London: J. Passmore, 18, Fleet Lane, Farringdon Street, circa 1855. Card game: twelve hand-colored engraved cards, measuring 2.4 x 2 inches, depicting shopkeepers; seventy-two letterpress stock cards (six per shop), measuring 1.6 x 1.9 inches; instruction booklet, measuring 5.1 x 4 inches, entitled “Explanation to The Laughable Game of What D’Ye Buy? For Large and Small Parties, by Professor Punch,” in original green wrappers. Housed in publisher’s wooden box with sliding lid, measuring 6.25 x 5 x 1.4 inches, hand-colored and varnished pictorial label mounted to lid. Ownership signature in pencil to inside lid: “Mrs. Marquis, Birchfield House, Edge Lane.” Minor chipping to varnished label; instruction booklet lightly foxed, short split to wrappers at base of spine.
Complete and very attractive set of this comic card game, a Victorian tradesmen’s version of Mad Libs. One player takes the role of the “Conductor,” while the others each assume the identity a shopkeeper, holding the six cards describing that shop’s wares. The twelve trades represented are: Greengrocer, Milliner, Ironmonger, Doctor, Butcher, Music Seller, Fishmonger, Poulterer, Tailor, Publican, Toyman, and Pastry Cook. The Conductor reads the rambling story printed in the booklet, pausing after each sentence to challenge one shopkeeper at random to supply a missing item, no matter how ludicrous in context. Our hero might go for his morning shave to discover “a mealy Potato” from the Greengrocer in lieu of his soap, or learn that his breakfast is “an Emetic” from the Doctor. His wife might dress herself in “a lump of Dough” recommended by the Pastry Cook, and turn down her bedclothes to find the Fishmonger’s “Cod’s Head and Shoulders.” As the instructions note: “the sport is kept alive by the readiness each must exercise to avoid a forfeit,” as the players strive to “sell” their wares in unexpected and ingenious ways. An earlier version of this game was published by E. Wallis: J. Passmore bought out Wallis’s games stock in 1847, and remained in operation until 1869. This particular game was owned by Robina Marquis (1814-1873), mother of a large family of tradesmen in Liverpool. Her husband John owned a general provisions brokerage business, and her two eldest sons became mercantile clerks and brokers. OCLC locates two holdings, Indiana and Yale. A complete, near-fine example of a diverting game, located at the intersection of commerce and the absurd.