Historic Card Games described by David Parlett



The colourful cousin of Crib

Its history and relationships to Cribbage

While most of the card games described in Charles Cotton's Compleat Gamester of 1674 are well attested both before and after its date of publication, the game of Costly Colours is a notable exception. The Oxford English Dictionary mentions it only as "an obsolete game at cards" and offers, besides a second-hand reference to Cotton, just one citation:

They found Duroy and Heartley playing at Costly Colours: a game upon the cards peculiar to that country.

from W. Toldervy, The History of Two Orphans (1756). (Country means county, and presumably Shropshire is meant, as will become apparent.) Cotton's account is supplemented by some aberrant additional comments from Randle Holme (1688).

I should probably not have paid much attention to so ill-served a game were it not for two happy coincidences. One of these was that Arthur Taylor, pub-game researcher and author, once happened to mention in conversation that he had seen a peculiar sort of three-card Cribbage played in a Lancashire pub in the early 1980s, and that he thought it was called something like "Costly". Unfortunately he was not aware of its significance, and by the time he went back to find it, there had been a change of management and no one seemed to know anything about it. The other had previously come my way in 1975 by courtesy of Robert Reid, then of the Queen's University of Belfast, who kindly sent me a photocopy of some pages describing the game taken from Charlotte Sophia Burne's Shropshire Folklore, 1883. Here is the introduction to it:

The following digest of the game of Costly, now [1874] obsolescent, was made partly from oral instructions given by "old players", partly from rules set forth in a scarce hand-book kindly lent for the purpose, entitled "The Royal Game of Costly Colours." "Printed for and sold by J. and W. Eddowes in the Market Place, Shrewsbury, 1805."
In the Advertisement the Editor says, "The way in which the game was first introduced to his notice was as follows:- Having a few years ago taken up his residence in a village in Shropshire, whenever be was invited to spend an evening with his neighbours, rarely any other Game at Cards was talked of but the Game of Costly Colours, and which therefore he was told he must learn. Several considerations weighed with him," he says, "to be at the pains to collect all the Information respecting it that the oldest players in the village, assisted by some of his acquaintance at Shrewsbury, were competent to give him,... for the purpose of introducing it amongst his Friends elsewhere: and seeing his expectations not disappointed in the pleasure he promised himself it would afford them, he is induced to present it to the public, and particularly to the admirers of the Game of Cribbage, with the like confidence that they will admit its advantages in the comparison with that game."

In 2014 Clive Dean, of Shrewsbury, drew my attention to a card-playing scenein Mary Webb's novel Precious Bane (1924), which in its time was considered so risqué that some libraries refused to stock it. It's about life in the north of Shropshire in 1815 and the chapter describes Costly Colours being played by women at a betrothal party. I've scanned the relevant passage from pages 98 and 102 of the Penguin edition:

"You'll need more gumption than you've got then," says Missis Sexton, "for there's no game so hard as the game of Costly Colours. I've played it at every randy since I was a maid, and I'll lay that your Ma has too, and Missis Sam and Missis Miller. Yet it's a difficult game to us still. And for you that have played it seldom or never, it'll go hard, but you'll lose every cake." Tell 'em the way of it," says Missis Beguildy, "you've got such a head." [...]
     She went across the kitchen like a coach and six, and stood by the fire, telling us about the game of Costly Colours - how you counted, and of the trumps, and how three of a suit was a prial, and four of a suit was Costly, and how you could mog, or change, your cards, and of the deuces and Jacks, and "Two for his heels," and how if you made nought of your hand it was called a cock's nest, and you were bound to give a cake all round. [...]
     "Two for his nob!", called Missis Sexton. "Your deal, Prue."
uplink downlink THE PLAY
Much like Crib, but more elaborate
Cards and deal
Cards run from low to high A2345678910JQK. Numerals count face value, courts 10 each, Ace 1 or 11 as its player declares (Note 1). Deal three each in ones and turn the next for "trumps". The turn-up is called the "deck card", and if it is a Jack or a Deuce, Dealer pegs 4 holes ("for his heels", if a Jack).
As at Cribbage, to score points (or peg holes, if a Crib board is used) for various card combinations contained in the hand or made in the play up to 31. The combinations themselves, richer and more varied than at Cribbage, fall into five categories as follows:
Points (in play or hand)
gap15 scores 1 per constituent card
gap25 scores 1 per constituent card
gap31 scores 1 per constituent card
Jacks & Deuces (in play or hand)
gapJack or Deuce turned up pegs 4 to the dealer ("for his heels", if a Jack)
gapJack or Deuce of the turned suit in hand pegs 4 to its holder
gapgap("for his nob", if it is a Jack) (Note 2).
gap Any other Jack or Deuce in hand pegs 2 to its holder
Pairs and prials (in play or hand)
gapPair (two alike) 2
gapPrial (three alike) 9
gapDouble prial (four alike) 18
Sequences (in play only) Peg:
gap1 hole per card in sequence.
Colours (in hand only)
gapThree in colour 2
gapThree in suit 3
gapFour in colour, two in suit 4
gapFour in colour, three in suit 5
gapFour in suit 6 for "Costly Colours"
A note about sequences As in Cribbage, a sequence is three or more cards in numerical order, for which purpose Ace is always low (A-2-3 is a sequnece; Q-K-A is not). The cards of a sequence need not be played in sequential order, but the sequence must not be interrupted by any duplicated or extraneous card.
After the deal and turn-up, the players may now "mog". This is done by each passing a card from his hand face down to the other. If either refuses to mog, the other pegs one hole for the refusal. If either gives away Jack or a Deuce, he may first peg 2, or 4 if it is the "right" Jack or Deuce (of the same suit as the turn-up). If he neglects to do so, the other may peg for it when the hands are finally counted (but not before).
Each in turn, starting with non-dealer, plays a card face up to the table in front of himself, and announces the total face value of all cards so far played. In play, scores are pegged for making sequences and points, at the rate of 1 per card, and pairs and prials for 2, 9 or 18.
Note 1: An Ace, though numerically counting 1 or 11, can only be low in a sequence. So A-2-3 is valid, but not Q-K-A (Note 3).
Note 2: You may not peg for colours or flushes made in the play up to 31.
The count may not exceed thirty-one. If you can"t play without overshooting 31 you say "Go!", and your opponent may then add as many more cards as he can without overshooting. If you make 31 exactly - the "hitter" - you peg as many holes as cards making it up. If you play the last card without hitting, you peg just 1 for the "latter".
If any cards remain in hand, those so far played are turned down, and the next in turn to play begins another series as before.
Annie plays 7 and calls "7"
Benny plays 4 and calls "11"
Annie plays 4, calls "15", and pegs 3 for the 15 plus 2 for the pair
Benny plays the right Jack, calls "25", and pegs 4 for the 25 plus 4 for the right Jack
Annie plays 2, calls "27", and pegs 2 for the Deuce (not of the turned suit)
Benny plays 3, calls "30", and pegs 1 for the latter. Had he held another 4 (and not played it earlier for 9) he would have called "31" and pegged 6 for the hitter or "grand point".

Hand scores
The two players then reveal their cards and peg the value of every distinct scoring combination they can make according to the table above. Sequences in the hand do not count, but colours and flushes do. For this purpose your hand is considered to consist of four cards, namely the three in your hand plus the deck card.
Non-dealer pegs first, and the combinations should be declared in this order: points, Jacks and Deuces, pairs and prials, colours and flushes. As in Cribbage, you can count any given card or cards as belonging to more than one combination, but may not peg for a smaller combination entirely contained within a larger. For example, if you count a prial you cannot count separately for any pair it contains, and if you count four in suit, you cannot also count for three in suit or any in colour. Here are some examples:
spade 9 club 10 club J gapdeck card = club J
Fifteens 2-4-6-8, twenty-fives 3-6, pair 2, colours 5 = total 21
spade 9 club 10 club J gapdeck card = club J
Fifteens 2-4-6; twenty-fives 3-6-9; Jacks 4-6-8, prial 9, colours 2 = total 34
spade 9 club 10 club J gapdeck card = club J
Fifteen or twenty-five 4 (Ace counts 1 or 11, but not both), Deuces 4-6, pair 2, colours 4 = total 16.
Play up to 121.
Costly for four players
Four may play in partnerships. Each player mogs with his partner, and the dealer, if refused, may mog alone by taking the card below the deck-card and substituting a card he does not want.


1. Thus says "Salop", anonymous author of the piece in Shropshire Folklore, but not mentioned by Cotton. (Return 1)

2. "His nob", according to Salop, denotes the Jack or Deuce of a suit other than trump. I query this, and here follow Cribbage terminology. (Return 2)

3. Or so I assume; neither source specifies. (Return 3)

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