered cards include the female figures and an allegory of Death—a skeletal reaper.
Floskaartjes is intriguing in several ways: 1) its present obscurity is puzzling, especially when combined with mentions by earlier writers; 2) the production of the game via catchpenny prints is similar to various other games; 3) the nature of the game seems poorly known, at least in English; 4) the existence and ready availability online of multiple examples adds some immediate interest; 5) the mors aequat omnia subject matter of the cards, an ancient and medieval moral allegory, is both obvious and explicitly stated on some sheets; 6) analogies between that moral allegory and what we know about games from other sources, from Alfonso X's Book of Games, chess allegories and their adaptation in Brother John's Tractatus, the justification for games in Iacopo Antonio Marcello's transcription of Martiano da Tortona's Tractatus, all the way through the 19th-century writers mentioned in the previous post, gives Floskaartjes a comfortable context. Games, even children's games, were often intended to convey profound and inspirational ideas. Today those messages might seem distastefully archaic (social hierarchy) or repulsively grim (memento mori and contemptu mundi) but this was both the pop culture and the moral philosophy of the day, not merely suitable for children but essential for all.
There are at least eight good images of these sheets online.
- Floskaartjes #1
- Floskaartjes #2
- Floskaartjes #3
- Floskaartjes #4
- Floskaartjes #5
- Floskaartjes #6
- Floskaartjes #7
- Floskaartjes #8
The cards were discussed a bit on an Aeclectic thread last year. "Spoonbender" translated the author's message of the game, which is printed on some of the sheets.
These pictures serve, sweet youth!
As pastime and joy, and that's the truth,
They teach you, how, from the emperor on,
In the end everyone to the grave will have gone.
As mentioned, the cards are paired with a male and female representative at each rank, along with two allegorical cards. Translations were given as follows, including corrected modern Dutch spellings.
- Emperor - Empress
Keyser/Keizer - Keyserin/Keizerin
- King - Queen
Coninc/Koning - Coningin/Koningin
- Bishop - Bishop's Wife [Abbess, Bishop's Maid, Elevated Woman]
Bisschop - Bisschopsvrou/Bisschopsvrouw [Abdisse, Bisschopsmeid, Verhevene vrouw]
- Prince - Princess
Prins - Princes/Prinses
- Sovereign - Female Sovereign
Vorst - Vorstin
- Count - Countess
Graef/Graaf - Gravinne/Gravin
- Nobleman - Noblewoman
Joncker/Jonker - Jonckersvrou/Jonk(ers)vrouw
- Hunter - Hunter's Wife
Jager - Jagersvrou/Jagersvrouw
- Captain - Captain's Wife
Capitein/Kapitein - Capiteinsvrou/Kapiteinsvrouw
- Standard-bearer - Standard-bearer's Wife
Vaendrager/Vaandeldrager - Vaendragersvrou/Vaandeldragersvrouw
- Soldier - Soldier's Wife
Soldaet/Soldaat - Soldaetsvrou/Soldaatsvrouw
- Merchant - Merchant's Wife
Coopman/Koopman - Coopmansvrou/Koopmansvrouw
- Courier - Female Courier
Bode - Bodinne/Bodin
- Skipper - Skipper's Wife
Schipper - Schippersvrou/Schippersvrouw
- Artisan - Female Artisan
Ambachtsman - Ambachtsvrou/Ambachtsvrouw
- Countryman (Farmer) - Female Farmer
Lantman/Landman - Boerrinne/Boerin
- Manservant - Maid
Dienstknecht - Dienstmeyt/Dienstmeid
- Life - Death
Leven - Doot/Dood
Unfortunately, the only modern article on the subject appears to be one in Dutch: Floskaartjes: Een dodendans met speelkaartjes (Floskaartjes: A Dance of Death in Playing-cards). As is apparent from the title, it follows the same line of thinking as the 19th century articles mentioned in the previous post, and it relies on them for much of its information. This article appears to have some good material on the game itself, but Google translation and Babelfish both yield pretty ragged results. (If I were more knowledgeable about games, then I could do better at interpolating from the sometimes bizarre machine translation... but I'm not.) It is noteworthy that the game employs trumps, including the highest numbered card, the Emperor, and the two lowest numbered cards, Life and Death.
I have brought this nifty game to the attention of David Parlett, who expressed an interest in the game and who, in addition to being a prominent playing-card historian also reads Dutch. So an English-language account of the game may turn up on his site at some point.
The most interesting iconography is, not surprisingly, that on the two allegorical cards. Death is shown as a skeletal reaper holding the hourglass of Time, which has run out. This could scarcely be more conventional. Life, however, is shown via a motif popular in Dutch Vanitas paintings and known as Homo Bulla. I'll post on that later.