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German playing cards

Card-playing rapidly became popular in medieval Bavaria and German printers were quick to supply the goods

Above: Master of The Playing Cards, c.1455-60

Hofamterspiel c.1460

Above: Hofamterspiel c.1460

Above: satirical playing cards by Peter Flötner, c.1545

Above: Johann Matheus Backofen, Nürnberg c.1800

Above: Chur Ober-Pfälzische Französisch Karten by Joseph Losch, Amberg, c.1800

Above: “Bergmannskarte” by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig, c.1816

Above: Schiller Deck, c.1818

Above: anonymous Anti-Napoleon Deck

Above: “Verkehrte Welt Tarock” by Christian Theodor Sutor, Naumburg, c.1850

Above: Princely Hunting pack, c.1445

Thomas Murner, 1507

Above: Thomas Murner, 1507

Above: Book of Trades by Jost Ammon, 1588

Above: Victory deck by Friedrich Gotthelf Baumgärtner, Leipzig, 1815

Above: Fortune Telling Deck by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig c.1818

Above: Narren-Karte by Christian Heinrich Reuter, Nürnberg, c.1860

Vier-Erdteile c.1870

Above: Vier-Erdteile c.1870

Above: T. O. Weigel, 1885


Throughout their long history the quantity and quality of German cards has been outstanding. Card playing caught on rapidly in medieval Bavaria and German printers were quick to respond to the demand with a prodigious range of output which now can be regarded as an early example of popular art. German packs were produced with a variety of suit symbols and great freedom of design. learn more →

South German Engraver, c.1495

Above: cards by the South German Engraver, c.1495

Above: Johann Jegel's Historical Deck, c.1850

Above: C. L. Wüst: Swiss Costumes, c.1875

Above: “Graf Zeppelin Round the World Flight” Quartet Game, 1930

Probably spreading northwards across the Alps, card playing reached Basle in 1377. In the same year the Dominican monk Johannes von Rheinfelden from Basle wrote an allegory on the pack of cards. Cards are mentioned in the archives of Nuremberg between the years 1380 and 1384. From 1392 there are many references to playing cards in the guild books and registers of German towns. The names of both card-makers and card-painters are recorded, many of whom were women. To begin with most cards were made in the south in cities such as Augsburg, Munich, Nuremberg and Ulm. During the second half of the fifteenth century a succession of masterly German engravers practised their art and engraved playing cards reached a zenith. Many of these packs have survived as precious objets d'art - see more →. During the sixteenth century wood-block playing cards evolved so that miniature burlesque scenes decorated the lower half of each card.

Playing cards in Germany first appeared with several different archaic suit systems involving a variety of everyday objects including flowers, animals, hunting equipment or coats of arms. Gradually standardisation occurred and today the German national suit marks are: Hearts (Herzen), Bells (Schellen), Leaves (Laub) and Acorns (Eicheln). In a true German pack a second Knave is substituted for the Queen, the two Knaves being called Obermann and Untermann (abbreviated into Ober and Unter), and the 2 (Daus) takes the place of the Ace.

It was not until the late 17th century that packs with French suits were made and during the eighteenth century German card-makers excelled with their imaginative and artistic approach to card design. The existence of several German states and their varying fortunes is reflected in the different patterns still used in these areas today. But just as these states have become engulfed in the whole, so the cards are doing the same thing and regional differences are disappearing. German-suited cards are now in the minority, and if standard English cards are not used, then the Berliner or North German pattern is the most prevalent.

playing cards by I. Schenck, Nuremberg, XIXth century

Above: playing cards manufactured by I. Schenck, Nuremberg, XIXth century  more

Stuttgart PackPrincely Hunting PackMaster of the Playing CardsHofämterspielHans Beham, 1523Heinrich Hauk, 1595I.M.F. Engraved Cards, 1617Thomas MurnerPeter FlötnerEarly German Engraved CardsThe South German EngraverBook of TradesMaster PW Circular Cards, c.1500Geistliche Karten, Augsburg, 1718Johann Jobst ForsterJoseph Losch, c.1800Joh. Matheus Backofen, c.1800‘Prague’ or ‘Bohemian’ patternSaxon pattern‘Victory Deck’, c.1815Anti-Napoleon Deck, c.1815Bergmannskarte, c.1816Cartomancy Deck, c.1818C.L. WüstSchiller Deck, C.L. Wüst, c.1830Wüst Swiss Album PatienceC.L. Wüst: Brazil Scenic AcesBourgeois TarotMlle Lenormand Cartomancy CardsNorth German patternVerkehrte Welt Tarock, c.1850Johann Jegel's Historical Deck, c.1850Bavarian Military CardsBavarian patternT.O.Weigel: Luxus Skatkarten, c.1860Narren-Karte by C. H. Reuter, c.1860Deutsches Schützenfest 1884Liebig Beef Extract, 1891Prussian PatternB. DONDORF (1833-1933)F. A. LATTMANNWilhelm Busch Comic Card GamesOtto Tragy Jugendstil SpielkartenBadische SpielkartenfabrikWalter ScharffSinalco advertisingBambi playing cardsSchmid Argentina S.A.Pajarito SkatVeltins SkatFussball SkatFinancial TimesBosco playing cards made for Perú> • Birkel Schwarzer Peter Circus gameKlipp Klapp Karten, 2004British Channel Island Ferries

Thanks to Klaus-Jürgen Schultz ( and Barney Townshend for contributing many packs from their collections to this site. If you would like to contribute some antique or interesting items please use the Feedback & Enquiries form in the footer below.

Last Updated January 05, 2017 at 11:17am


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