The Great Whist Counter (or Marker)
Peg Count Mystery

I used to think that the first counters I found were for the earlier game of Long Whist, but my friend Laurent (more about him later) then pointed out that this cannot be true due to the point arrangements.  Long whist was played to nine or ten points as indicated on little round whist counters with hands that pointed to the scores (and which have found surprising usages in modern times).  It is indisputable that some of these types of counters are numbered to fifty points or more.  Take a look at this little bone match safe (cute, isn't it?), which seemed to prove Laurent's point:

And what about this nutty thing, numbered to 1000?

Up to now I've speculated that the ten-peg variety of whist counters were used for the game of Bridge Whist.  Bridge Whist existed for only about ten or fifteen years at the turn of the 20th century, providing the transition from the old game of Whist to its new successor -- Bridge.  However, a French card expert, Thierry Depaulis, who published "Histoire du Bridge" in 1997, has now come along and set the record straight -- for which I am immensely grateful.  

According to Thierry, these counters with ten pegs, or keys, or turnups (or "touches" as the French call them) were for the game of Piquet!  They were extremely popular in France and seem to have had a long history dating back to 18th-century forerunners.  This type of wooden piquet counter with ten pegs with hidden springs, was patented by a wood-turner called Devarenne in 1866. 

The counter below, marked Piquet and illustrating how its scoring began to inflate, proves the point:

So I'm afraid that the only Counters (or Markers, if you insist) that can justify carrying the name of Whist are the eight pegged variety such as the one below, which even comes with convenient name tag identification:

The counter above and most of the counters that can be found these days are all Goodall types (click here for the difference between Goodall type counters and De La Rue types).  The small pegs (or "turnups" as they are called in the Goodall catalogues) counted tricks.  Three tricks equaled a point, and five points -- counted by the large pegs -- equaled a game.  As you see, the game here was five points -- short whist.  Click here for an official explanation, which is pretty incomprehensible and doesn't explain why anyone would want to accumulate these things.  All I know is I like their variety, their workmanship, the way they look, and the satisfying little click they make when you flip up a peg.  I've assembled a ridiculously large collection, which you can see for yourself if you follow the link below:


   Copyright by Charles Mathes.  All rights reserved.