Antique playing cards reflect past eras and ways of life. So what do the oldest surviving playing cards look like?
Fragments of playing cards and 2 dice were unearthed in a 16th century rubbish tip adjacent to a Spanish house in the lower Rimac Valley in Peru, providing evidence of games played by early Spanish settlers.
Hand-made replica 17th century English playing cards, based on museum originals.
Amos Whitney Factory Inventory. What it was like inside an 18th century playing card factory...
Woodblock and stencil Animal Tarot cards, probably of German origin, 2nd half 18th century
Anonymous archaic Spanish Suited pack, c.1720
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawkbells and flowers originated sometime during the fifteenth century.
"Il Leon" Sicilian playing cards, 40-card pack based on Spanish designs, made in Sicily by Antonio Monasta, probably 17th century.
The Arms of English Peers playing cards were first published in 1686. Heraldry, or a knowledge of the arms and blazons of royalty was an important part of a respectable education. Three editions of the pack are known.
Spanish playing cards such as these were used in those parts of France where certain games were enjoyed, such as Aluette.
The style of these cards is descended from the earlier seventeenth century cards of makers such as Hewson
The Bohemian Pattern, sometimes called the Prager Pattern, has roots in the 16th century.
Marseille Tarot cards by Charles Cheminade of Grenoble, France, early 18th century.
The court cards in English packs of playing cards derive from models produced by Pierre Marechal in Rouen around 1565. A pack of such cards is preserved in the museum at Rouen.
The cards were printed from copper plates, with the red suit symbols being applied later by stencil. The court cards contain interesting miniature versions of the standard full-length figures used on playing cards at the time
The idea of suit symbols may have originated with Chinese 'Money' cards. However, the suits that made their way into Europe were probably an adaptation of the Islamic cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks.
David Hurter built up a playing card business in Schaffhausen during the 18th century.
Cards produced in Rouen during the sixteenth century. It was cards like these which were imported to England and are the ancestors of the modern 'Anglo-American' pattern.
This page exhibits several early examples of traditional, standard English playing cards of which the best known are those of Hewson of the seventeenth century, and Blanchard from the eighteenth century.
Out of an apparent void, a constellation of references in early literature emerge pointing to the sudden arrival of playing cards, principally in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy around 1370-1380.
Fragment of a sheet of archaic Spanish-suited 'Dragon' playing cards found during restoration of a house in Antwerp built between 1559 and 1574
Primitive Latin suited pack, possibly of Swiss or German origin for export to Spain, dated by paper analysis as early XV century, which makes this one of the earliest known surviving packs of playing cards.
The Cavaliers are man/beast creatures. The Valets (or Pages) are male for clubs and swords, and female for cups and coins.
Fake Blanchard Ace of Spades with court cards based on Hall
Playing cards in this style have been discovered in various parts of the world, suggesting that they were exported or carried there by early explorers or merchants.
Geistliche Karten, Augsburg, 1718. Each card carries a text in Gothic typeface giving advice regarding what to do and think each day. Not quite oracle or divination cards, they are more like 'a motto for the day' collection. The method of using the cards is not known.
The German Saxon Pattern or “Schwerdter Karte”
Playing cards manufactured in Italy by Giuseppe Cattino and Paolo Montanar.
These cards may be a typical example of early 'standard' Spanish playing cards, maybe from before Columbus sailed for the 'New World' which were imitated by German engravers who wished to export their wares back to Spain.
Playing cards designed by Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550)
Playing Cards have been around in Europe since the 1370s. Some early packs were hand painted works of art which were expensive and affordable only by the wealthy. But as demand increased cheaper methods of production were discovered so that playing cards became available for everyone...
Playing cards had been made as precious objects for wealthy clients since the late 14th century. They were made to look at, admire and to keep in curiosity cabinets, or perhaps to entertain ladies or educate children rather than to play with.
Joan Barbot, San Sebastian c.1765-1810
The Book of Trades by the prolific German Renaissance artist Jost Amman (1539-91). Suits are books, printers' pads, wine-pots and drinking cups.
The Knavery of the Rump playing cards, first published in 1679, are a satirical portrayal of Oliver Cromwell's Government. The illustrations on the cards provide a rare visual impression of the times.
Peter Schencken of Amsterdam copied the "Jeu de la Guerre" or "Das Kriegs-Spiel" (with German captions) originated by Gilles de La Boissière and published by Mariette in 1668 in Paris.
Geographical and Heraldic Tarocchi cards from Bologna, 1725
The King of Hearts carries a hawk on his wrist, while the King of Clubs holds an orb with a surmounted cross. All the Queens hold fans as well as flowers. This pattern was used in various parts of eastern France but was ultimately replaced by the official ‘Paris’ pattern in c.1780.
This is the official Spanish National pattern of the 18th century. Design and production was controlled from Madrid as a source of national or regional revenue. The factory was located in the town of Macharaviaya, in the province of Málaga.
The so-called ‘Dragon Cards’, with winged monsters on the four Aces, are an enigmatic aspect of early playing card history.
Article about Manufacture of Playing Cards, 1825: paper, pasting, stencilling, polishing, cutting, etc.
Spanish-suited playing cards made on rawhide and said to have been used by Chilean Mapuche Indians, XVI-XVII century
Playing Cards by the Master of the Banderoles, one of the earliest professional printmakers, c.1470
Animal suited playing cards engraved by the Master of the Playing Cards, Germany, c.1455-60, probably intended as models for use in workshops.
Master PW Circular Playing Cards: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares... everyday objects evoking life and fertility.
Mathematical Instruments playing cards forming an instrument maker's trade catalogue, Thomas Tuttell, c.1700
17th century Minchiate cards reprinted from the original woodblocks
Il Gioco di Passatempo contains 40 figurative playing cards depicting moral virtues and vices, dated 1690
These two uncoloured, uncut sheets of early Moorish playing cards were formerly preserved in the Instituto Municipal de Historia in Barcelona. They were first brought to light by Simon Wintle in 1987.