Antique cards

I haven’t been very interested in antique cards before, I have bought modern cards because I have thought they were of the best quality. Recently though, I have become very interested in antique cards and the gifts they bring.

When I was teaching at Sätergläntan this summer I met Ingrid. She wasn’t in my course, but she was a spinner and we talked about spinning when we met at breaks and meals. Many years ago, it must have been in the 1980’s, she had written some sort of report on old Swedish hand cards. She had met the last card maker in Sweden and even learned the craft herself from him. She still had cards left that she had made herself, with leather pads and all.

Diagonal teeth

Ingrid told me that the best cards have the teeth placed diagonally across the carding pad. That way more teeth would catch on to each fiber and card it more thoroughly. Most of the cards that had been made in the region of Västergötland she had researched were made this way.

An antique hand card with leather pads and the teeth placed diagonally across the pad. The leather is tacked down.
All the antique cards I bought have the teeth placed diagonally.

I was amazed at this detail and went home and looked at my own antique cards. I did have two pairs with leather pads. They were tucked away somewhere because I thought modern cards were better. When found them in an old and dusty box and picked them out into the light I saw that one of the pairs had their teeth placed diagonally. The leather pads were neatly fastened with tacks.

Waves in the carding dance

With this new knowledge, my antique cards had suddenly turned into something valuable. I tried them and they carded like butter. Smooth and silent from all the years of work, with the teeth following my movements like waves on the ocean, like a dance in the choreography of the wool. With a smile in my heart I put my modern cards in the dusty drawer.

A person carding white wool with antique cards. The image is partly blurred from the motion of the cards.
The wool dances across the carding pad.

Antique card frenzy

A couple of weeks ago I got into some sort of antique card frenzy and started looking for antique cards on Swedish ebay. I had a few terms for the cards to pass. I wanted them to

  • have leather pads in reasonable condition
  • be tacked onto the handles
  • have the teeth – preferably without rust – placed diagonally on the pads.

To my surprise I found a few that matched my terms. I placed bids on (clearing my throat) four pairs. For each pair the final price went up a little more. I probably annoyed the other buyers by taking home all the pairs. But I wanted to explore the properties of different models and makers of antique cards.


Two of the pairs are of approximately the same size and proportions as the modern cards I have. Two are a bit longer. Too long for me actually. I realized I like the pads to be just a few centimeters longer than my hand. That way I can use my flat hand as I tuck the end in when I shape the rolag. With a longer card my had won’t reach the whole length of the rolag. I did not know this before I started this collection of antique cards.


When I investigated my antique cards I weighed them. It turned out that the two cards in each pair were different. Of course it can be the artistic expression of a craftsperson working with natural material, but still, all of the pairs? In three of the pairs the difference was only 10–15 grams, but in one pair the difference was 40 grams.

I wonder if the difference in weight has a purpose. Perhaps the heavier card is supposed to be the stationary card and the lighter the moving? I have no idea, but it’s intriguing, isn’t it?

A setback

The other day I skipped along to the package delivery to pick up my latest auction find. I didn’t have time to open it at the time, but a couple of days later I did. To prepare for the photo shoot for this blog post, I dressed them with teased wool and started to card.

A person picking up wool from a crumbled carding pad. She looks at the carding pad with disgust.
The expression of disgust as I see the carding pad rise and crumble in my hands. I think the technical term is eeouww.

After just a couple of strokes the carding pad started to crumble and lift from the card, inside the frame. It tore like liquorice. Several teeth rose and ended up in the jumble of wool and carding pad carcass. It was a sorry sight.

A pair of antique hand cards. The leather pad has crumbled and left a hole. Some of the teeth have liften and got stuck in the wool.
A sad, sad card carcass.

I looked at the ebay add. It said ”Fine antique cards. Work just as well today”. Well, it turned out that they didn’t. I contacted the seller and asked for a refund. She said I should have counted with it when I bought them antique. I replied that I assumed that she had tried them since she wrote in the add that they worked. She didn’t budge, but I persisted. I suggested we could split the cost. After a while she did pay me back half of the cost and we wished each other a nice weekend. Of course I knew I could get cards in bad quality, but in my naïveté I thought she had tested them with a description like that.

Carders and makers

Some of the cards have the names of the maker printed, burned or labeled on on one or both of the cards. I wonder who they were, SB, MHS and J.A. Bodvar in Gullered. Did they card themselves or did they just make the cards? When and where did they live? Whose hands have held the cards before me, and softened the edges of the handles? Have the cards been handed down in generations?

A person holding a pair of antique cards with one hand. A carded rolag of white wool is placed on top of the top card.
A sweet rolag of Fjällnäs wool made with my favourite antique cards.

My heart sings when I hold the softened handles. It’s like I hold the hands of the spinners who have used them before me.


My favourite pair so far is actually still the pair I happened to have at home. I think I bought them on a flea market a few years ago, and actually in the area (Västergötland) where Ingrid had made her research. The area was rich in card making tradition and had produced the highest quality cards. You can see a card maker at work in Rånnaväg in Västergötland in this video.

A pair of antique hand cards, one with wood side facing, one with carding pad facing.
My favourite cards were the ones I already had at home. They weigh 186 and 201 grams.

Eventhough I had my favourite cards in that old and dusty box all along, I didn’t realize it until I talked to Ingrid and later compared them to the other ones. Just by investigating all the pairs I learned a lot and found a lot of new questions and reasons to keep exploring.

Happy carding!

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5 Replies to “Antique cards”

  1. It is so amazing to me, these tools that have lasted over time. I found a set that is used with a carding bank, and it was made in 1884. Your favorite cards look just like mine. I’ve found many in loppisar in Östergötland, and was trying them out this summer, and discovered that one very old set is so light and easy, and ever better then the new ones that I have.
    They are made with very thin wood, but lasted through time. And also the metal strip.

  2. Thank you for the video, that was fascinating! I couldn’t understand most of the words, but just the visual was amazing! I’m currently researching Great Wheels and just received a 1935 copy of Karin Collins “The Great Spinning-Wheel: Historical sketches and Lengends in the history of Iggensunds Bruk. It so far had a lot of Swedish history. The book is very fragile, but I consider it a epic find and am thoroughly enjoying it with all it’s pictures and sketches. I would love it if you’d keep sharing your historical finds! I love history!

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