Almost anything available has an Arabian Nights theme version. As a result, I limit my collecting of Arabian Nights to items on paper. One of those items is Reward Cards. Reward cards were issued by the London County Council (LCC) and the London School Board (SBL) from around 1880 to 1920. They were issued mainly as a reward for school attendance and occasionally as a prize for high marks. (At some schools, books were given as prizes. I sometimes come across books from different schools with school prize stickers in them, and on rare occasions, books bound with the school crest embossed on the cover.) Attendance cards were issued for monthly and quarterly attendance. Good conduct and passing exams could also garner the student a reward card. That sure beats the gold stars awarded in my long gone school days.
For my purpose here, the London County Council issued two Arabian Nights theme reward cards: The Forty Thieves and Sindbad the Sailor. They are from the Children’s Stories series. This set contains cards depicting scenes from various fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Hansel & Grettel, Little Red Riding Hood and Peter Pan, to name a few. Twelve cards are identified as being part of this set.
The Forty Thieves card has a illustration of Morgiana, Ali Baba’s slave, killing the remaining thieves, who are hiding in large jars, by pouring boiling oil over them. This rather gruesome scene is a popular one for illustrators. The depiction of this scene is often quite striking because of the ordinariness of it and the calm demeanour of Morgiana as she goes about her business. In this case, Morgiana’s face seems quite serene as she pours the oil over one of the thieves. If you didn’t know the story, there would be nothing in the illustration to indicate that something quite horrific was taking place.
Personally, after the first couple of deaths, where the thieves must have howled in agony, you would think that even the stupidest of thieves would begin to wonder what was going on and check out the situation. Not this bunch. The remaining 36 of them wait quietly for their turn to be smothered in boiling oil. (And lets not begin to question where Morgiana got sufficient boiling oil to french fry 37 fully grown men.)
The Sindbad illustration is not a scene usually chosen by illustrators. It is rather generic and without the title on the back of the card, it would be difficult to identify it as being from Sindbad. Despite what the back of the indicates, I suspect that this illustration comes from the end of the fourth voyage, because of the treasure that sits on the shore beside Sindbad and the mouth of a cave that is visible on the left. If it is from the fourth voyage, the illustrator has chosen what is probably the most grim of the Sindbad voyages to illustrate. Sindbad, after a series of adventures, ends up imprisoned in a cave with his dead wife. He survives until he escapes by killing others who are, from time to time, placed in the same position that he is in, and steals their supplies to eat. While never hinted at, given the length of time he is captive in the cave one must wonder if Sindbad ever resorted to cannibalism to survive. In this card, a fit and quite well dressed Sindbad is depicted flagging down a ship. A large quantity of treasure lies at his feet. It is evident that the time sealed in the cave has not been all that distressing for our unlucky merchant.
Neither of the illustrations is signed. Nor could I find any information about who the artist might be (although I didn’t look that hard.) The style of illustration, to my eyes, resembles that of Maurice Detmold.
Information on Reward Cards was obtained from the here. The site includes facsimiles of may SBL and LCC reward cards.