John Waddington Limited was a leading producer of playing cards and card games in the UK during the period 1922-1995. The company had been founded in the nineteenth century by Mr John Waddington and Wilson Barratt as Waddingtons Ltd. It was renamed John Waddington Ltd in 1905. The original Mr John Waddington resigned in 1913. Between 1905 and 1923 John Waddington Ltd developed from a very small printing establishment with practically all business obtained from the theatre, into a nationally known firm.
Playing Cards were first introduced in around 1922. The first registered trade name was 'Twillese' in 1922, followed by 'Empire', 'Encore', 'Chevalier', and 'Ambassador' during 1923. more → The first packs were printed by direct lithography with images transferred by hand onto stone. However, at this time, direct lithography was changing over to offset lithography. In 1924 they were accused of plagiarising De la Rue’s Ace of Spades, but the court case ended in Waddington's favour with photographic enlargements revealing many differences.
At the time circumstances were favourable in that in 1922 Charles Goodall & Co. Ltd were absorbed by Thomas De la Rue thus leaving only one major competitor. Playing cards had become more popular during World War I and there was now a great demand. The artist William Barribal was contracted to work for Waddington's and Barribal packs were being made in 1928. Other artists included F. C. Tilney, Lucy Dawson, Harry Rountree, Tony Gibbons, Paul Brown, Rowlandson, G.D. Armour and Siriol Clarry.
Waddington’s began their 'Beautiful Britain' series depicting scenes of seaside, rural and historic resorts in 1924. This was first subsidised by the Great Western Railway company and later by the London and North Eastern Railway company, continuing until 1956. During 1926-27 a new factory was built for the manufacture of standard one colour back playing cards. Reel printing was introduced, with photogravure backs and rotary letterpress pips and court cards. At that time a good quality pack of cards cost only 9d. which included 3d. excise duty wrapper.
In 1926 the General Strike threatened production, but the workers took no notice of this and brought bedding into the works in order to carry on working uninterrupted. Billiards and other recreations were provided, and the workers camped in the factory. In 1929 the production of circular cards was started and these were very popular. They were introduced to the USA where sales were beyond expectations. more →
During the early 1930s Waddington’s were involved in the Wills gift scheme, where miniature cards were tucked into every packet of ten Goldflake or Capstan cigarettes which could be exchanged for full-sized packs. See also: Mardon Son & Hall.
In the early days Waddington’s had a few playing card games such as Shop Missus, Grandfather's Whiskers, Bobs Y'r Uncle and Strip Tease. In 1933 'Lexicon' was launched, in a tuck box, at 1/9d per pack. Initial sales were nil, and so the game was repackaged at 2/6d and sales boomed, up to 1000 packs per week, becoming the firm's most successful card game. Click here to view 1933 Trade Brochure. In 1934 the rights for 'Monopoly' were won, which has produced about half a million pounds’ sales each year since then and set the firm on the road to greatness in the toy trade in the UK. Waddington’s Buccaneer and Soccer soon followed.
In 1935 Ormond Printing was obtained, which meant that playing card production could be delegated to Eire. During the 1930s Waddington’s produced Scandinavian-style packs for Holmblads (S. Salomon & Co.) of Denmark.
In April 1940 the supplies of playing card board were cut off when Norway was invaded. Churchill requested that playing card manufacture be maintained at any cost, so as to provide distraction during the endless hours of boredom in the trenches. Packs from this time have cruder quality printing because all the key personnel had been redeployedA lot of the tobacco advertising packs from that time were patriotic and supported the armed forces.
2 jokers were introduced into packs of playing cards when ‘Canasta’ became fashionable, in around 1953. During the 1960s Waddington’s discontinued using their own court card designs in favour of those of Goodall & Son, but retaining their own Joker and Ace of Spades. Also during the 1960s Waddington’s bought La Ducale and then B.P. Grimaud, and in 1971 took over Alf Cooke. This acquisition enabled Waddington’s to upgrade their machinery and thereby to achieve higher quality production. In 1974 the leek was added to the ace of spades.
Hasbro, a large toy company, bought Waddington's Games in 1994. Waddington’s No.1 Playing Cards are still a best seller in Britain, but today they are marketed by Winning Moves, who bought the brand from Hasbro, together with Lexicon.