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  • Writer's picturePeter Berthoud

Dickens Snap - A Victorian Card Game

Charles Dickens Portrait Detail from the Box of Dickens Snap
Charles Dickens Portrait Detail from the Box of Dickens Snap

Very little is known about this 19th Century game of Dickens Snap.

Sixteen Dickens characters are portrayed, four identical cards of each. All the cards are "square-cut" meaning that they have the older style of sharp angular corners rather then the smoothly rounded corners we are used to seeing in more modern packs.

The game was sold as two half-packs, with eight characters on 32 cards in each. If you could afford both you were doing okay.

In the first half-pack the characters are: Peggotty, Mrs Gamp, The Fat Boy, Scrooge, Fagin, Oliver Twist, The Runaway Children and Poor Smike.

In the second half-pack are: Bob Cratchit, The Two Wellers, Captain Cuttle, Sydney Carton, Little Nell, Micawber, Nicholas Nickleby and Mr Pickwick.

Beneath the images of all the cards are some more details and a request for other information.

The First Half-Pack

The Second Half-Pack

Dickens Snap was produced later with rounded corners, again in two half-packs but I haven't found another complete example of all the cards from a pair of the same half-packs.

The words "Dickens Series" is on the box but the maker's name isn't and none of the artwork is signed. I haven't been able to find any definitive proof of the maker but I have a theory and I'd be grateful if anyone can help me prove or disprove it.

In 1875, five years after Dickens' death, advertisements began appearing in The Penny Illustrated for "The Charles Dickens Snap Cards":

The latest novelty of the season. Just published, a Merry Round Game of 52 cards, comprising the celebrated characters of Mr Pickwick, Mr Micawber, Mr Pecksniff, Mrs Gamp, Sam Weller, Fagan &c. Post-free, One Shilling (stamps or P.O.order), by W.F. GOOD, Engraver, &c., 26, Savile-street, Hull.

Examples of the 64 card game of Dickens Snap featured in this post are few and far between but I cannot find a single example of the 52 card Dickens Snap being sold by W.F.Good anywhere.

My guess is that the two are essentially the same game.

Encouraged by the success, or possibly discouraged by poor sales, I think W.F. Good decided at some point to expand the market for their Dickens Snap by making it available as two half-packs of the same game. Jaques of Hatton Garden did something very similar with their original game of Happy Families.

52 cards would be made up of 13 sets of 4 characters. Expanding the number of characters to 16 would enable 2 equal packs of 32 cards to be produced, each of these packs could be played with, complete in itself, by two or three people. With both packs the number of players could be increased. There might even have been an opportunity to sell buyers of the original 52 card game a new and improved version with three brand new character illustrations.

One character mentioned in W.F. Good'd advertisement, Mr Pecksniff, is not included in the version of the game I have and there are a couple of other question marks, Sam Weller is mentioned in the ad rather than "The Two Wellers" and the different spellings of Fagan/Fagin. This might suggest there were two totally different games or possibly that in addition to 3 new characters some old characters were revised or replaced.

If you have any information that might help to pin down the maker, illustrator or date of publication of this version of the game or if you own a copy of W.F. Good's 52 card Dickens Snap, I'd love to hear from you.


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