1840 Joseph Bermann Card Game 'Sailors In Africa'

Die Seefahrer in Africa. / Les Marins en Afrique. - Main View

1840 Joseph Bermann Card Game 'Sailors In Africa'


Imaginative pastime evoking swashbuckling adventure.


Die Seefahrer in Africa. / Les Marins en Afrique.
  1840 (undated)     5 x 4 in (12.7 x 10.16 cm)


This card game, printed by Joseph Bermann in the mid-19th century (our dating of 1840 is conjectural) was produced as an entertaining representation of the reciprocal relationships between captains and crews sailing the coasts of Africa. Although not specifically stated or referenced in the game, the majority of European ships sailing to Africa in the mid-19th century were slavers, and the 'treasures', slaves.
A Closer Look
The game is not deep - the rules fill a single sheet, printed each side in German and French, and it is entirely a game of chance, intended as an entertaining pastime. But it would have been breezy to play, requiring little setup and posing little difficulty to a young audience. The printed cards are colorful and evocative, depicting the captains, pilots, and crews of European and Moorish ships, as well as other accoutrements such as ships, cannons, and treasure chests.
A Complete Game
The game here is presented in its original slip case, with its rule sheet and full complement of cards: four large ones representing Captains and Pilots and twenty four smaller ones comprising the other game elements. Typical of games produced by printers in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was assumed that game elements such as dice and tokens would be readily available, and so these items were not provided. Today, any regular, six-sided die scrounged from a Yahtzee set will do; as for tokens, we find pennies are ideal.
An Exotic World Filled with Treasure
Winning the game involved the exchange of tokens: in the course of play, Captains and Pilots accumulate the tokens, and pay them out again to their crew. So even were the tokens not actual coin, it would be natural to equate them, and the primary idea of the game is that the object of taking sail as captain or crew is the winning of riches. The attractively-printed cards present one captain and crew in European dress, and another in Moorish or African garb. The format of the game does not pit the two sides against one another, so their role is to provide an exotic flavor to the entertainment. The prominence of cannon amongst the cards, while not making the game inherently warlike, does suggest the role of power in the enterprise of sailing around Africa in search of treasure.
Publication History and Census
This game was printed by the Vienna firm of Joseph Bermann and sons, who were active between 1835 and 1854. We see no examples of this game in institutional collections, although admittedly this may be more due to neglect than to scarcity; we have seen the game appear on the market from time to time, albeit with baffling and probably conjectural publication dates.


Joseph Bermann (fl. 1835-1849) was a printer and publisher in Vienna, selling sheet music, games, and art, with a specialty in numismatics. Virtually nothing is known of him, and very little of Bermann et Fils' output has survived in library collections. What has survived are mainly auction catalogs of stamp and seal collections. They appear to have published an atlas for Franz Raffelsperger between 1845 and 1854. We see some listings of edifying literature for children, and a childrens' encyclopedia. They advertised carrying a large assortment of 'social, youth and entertaining games,' a category of ephemera which (due to its intended young audience) survived extremely poorly. More by this mapmaker...


Good. Original paper slipcase much worn, rule sheet and full complement of 28 cards in excellent condition. Measurements given for slipcase.