Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Webster’s Poker Book (1925)

'Webster's Poker Book (1925)Sometime last year my friend Tim Peters sent me a very thoughtful gift -- an original edition of Webster’s Poker Book (published in 1925).

The condition of the book is not mint by a long shot, with the worn edges, broken spine, and yellowing pages attesting to the book’s age. Still, a rarity of sorts, and I get a kick out of pulling it out now and then and mulling over its various advice and illustrations.

The book could be regarded as a primer of sorts for poker -- one does learn rules, some strategy, odds, and other information of value to players. Mostly, though, it seems aimed at entertaining readers, a goal which it achieves throughout.

A short note at the front of the book explains that “IF YOU HAVE NEVER PLAYED POKER... This book will doubtless stimulate you to learn America’s favorite game.” Five-card draw is the game of choice here, with just about all of the discussion centering around that variant.

In addition to the instruction, there are also numerous anecdotes, funny stories, a history of poker, and other ephemera scattered throughout, the most famous of which being the illustrations by the famous American cartoonist Harold Tucker Webster, better known as “H.T.” Indeed, you have probably seen some of these before reprinted in other poker books -- a total of fifty different one-page cartoons, many of which graphically depict common and/or humorous situations discussed in the text.

Above is the cover, and here is the title page which lists all of Webster’s collaborators, too:

You see reference there to “a compartment containing a set of poker chips and a pad of I.O.U. forms embellished by Webster, ready for instant use.” The book actually does contain a little shelf inside the back cover which can be pulled out. The chips were long gone, but there are still some of the I.O.U. forms, designed for use at the end of the night at the home game. Here’s one of those:

There were also some postcards in there, the front of which featured advertisements for the book and the back a form which could be filled out before sending to your poker buddies. That picture at the bottom of the front side gives you an idea how the little shelf that slides out of the back cover works.

By the way, if you look back at that title page you might notice around the border images of the four suits plus what appear to be swastikas. Webster’s Poker Book appeared right about when the Nazi Party had first adopted the swastika (the first volume of Mein Kampf was also published in 1925, actually), a time when the symbol had yet to take on the connotations which we instantly associate with it. Indeed, before its appropriation by the Nazis, it was often considered a symbol of good luck, which I’m guessing had to be the reason why it was included here.

As I say, the cartoons are the main reason why this book is remembered, and so I wanted to share a few of them with you. All of them evoke ideas and concepts that are familiar to just about anybody who has played poker. A lot of grins to be found among ’em, too.

Here’s one that evokes a common theme in the book -- the eternal struggle between husbands and wives over poker playing:

Here’s another that reminds us of something we’ve all felt after starting a session badly, then finding ourselves vainly trying to dig out of the hole:

And here’s one more suggesting one of the benefits of buying in for the maximum:

H.T. Webster (1885-1952)You can read more about H.T. Webster over on Wikipedia as well as in this sketch about him on the American Heritage site. And here’s another blog with a post about Webster that features a small sampling of the 16,000-plus cartoons he drew.

Thanks again, Tim, for a neat collector’s item!

By the way, I’m working on creating complete archive pages for the five sections of the blog -- “On the Street,” “The Rumble,” “Shots in the Dark,” “High Society,” and “By the Book.” I’ve only finished one so far -- “By the Book,” the section where I talk about poker books as well as hard-boiled fiction (though always try to relate things back to poker). So if you are interested in reading other book talk, check out that page and click around.

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Blogger Tim Peters said...

A pleasant surprise to see that book immortalized on these pages, Shamus. The care that went into producing that intricate design says something, I think, about the general level of interest in home poker back then.

I'm glad you liked it and glad you wrote about it.


3/25/2010 10:11 AM  

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