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?
The cards are decorated with birds, animals, plants, cavorting children and other miniature creatures.
The theme of street cries has been popular with writers, composers, artists, and the public at large for almost 500 years.
Engraved Playing Cards, Germany, 1617, by an anonymous artist with the initials I.M.F.
Playing cards have enormous educational value, with a long history and many diverse types and graphical styles from around the world...
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawk bells and flowers emerged sometime during the fifteenth century.
During the nineteenth century playing cards were being produced in Dublin, Cork and Limerick.
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.
Have you ever wondered what it was like inside an 18th century playing card factory?
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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.