A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
|The Playing Card Monk / Capuchin de Cartes|
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of the Playing Card Monk / Capuchin de
Cartes. Please contact me if you know any of this
information is incorrect or if you have any other
information that should be added. Thank you.
1740 to 1760
As far as I know this fold and cut design first appears in the historical record in a watercolour entitled 'Le Petit de Chevilly et Sa Soeur' by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle which is held at the Winterthur Museum and can be dated to between 1740 and 1760. The male child is holding scissors in his hand in order to make the cut on which the design depends.
1740 to 1775
Capuchins de Carte also feature in this drawing by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721 - 1786) entitled 'Les bons moines, ou les motifs de la vocation from the book 'Le Livre de caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises' (Good monks, or the motives of vocation). Information from Emmanuel Nivon.
More details about this drawing can be viewed at Les Bons moines, ou les motifs de la vocation. - Waddesdon Manor. Note particularly the Commentary. According to this site, the drawings in the book can be dated to between 1740 and c1775.
Prior to 1775
The Playing Card Monk design also occurs in a painting by François Hubert Drouais (French, 17271775) titled 'Boy with a House of Cards'. I do not know when this picture was painted but it can be no later than 1775 when the painter died.
Playing Card Monks also appear in a painting titled 'Famille Mégret de Sérilly' by Jacques Thouron which can be dated to c1787.
The design also appears in a painting by Jeanne Elisabeth Chaudet Husson (1767 to 1832) entitled 'Marie-Laetitia Murat portant le buste de Napolean', which can be dated to 1806. This picture also shows a folded Cocotte.
A boy playing with Capuchins is featured in this picture from 'Les Jeux de Jeunes Garcons', illustrated by Xavier Le Prince (otherwise known as Xavier Leprince), which was published in Paris in 1822, although the drawings are dated 1821. Information from Juan Gimeno.
The accompanying text reads 'The cards offer children amusements of more than one kind; they make castles, boxes, chains, little cutouts they call capuchins; they place these so that if one drops, all the others fall in a row.'
A written description of how to make 'Les Capuchins' / Playing Card Monks from folded playing cards with a single diagonal cut (and how to use them as skittles to play the game of domino rally), appears in 'Manuel Complet des Jeux de Société' by Elisabeth Celnart, which was published by La Librairie Encyclopedique de Roret in Paris in 1827.
Roughly, 'Here is the simplest cutting of cards: wide at one end, pointed at the other, and slightly curved at the top, to keep it in balance, the Capuchin, which resembles a rifle bayonet, is a sort of card skittle; indeed, the children plant the Capuchins close to each other, and when one falls, the others fall in a row.'
There is a reference to Capuchins des Cartes in a cartoon by Jean-François Villain, published in Paris in 1830. The wording below the cartoon reads: 'Les Capuchins des Cartes ou le Jeu des Enfants de Paris les 27. 28 et 29 Juillet 1830'. Information from Edwin Corrie.
'Manual completo de juegos de sociedad o tertulia y la prendas', translated by Frances for D. Mariano de Rementería y Fica, which was published by Palacios in Madrid in 1831, contains a translation of the material about the Playing Card Monk which appeared in Celnart (see above).
A similar description also appears in 'Juegos de los Ninos', which was published in Madrid by R y Fonseca in 1847. The final sentence says, roughly, 'The children stand the cards up, one after the other ... then, dropping the first, they push each other over and all of them fall in succession.'
Both the design and its use as skittles in a game of similar to the game now usually played with dominos are illustrated in 'Jeux et Jouet du Jeune Age' by Gaston Tissandier, which was published by G Masson in Paris in 1884.
The design also appears in a section devoted to toys made from playing cards in 'Pour Amuser Les Petits' by Tom Tit, which was published in Paris in 1894. (Bottom left of the page shown below.)