To see an update on these cards, view this post from 1 August 2011.
I recently catalogued a very interesting set of playing cards from late 17th century Edinburgh. These cards turned out to be highly rare and almost impossible to track down: they are not recorded in Wing, and playing cards (along with other types of ephemeral material) are currently out of ESTC’s scope. Phylarcharum Scotorum gentilicia insignia (Family signs of the princes [royalty] of Scotland), illustrated by Walter Scot, is a set of 53 cards (52 playing cards plus the title card) all mounted on 18th century paper.The two and six (pictured below) of clubs are roughly hand coloured. These cards are a great piece of the ephemeral history of Edinburgh and Scotland. Sir Walter Scott, in his copy of this work at Abbotsford, recorded the name Walter Scot as belonging to “Walter Scot, goldsmith of Edinburgh, was admitted into the fraternity of his craft in 1686”, although another contemporary Capt. Walter Scot (ca. 1614-ca. 1694) was a published genealogist.
The only other mention of this set of cards I could find was in volume 3 of John Gough Nichols The herald and genealogist (London: J.G. Nichols, 1866), pages 80-85. Nichols records, at the time, that one set had been recorded in the possession of “Capt. W. E. G. L. Bulwer, of Quebec, East Dereham,” another set was located at Drummond Castle, and two other sets were in the great antiquarian collections of David Laing and Benjamin Nightingale. Both the Nightingale and Laing copies were sold by Sotheby’s in the 19th century, and the St Andrews copy is almost assuredly the copy from David Laing’s library. Although Laing donated all of his manuscripts to the University of Edinburgh, St Andrews purchased many important books from his collection, of which 38 have currently been identified through recent cataloguing efforts.