Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first became a part of popular culture. Over the centuries superb artwork, graphic design and self-expression has been hidden within packs of cards. Here we bring to light and admire these miniature treasures.
Antique playing cards reflect past eras and ways of life. So what do the oldest surviving playing cards look like?
Early XV century luxury playing cards for fashionable esteem from southwest Germany...
Animal suited playing cards engraved by the Master of the Playing Cards, Germany, c.1455-60
Playing cards have enormous educational value, with a long history and many diverse types and graphical styles from around the world...
Publicity playing cards for the Dutch credit company Sitters & van der Kar made by Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland, Amsterdam, 1935
Holmblad's house designs gradually evolved away from the traditional French patterns.
Cards from a fantasy publicity pack for the Peruvian tobacco company Roldan y Cia, San José 66, Lima. c.1890
Playing cards designed by Rihards Zarinš, 1921. Latvian indices and with heraldic and hunting motifs reminiscent of the coutries' ancient history and folklore.
"Tarots Egipcios" was first published by Editorial Kier S.A. in c.1971 with Spanish titles & booklet explaining the cabbalistic meanings of the cards.
Innovations in printing technologies have impacted the appearance of playing cards and the transfer of culture. In its technical presentation and aesthetic aspect a playing card remains a faithful reflection of the period which produced it.
Printing of Playing Cards :: Letterpress printing :: Some notes on the manufacture of playing cards taken from Thomas De la Rue's patent, 1831
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Playing cards have been associated with gambling and anti-social behaviour leading to their being demonised by church preachers. They have been used for educational purposes, to assist with learning. They have been used for fortune-telling or divination. In Victorian family circles card games were enjoyed by the fireside. They even relate to key areas of our school curriculum!
You will discover something interesting here... from what the earliest playing cards looked like to how to make your own hand-made pack. Whether we consider them as a game or an artefact, as merchandise or something which unites people, there is a fascination in the imagery, the tactile pleasure, neat symmetries and quirky symbols.