Thomas Bowles established his printing shop in the late 17th century. He not only dominated the London market well into the next century but also bred four generations of printmakers. The Bowles family specialized in maps, guidebooks and topographical prints as well as produced some playing cards and games. In 1714, shortly before Thomas’ demise, he passed the business to his oldest son, Thomas II. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a successful printseller and publisher, opening a shop in St. Paul’s Churchyard. His younger brother, John, managed his own shop as well, creating original map designs for clients. John’s son, Carington, worked alongside him for ten years as John Bowles & Son. Thomas II’s son, Thomas III, was destined to follow in the same path but, unfortunately, died the same year he joined the partnership. In 1767, Carington’s son, Henry Carington Bowles, took over the family business. In this article, we will look at playing card decks and illustrations as well as games printed, published and sold by the Bowles family.

South Sea Bubble & Mississippi Scheme Decks (1721)

In our previous article, Card Games Created During Pandemics, we mentioned the South Sea Bubble playing cards, which were printed by Thomas II. Illustrated on the cards are individuals and companies partaking in phony joint-stock investment trades. This get-rich-quick eagerness backfired, leaving many in economic despair. During the Mississippi Scheme, the stock market boomed across Europe when John Law, an economic theorist, sold his company shares to the public to try to retire their debt. The French government succumbed to the momentary frenzy and began printing an excessive supply of paper money. Once inflation increased, the money was invaluable. The cards depict the various schemes that led to these stock market crashes. A set of playing cards satirizing speculation schemes © CHRISTIE’S 2020.

The Beggar’s Opera Playing Cards (1728)

Printing satirical pieces were the Bowles’ niche. The Beggar’s Opera, written by poet John Gay, parodies various Italian work. It also implements comedy and political satire in songs set to contemporary and traditional English, Irish, Scottish, and French tunes. These cards, published by John Bowles, mirror the music and lyrics from Gay’s opera. The sheet music shares the same space as the court figures. The faces are in the upper left-hand corner of the playing cards.

The Spendthrift (1760-1767)

This is not playing card art, but it does portray a young man’s experience with gambling and gaming. The illustration shows a deck of sprawled out playing cards and an empty glass sitting on the table. It is assumed that he lost a great sum of money during a poker-related game. Carington Bowles published this print.

Bowles’ Geographical Game of the World

Henry Carington Bowles created a game for players to gain knowledge about various parts of the world. Published in the late 1700s, the board game embodies Western Christian views on the world. The period speaks volumes. One of the game’s punishments is to move backward if you land on Mecca. Players spin a teetotum (spinning dice) to move their markers around the map game.

Bowles’ Geographical Game of the World Game Board

Bowles’s Geographical Game of the World, case front

Bowles’ Geographical Game of the World, case back

[Bowles’s Geographical Game of the World], map, [1803..1821]; London, England. ( accessed April 8, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.

Custom Cards with Shuffled Ink

Shuffled Ink resembles the Bowles’ business in some ways. We are also a family-owned printing company. Founder Charles Levin started the custom playing card business in 1999, and today, three of his children work alongside him. Matthew is the Vice President, Lisa is a Project Manager and Jonathan is an Operations Manager. Shuffled Ink specializes in producing decks of custom playing cards, card games and tarot & flash cards for individuals and companies around the world. To receive complimentary samples of our card products, include your delivery address and phone number on your custom request a quote form.

About Shuffled Ink

Shuffled Ink is a multigenerational family business that specializes in printing custom playing cards, tarot & flash cards, custom card games, packaging and more for businesses and individuals worldwide.

To receive complimentary samples of our card products, either follow this link or please include your delivery address and phone number on your custom quote request form.

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