Street View: 20
Address: 153 High Holborn

Street View elevation

Henry Robert Sabine and Thomas Lewis Woolley were partners in the playing card makers business when Tallis produced his Street View for Holborn. Their shop was located at 153 High Holborn, but a notice in the London Gazette that their partnership had ended on the 25th of May, 1839, also listed 22 Hyde Street, Bloomsbury. Woolley was to continue the business at 153 High Holborn. On 24 February 1835, another partnership notice had appeared in the London Gazette in which it was announced that the partnership between Woolley and John Wilton was dissolved and that Woolley was to continue the business at 22 Hyde Street in partnership with Sabine; no mention is made of the Holborn address. The High Holborn shop was therefore presumably acquired between 1835 and 1839.

Woolley & Sabine playing cards

Woolley & Sabine playing cards. Source: www.plainbacks.com

In the 1841 census Woolley was listed as the occupant of the Holborn premises, together with his wife Ann Frost and daughters Jane and Elizabeth. The Woolleys had married on 20 December, 1821 in St. Anne Soho church, Westminster, but not much more is known of their lives. Research on playing cards seems to suggest that the name Woolley & Co. was used in the second half of the nineteenth century at the address 210 High Holborn, but it is not clear whether Thomas Lewis Woolley had anything to do with it. Apparently, one Mrs. Elizabeth Evans took over the playing card business of Edward James Stone at that address, retaining Stone as manager, and changing the name of the firm to Woolley & Comp. in 1857.(1) A lot more is known about Sabine. He was made free of the Stationers’ Company by patrimony in August 1839. His freedom record states that he was born in Shoe Lane, Fleet Street in 1811 as the son of Thomas Sabine, Stationer. A baptism record can be found in the St. Bride Church records for 17 November 1811 which gives his mother’s name as Ann, the address as 81 Shoe Lane and his date of birth as the 3rd of October.

1839 detail City freedom record Sabine

detail City freedom record

Just before his partnership with Woolley, Sabine had married Emma Boaden on 15 November, 1834 at St. Andrew Holborn and they were to have at least 10 children: Henry born ±1836, Emily ±1839, Lucy ±1842, Kate ±1846, Lewis ±1848, Charles ±1849, Alfred ±1850, Arthur ±1853, Robert ±1856, and Thomas ±1858. Henry Robert did not remain a playing card maker for the rest of his life; unfortunately in 1852, by then working from Poppin’s Court, he went bankrupt(2) and in the 1861 census he is listed as a commercial traveller, in 1871 as card board maker (his address given as Glossop, Derbyshire) and in 1881 (back in London) as an accountant. In 1891 he is listed as retired and living with his daughter Lucy in Chelsea. He died in early 1895.

Because his father was a Stationer, it was logical that young Henry Robert became a freeman of that guild, but that did not necessarily mean he was a stationer in the narrow sense of the word. Members of the guilds sometimes branched out into other fields, not always with the approval of the guild on which they encroached, but the rule of staying in one’s own field was difficult to enforce as the City guilds only had authority within the strict geographical borders of the City and not all guilds objected to their members involving themselves in other activities. Henry’s father, and probably his grandfather as well, had been making playing cards, although by rights that craft belonged to the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards.

coat of arms Playing Card Makers Company

That Company was granted its charter by Charles I in 1628. “Originally the Company was created in order to regulate and control the importation of cheap playing cards, to protect the cardmakers and their families and to maintain quality. The Crown received the benefit of the duties levied by the Company agreeing to pay a tax on all packs, the Ace of Spades being the chosen card to show the tax, every maker of playing cards had to have a mark of his own inrolled to indicate recognition of his name.”(3) The Stamp Duty on cards was only abolished in 1960. Dickens in volume 6 of his Household Words devotes several pages to the manufacture of playing card and he also mentions the tax:

Every pack of cards made in England for home use pays one shilling to Her Majesty; for which the ace of spades is the printed receipt. The manufacturer pays for the production and engraving of a steel plate containing twenty aces of spades; he also sends paper to Somerset House; and the authorities at the Stamp Office print him off thousands and tens of thousands of aces. These are sent to him in certain quantities, and under certain bonds and seals and restrictions. He proceeds to use them, by pasting the sheets of aces on carton, and making cards of them. The Excise Officer calls on him at intervals; and, for all the sheets of aces which he is not in a condition to produce, he has to pay one shilling each ace as duty; and a Government stamp is pasted round every pack to show that the duty has been paid.

making playing cards from Tomlinson's Cyclopedia

making playing cards from Tomlinson’s Cyclopedia

The process of making cards is described in detail in Tomlinson’s Cyclopedia and for that, the author witnessed the manufacture first-hand at Sabine’s in Poppin’s Court. He first described the pasting together of sheets of paper to produce card board which is first pressed together to get rid of excess water and then dried. After drying the crinkled surface is smoothed by passing the card board through rollers. The finished result is then either cut into sizes if needed for calling cards, or passed to the stenciller if made into playing cards. The stencil is a thin sheet of pasteboard, parchment or metal with the outlines of the required figures cut out so that when the ink is spread over the stencil, it will pass through the cut-out sections onto the material held under it. The ‘pips’ or common cards, require just one colour, red or black, and for them a thin stencil-plate is produced with the correct number of aces, clubs, hearts or diamonds cut out to allow the transfer of the paint. For the ‘têtes’ or court cards, several stencil-plates are used, one for each colour. After colouring, the cards are cut and a skilled workman can cut 200 packs, that is 10,400 cards, in two and a half hours.(4)

Despite the fact that Mr. Sabine told the author that card-playing was not on the decline and that trade to the colonies was very large, he went bankrupt in 1852 and had to give up his business.

(1) See plainbacks.com here and here. M.H. Goodall gives more information on the later developments at 210 High Holborn in his Minor British Playing Card Makers of the Nineteenth Century, Volume II: Woolley & Company (1996).
(2) The Jurist, 10 January 1852.
(3) www.makersofplayingcards.co.uk
(4) ‘Cardboard’ in Cyclopædia of useful arts & manufactures, ed. by C. Tomlinson, vol. 1 (1852), pp. 321-324 (online here).


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