W.H. Wilkinson

Chinese Playing Card

James D. Haug, Reference Librarian, John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, states that:

Sir William Henry Wilkinson (1858 - 1930), was a British Sinologist who served as British consul in China and Korea and who wrote articles and books on Chinese games. (See the entry for him in Who Was Who, Vol. III). It lists as one of his publications Chinese Origin of European Playing Cards. Besides the article on the origin of playing cards that appeared in the American Anthropologist of 1895, he wrote books such as The Game of Khanhoo (1895), A Manual of Chinese Chess (1893), and Bridge Maxims (1918).

Michael Dummett, Game of Tarot, London: George Duckworth & Co., 1980, indicates that in 1891 W. H. Wilkinson induced the British cardmaking firm of Charles Goodall to issue a special pack of cards to play the game of Khanhoo, adapted from a Chinese draw-and-discard game played with the three-suited money pack with a accompanying booklet of rules.

The descriptive book about the 1893 Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois, USA, contains the following information:

It is generally conceded that playing cards were invented in China during the twelfth century; and among the most interesting of the collections is the one exhibited by W. H. Wilkinson, consul at Swatow, consisting of a series of dice, dominoes, and cards gathered from the principal cities of the empire. From this it may be seen how very similar are the games of cards as played in China and Europe. (The Book Of The Fair, Chapter 20: "Anthropology and Ethnology", Copyright, Paul V. Galvin Library, Columbian Exposition of 1893.)

"Swatow", now known as Shantou, is in Guangdong Province, on the south China coast. It is northeast of Hong Kong and across the sea from Taiwan. Swatow was a minor fishing village until the 19th century, but developed rapidly as a seaport and commercial center when it was opened to foreign trade in 1860. It is here that Mr. Wilkinson functioned as consul.

James D. Haug also reports that:

Stewart Culin, in the preface to his Games of the Orient (1958; originally published in 1895 under the title Korean Games, with Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan) gives credit to "W. H. Wilkinson" as follows: "I desire to express my obligations and thanks to W. H. Wilkinson, Esq., late H.B.M. Acting Consul-General in Seoul, Korea, who placed at my disposal the accounts of Korean chess and playing cards ..." H.B.M. is an abbreviation of "His/Her Britannic Majesty's."

David Parlett, in The Oxford History of Board Games (Oxford University Press, 1999) reports that Wilkinson wrote a Manual of Chinese Chess (1893), and quotes Wilkinson's comments on Korean Chess from a chapter Wilkinson contributed to Stewart Culin's book Games Of The Orient (1895).

Finally, here is an interesting piece of information about someone named W.H. Wilkinson of London, England, at this period in history - who may or may not be the Sinologist who wrote articles and books on Chinese games:

"Mrs Harry Faunthorpe" (Mrs Elizabeth "Lizzie" Anne Wilkinson), 29, was born in Manchester, England, where her father, Mr W.H. Wilkinson, lived at Marefield House, Paintlett. She boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a second class passenger and the "wife" of Harry Faunthorpe. However, it is thought that she was in fact his mistress. To reach their destination Philadelphia, they bought ticket number 2926 for 26. Mrs Wilkinson survived the sinking. She was rescued by the Carpathia in lifeboat 16. After arriving in New York, she went to her cousin John Devine at 669 Brooklyn Street, Philadelphia.

Sir W.H. Wilkinson's interesting historic paper on playing cards (published by the American Anthropology Association in the The American Anthropologist, Volume VIII, January 1895, pages 61-78) compares Chinese and European decks of playing cards, dominoes in relation to playing cards, and speculates on the history of the Tarot Deck. He speculates on the game equipment which Marco Polo brought back to Europe from China. The paper includes a number of interesting black-line drawings of 19th century Chinese "cash" and Chinese playing cards.

Wilkinson Chinese characters

You can read the Wilkinson paper by clicking here .

Last update January 8, 2010