Monday, June 14, 2010

Ante Up For This Great Poker Rare Book Library

[ANON]. It's All In The Draw.
[London]: C.E.H. Brelsford and C.W. Dimick, 1895.

(All Images Courtesy Of Natalie Galustian Rare Books.)

Finding yourself flush with cash these days? Feeling like you've hit the jackpot with a big deal, and there's no limit to your bankroll? Got that winning feeling that only comes when you're really in the chips? Then you can bet your bottom dollar you'll find something that's just aces at London rare book dealer Natalie Galustian's sale of her personal library of books, photographs, and prints on poker and gambling.

London Rare Book Dealer
And Poker Aficionado,
Natalie Galustian.

Oxford-educated Shakespearean scholar and newly-elected President of the International Federation of Poker (IPF), Anthony Holden, has written a terrific introduction for the "Poker" section of Galustian's catalog, All In (.pdf file). In it he describes her rare books and first editions on the card game (or as Holden prefers to call it the "mind-sport") as: "a compendious cornucopia of sumptuous delights, painstakingly what has clearly been an authentic labour of love, now a source of infinite pleasure to us mere player-readers."

British Writer, Scholar,
And Poker Player,
Anthony Holden.

Poker, with its flair for the dramatic, colorful characters, and legendary reversals of fortune, has always been a writer's game, appearing in the work of such literary luminaries as Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Bret Harte, Sinclair Lewis, Ambrose Bierce, and Henry James. And as Anthony Holden states: "Perhaps because of its mythical link with writers, poker is one of the few sports to have spawned a literature almost as rich and colourful as its own exotic history."

BALLARD, Martha C. Shakespeare On Poker.
Denver: The Ballard Publishing Company, 1906.

The 125 titles Galustian has assembled here prove his point, ranging from classics like The Complete Poker Player by John Blackbridge (1880) and The Odds Against Me by John Scarne (1966) to such arcane titles as L. B. 'Tutor' Scherer's poetic paean to the game, Reminiscing In Rhyme (1956) and Martha C. Ballard's Shakespeare On Poker (1906). But the book which Holden calls "the jewel in this mighty collection's mightier crown" is Robert Cumming Schenk's Rules for Playing Poker (1880). Schenk was an American Civil War General for the Union Army, and the US Ambassador to Queen Victoria's Britain, and Holden writes he has "always coveted" this title, which is "the first book devoted to the rules of draw poker."

SCHENCK, General Robert Cumming.
Rules For Playing Poker.

London: Privately Printed, 1880.

The second section of All In "covers a wide spectrum of books on gambling, casino games, and game theory." (Both Anthony Holden and Natalie Galustian insist that poker is a game of skill, not chance, and as such should not be considered "gambling.") This part of the catalog also includes some real gems, including an 1847 edition of The Greeks featuring six hand-colored plates by George Cruickshank; a neo-Latin poem, Carmen de Ludo Magistri by Johannes Faber, printed in 1504, making it one of the oldest modern works on gambling; and a "heavily annotated horse race betting card from "the poet laureate of drinkers and gamblers, Charles Bukowski."

The Complete Poker Player
New York: Dick and Fitzgerald, 1880.

Natalie Galustian writes in her introduction to the gambling section of the catalog that she began her "collecting adventure" with these books, but soon found herself increasingly fascinated by playing and reading about poker. Speaking of the books on her favorite game, or if you prefer "mind-sport," she says: "The collection traces the development of the game through the 19th century and 20th centuries, and shows how the wealth, quality and scholarly nature of the writing on poker proves it is a game of skill, not chance...I would like to get poker players to become more interested in the history of their game, and convince them that collecting the books that conspired to shape the modern games of poker is a great thing to do."

A collection of six 19th century lithographs,
depicting poker scenes.
New York: Truth Company, 1895.

She ends her preface with words that prove she knows whereof she speaks in terms of both gaming and book collecting: "It has been a pleasure to be the temporary curator of this wonderful collection and it will be a great shame to see it go. But, as all gamblers know, you've got to lose everything so you can do it all over again." The books, photographs, and prints from the All In catalog will be on display at Natalie Galustian Rare Books in London through the end of July 2010.


  1. Ms. Galustian,

    I have a copy of the Ballard "Shakespeare on Poker." Is there a market for this title?

    Thank you,

    Richard Turner

  2. Contact Ms. Galustian at:


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