Fish, Precioussssssss

Ah, holiday customs. At my house, we’ve developed a new one over the last few years: after exchanging presents and eating Christmas dinner and pulling crackers (we lurrrrve Christmas crackers!) and nibbling at dessert, we usually play a rollicking game of That’s What She Said (TM) or Cards Against Humanity (TM). Although I would dearly love to write a Regency version of CAH some day (imagine the scurrilous things one could come up with to say about Prinny’s personal life!), Regency family games were themselves somewhat less, er, naughty…and also a lot prettier.

Those of you who obsess over details in books (umm, like me) might remember certain references in Pride and Prejudice to family games: “…Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won….” and in Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy: “…Gertrude…and Amabel…cast themselves upon their brother, with loud professions of delight at seeing him, and rather louder reminders to him of a promise he had made them to play at lottery-tickets the very next time he should spend an evening at home….The card-table had been set up, and Amabel was already counting out the mother-of-pearl fishes on its green-baize cloth.”

(Pause to re-read the hilarious ending of The Grand Sophy.)

Anyway… No, Lydia was not crowing over winning anchovies. Nor was Amabel handing out minnows, but these handsome little guys. The game was called “lottery tickets,” and was a game of pure chance; utilizing two decks of cards, it was played in rounds, and fish-shaped markers were used for placing bets (sort of), with the winner of each round getting the fish.

Aren’t they lovely? These are of mother-of-pearl (which is darned difficult to photograph well, I’ll have you know!), likely made in China, but they were also made of bone and ivory.

I wonder if there’s any way to incorporate my fishy collection into our upcoming Cards Against Humanity game on Christmas? Hmm…

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Fish, Precioussssssss — 7 Comments

  1. In Dutch we use the word fiche for these, which I thought was loaned from French.

    I wonder if the fishes were the original, and frenchified, or if the English took the French word and just replaced it with the same-sounding English, and then developed the fish-shape for these counters?

  2. Heh—I have a little mother of pearl fish that looks something like that. It belonged to my father (who spent time in England after the war). I’m wondering whether it’s a marker from this game?

    I’ve never been able to figure out where it came from or what it’s for: it’s not a pendant or a part of any kind of jewellery, just a single tiny, pretty, carved fish.

    Who knew.

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