Antedating of "Poker" (Card Game)

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 2 09:01:09 UTC 2011

I just browsed my posts from earlier this year and found a comment under
"blind man's bluff" (or was it "buff"?) back in march--I had tracked
down the OED 1836 citation for "poker", it's in GB. The OED cite is
missing an important footnote (of course, they are under any obligation
to include it) that said that poker is a game popular in south and west.

Here's the OED cite:

> 1836    J. Hildreth Dragoon Campaigns Rocky Mts. I. xv. 128   The
> M---lost some cool hundreds last night at poker.

And this is the full quote, with the footnote.
> " Not so," said Benson. " The M----- lost some cool hundreds last
> night at poker,* in camp, and is to meet some brother officers at
> Rodger's to night. So that won't do."
> * A favorite game of cards at the south and west.

Here's another mention of poker that predates the 1836 citation (but not
as early as the other one).

I had previously identified a 1837 source for the excerpt below, but now
have a 1835 citation:
A Discourse on the Vice of Gambling. By Charles Caldwell. Lexington, KY:
p. 43
> A counsellor at law, of professional destinction and mental
> accomplishments, from a distance, Jias recently said of some of the
> principal lawyers of this place, that their only mode of spending
> their leisure hours appeared to him to be, in swallowing mint-slings,
> playing brag or poker, discussing party politics, or /detailing the
> pedigree and character of horses!/

The last clip is ambiguous, but I am including it for completeness and
for quite another reason which becomes obvious from the reading.

The dating of this volume is actually unclear. Quite aside from the fact
that the GB scan alleges to have been made from a facsimile edition,
perhaps of 1906, the date on the title page is a bit muddled. The first
two digits are undoubtedly 18, then next one appears to be a 3, but the
fourth may be either 2 or 3 or another digit with damaged print (8 is
quite commonly misread as 3, but not 2). The next earliest citation in
WorldCat is for an 1863 edition and the only other one available in GB
is 1888. [The rest are all from the 20 century.]

I actually believe that the scanned volume is from 1888 and is /not/ a
reprint, as GB and WorldCat suggest. What makes the date difficult to
read is the punched out "Stanford Library", with the I and the B
overlapping the last two digits. If you look  carefully, the third digit
actually looks more like an 8 and the fourth looks more like a 3 than a
2, so it is also possibly an 8. The font also suggests the last third of
the 19th century rather than the first. I left a note in the review
section in GB.
The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with
the Calendar. Volume 2. Ed. by Robert Chambers. [1832?]
December 28. Card-playing and Playing-cards. p. 779
> Games migrate and acquire new names as well as other things.
> Post-and-pair, formerly the great game of the west of England, has
> gone further west, and is now the Poker of the southwestern states of
> America; and the American backwoodsman, when playing his favourite
> game of Euker, little thinks that he is engaged at the fashionable
> Parisian /Écarté/.

Is this actually true? Is poker really a derivative of "post-and-pair"?
Post-and-pair dates back quite far. OED has it to 1602, but fails to
include Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas mentioned by every other
dictionary that has a corresponding entry. The game consists of betting
on the goodness of your hand against the opponents, with the scores
determined by the combinations of cards (pairs, pair-royal a.k.a. prial
or triple or three-of-a-kind, etc.). The game was played by betting
before the deal and adding to the pot with each dealt card. Some modern
histories of poker also draw this parallel, although they are more
hesitant to claim direct derivation, but do trace the history of
post-and-pair to the primiera/primero game. These claims are however
unreliable because, among other things, they usually suggest that the
game was brought to England in the 17th century, but citations in the
OED clearly predate that, especially when named simply as Post or Poste.
(OED post n.4)


On 1/1/2011 11:25 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> At 9:48 PM -0500 1/1/11, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
>> poker, n.4 (OED 1836)
>> 1832 _The Globe_ (Washington, D.C.) 3 Sept. 2/5 (19th Century U.S.
>> Newspapers)  Who is notorious for his skill and dexterity at _Lieu_,
>> _poker_ and _Kentucky Brag?_ ... _Centre County (Pa.) Democrat._
>> Fred Shapiro
> Nice to know; and it looks like the readers would be expected to know
> what poker is, so it can probably be pushed back further.  Speaking
> of "Lieu", I don't know the eponymous card game, but I just heard a
> radio sports talk host refer to considering something "in lieu of"
> something else, where the intended meaning was clearly "in light of".
> Not exactly an eggcorn, more of a malapropism, and probably not
> unique to him--maybe the thought is that "lieu" is French for "light".
> LH

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