Bodleian Library plays 'Happy Families'

2 April 2007

Happy_FamiliesA display featuring the popular game of Happy Families is on public view at the Bodleian Library. Published for the first time in 1861, the game has received many interpretations; the variety of the trades depicted reflects the evolving values of society. A selection of nearly 120 cards from the 19th and 20th centuries aims to show this diversity.

The Library’s collection of playing cards was enriched in 2002 by the generous donation of Mary Gardiner a schoolteacher from Northleach. This case celebrates her life-long dedication and passion in collecting the much-loved game.

Julie Anne Lambert, Librarian of the John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library said: ‘This display is to celebrate the bequest by Mary Gardiner of her collection of Happy Families and other card games to the John Johnson Collection. Mary Gardiner came to the John Johnson Collection in search of Happy Families card games and, finding only one or two packs new to her, bequeathed her collection to us.’

Consisting of over 1 million original items, the John Johnson Collection is one of the most important collections of printed ephemera in the world. It was assembled by John de Monins Johnson between c.1923 and 1956 and was housed at the Oxford University Press (where it was called The Constance Meade Collection of Ephemeral Printing) until its transfer to the Bodleian Library in 1968. While the majority of material dates from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, there are ephemera dating back to 1508.

More details about the John Johnson Collection can be found at

This display is in a single showcase in the Bodleian Exhibition Room, where the Library currently has its main exhibition, The Flower Garden of Spring: Paintings from Mughal India.

Mr Bun the Baker: Happy Families Playing Cards from the Mary Gardiner Bequest in on display between 31 March and 28 April at the Bodleian Library, Exhibition Room, Old Schools Quad, Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 4.30 pm. CLOSED 6 – 8 April. Admission free. 

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