Sentimental conversation cards

Description

Made in the second half of the 18th century, these playing cards depict objects, scenes and sentiments familiar to the middle and leisured classes.

The intricate picture cards were designed as starting points for conversation or storytelling, but, in an entertaining twist, they could also be used to tell players’ fortunes. According to the written instructions, the cards provide a wholesome antidote to the evils of gambling and they ‘improve and polish conversation, while they increase the idea, and extend the understanding’ (p. 2).

What is sentimentalism?

Britain in the 18th century saw the rapid expansion of empire, trade and commerce. One result of this was that the middle and mercantile classes became wealthy and upwardly mobile, and desired to enter into the polite and fashionable ranks of the upper classes. Sensibility and sentimentalism provided a model for feeling and conduct. It was believed that by being immersed in representations of virtue, undeserved distress and tragedy (especially in literature), individuals could develop the refined manners and sensibilities of the cultured upper classes. Emotional expression and the ability to empathise were considered noble characteristics that elevated an individual from the assumed vulgarity of the common man.

Sentimentalism reached its height during the latter half of the century.

Full title:
Cards without suits for fancy games: "Sentimental Conversation Cards"; pack of 51 playing-cards representing a variety of domestic and emblematical subjects, plus booklet of instructions
Published:
c. 1770s, Liverpool
Format:
Print / Card
Copyright:
© Trustees of the British Museum
Usage terms

British Museum Terms of Use

Held by
Trustees of the British Museum
Shelfmark:
1896,0501.1028

Related articles

An introduction to She Stoops to Conquer

Article by:
Diane Maybank
Themes:
Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Theatre and entertainment, Gender and sexuality

Oliver Goldsmith published several critiques of audiences and playwrights before writing a laughing comedy that was the triumph of its season and that continues to be performed today. Diane Maybank introduces She Stoops to Conquer, which uses satire to explore divisions between city and countryside, men and women, and rich and poor.

An introduction to Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded

Article by:
Margaret Doody
Themes:
Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Rise of the novel, Gender and sexuality

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded evolved from a collection of model letters into a bestselling novel. Margaret Doody introduces Samuel Richardson's work and its exploration of gender, class, sexual harassment and marriage.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Pamela

Created by: Samuel Richardson

Pamela overview I will bear any thing you can inflict upon me with Patience, even to the laying down of my Life, to ...

She Stoops to Conquer

Created by: Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Conquer (1773) overview Kenneth Tynan wrote that ‘English drama is a procession of glittering ...

Tristram Shandy

Created by: Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is an innovative, digressive, ...

Evelina

Created by: Frances Burney

Evelina overview Unused to the situations in which I find myself, and embarrassed by the slightest difficulties, I ...