Games People Play

August 9, 2008 at 10:46 am (entertainment) (, , , )


Eliza Chute, aunt to Emma Smith, notes in her diaries her little losses and gains at cards whenever an evening ends in such a manner – which is usually the case, cards being a prime source of entertainment. One particular game, which stands out for its unusual name, has long puzzled me; but no more thanks to the published diary (Harvard University Press, 1972) of Samuel Curwen. Curwen was an American who spent much time in England, hence the title of the book as edited by Andrew Oliver: The Journal of Samuel Curwen, Loyalist.

Here is Eliza’s description of one evening, taking place about a month after her marriage (in 1793) to William Chute:

Nov 13 W[ednesday]  The Vine, much rain in the night  sunny  high wind.  Visited Miss Biggs, Mr & Mrs Lafroy [sic]  out  Mr Mrs & Miss Austins  dined & supped at Mr Bramston’s; met Mr & Mrs Birch there  played at snip-snap  staid till 11. [from Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family]

Snip-Snap?? Yet what does Curwen write in his own diary – a very detailed description of this very game! And (unlike Snap, which many kids know) while Snip-Snap may not be a high stakes card game (like Commerce, for instance), it does entail some risk of loss… As Eliza sometimes found out. So here is Curwen:

13. [January 1778] Mild, cloudy, at times drisly. Passed Eve at Mr. Hornsey’s, Company Parson Tozier… Passed time in playing a game with cards called Snip, Snap, Snorum – Method of play — To each is delivered 6 or more Counters valued ad libitum, each keeps his Counters till forfeited; in the midst stands a pool, containing as many in it as all the stakes amount to. To each is dealt 6 Cards. The person on the Dealers left hand puts down a card face up, the next if he can match it for instance Ace to an Ace &c. the former forfeits a stake and puts into the pool. The person who matched it crying Snip. If the 2d be matched he cries out Snap, and the person is again matched, puts in 2 stakes to the pool, this more rarely happens. But if these cards be again matched, which is very rare, the 3d person whose card is matched puts in three stakes the former crying out Snorum, and in this manner the Cards are dealt and played till all the stakes are drawn out of each players hand, which if they or he looses [sic] his interest in the pool and ceases playing, till one person who keeps the remaining stake in hand takes the whole pool. The parson made one of the party Cards being his favourite amusement… Broke up at 12 o’clock. Returned in soaking rain.
                                                – The Journal of Samuel Curwen, Loyalist (vol 1), p. 425

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