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Souvenir Playing Cards

Swiss Album playing cards made by C. L. Wüst, c.1890

Above: Swiss Album patience cards manufactured by C. L. Wüst (Frankfurt), c.1890, with a different landscape on the reverse of each card. The court cards depict costumed figures along with shields from the cantons.   More...

Souvenir Playing Cards

Although the first printed and illustrated travel book was published in Mainz in 1486, it was a guide for pilgrims to the Holy land. Until relatively recently the pleasure and profit of foreign travel was dangerous and risky, with highway robbers and outlaws waiting in ambush. Improved road surfaces and speedier means of transport increased the volume of traffic during the 18th century. The 19th century saw the rise of European tourism, especially in Switzerland.

Müller, together with Wüst and Dondorf, were in the forefront of the manufacture of packs featuring costumes of Swiss cantons with Swiss scenes on the aces, or simply a standard pattern with aces depicting Swiss scenes. Other German manufacturers simply modified existing designs to include vignettes depicting local scenes on the numeral cards  see example →.  Belgian manufacturers toward the end of the nineteenth century were also alert to this new trend. The genre has evolved, so that tourist souvenir playing cards from around the world may depict the aesthetic, political, social and economic conceptions of the countries to which they belong. They may feature beauty spots, local customs, gastronomy, costumes, religious practices, historic ruins or other attractions. We may wish to learn more about the country or even visit it for ourselves. Consequently, souvenir playing cards are a significant means of increasing sales to tourists and attracting visitors to particular tourist areas, as well as creating an interest in discovering the customs and way of life of other countries. In some cases tourist souvenir playing cards reflect state propaganda.

Souvenir of Peru playing cards made by Standard Playing Card Co., Chicago, c.1910

Above: Naipe 'Recuerdo del Centenario - Vistas de Lima' Souvenir of Peru playing cards made by Standard Playing Card Co., Chicago, imported by Luis Sablich, Callao, Peru, c.1910. The cards depict Lima as a city full of grandiose colonial government buildings, statues of military heroes, Catholic churches and cathedrals, wide avenues, theatres, bullfighting rings and dockyards.   More...


It is said that travel broadens the mind. Do we really believe that a few days spent in a foreign country, hearing babbling voices and smelling strange cooking, will deepen our insight? Certainly the direct personal experience is more rewarding than watching television. Old playing cards can help us to reconstruct an impression of life during an earlier age which otherwise is distant in time and inaccessible.

República Española Souvenir, c.1935

Above: Souvenir playing cards from the Spanish Republic for the French tourist market, manufactured by Hijos de Heraclio Fournier, Vitoria, c.1935. The reverse shows the mural crown and the legend "Républica Española" along with medieval buildings. At this time Spain had fallen behind in terms of progress and modernisation. These cards present Spain as a land of rich cultural heritage full of magnificent ruins, universities, cathedrals, castles and monuments. There are no allusions to bullfighting, flamenco or bikini-wearing women on beaches which became the popular image later on.   More...

Most souvenir packs are French-suited (clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades). Many souvenir packs show changes in fashion and photographs of actual locales as they were in past times, including trams and early motor vehicles. Many U.S. Railroads took up the idea of souvenir packs of their routes, and in Canada most such cards were manufactured by Chas Goodall of London. During the 1920s and 30s British Railway companies issued the 'Beautiful Britain' series of playing cards with scenes on the reverse of their popular destinations, manufactured by John Waddington. Sales psychologists have observed that female customers are more susceptible to the appeal of brightly coloured picture backs, and the tourist demand for souvenirs has grown whilst every year sees an increase in the number of people visiting foreign countries wishing to buy gifts or souvenirs of their holiday. Playing cards make a significant contribution to the souvenir industry.

And are the roads any safer today than they were in the 18th century?


Argentina Souvenir, c.1980

Above: Souvenir playing cards from Argentina manufactured by Gráfica, S.A. c.1980, featuring colour photographs of Bariloche and other resorts in Lagos del Sur with inscriptions in Spanish. The cards are Spanish-suited and the miniature suit symbols appear in each corner. 48 cards + 2 jokers.   More...

Last Updated August 03, 2015 at 07:32pm

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