HERE doesn't appear to be a very prolific history of playing cards in Wales, probably on account of strong religious views and the fact that the Licensing Act made printing illegal outside London, Oxford and Cambridge until 1695. Added to this was the difficulty of distribution to areas where there was a demand. The following entry in 1463 PARLIAMENT ROLLS states: In the third year of Edward IV, (March 4, 1463 to March 3, 1464) a statute was issued prohibiting, as from the following Michaelmas day (Sept, 29, 1464) the importation into England and Wales of various chaffares, wares, ou choses desoubs escriptes. The chaffares, wares, or things written below were numerous and miscellaneous, including fire-tongs, dripping pans, dice, tennis balls, pins, pattins, pack-needles, painted wares, daggers, woodknives, bodkins, tailor's shears, razors and Cardes a jouer. Playing cards were probably imported into Wales as early as the fifteenth century either directly through sea ports such as Holyhead, Conwy or Cardiff, or else via England. Listings in Port Books and customs duties paid may shed some light on official imports, but not the illegal ones. In any case there is no evidence of a Welsh playing card tradition.
Certain early sets of map cards, such as Robert Morden's “The Counties of England and Wales” (1676), possibly the first pocket atlas, depicted maps of Wales. There is of course a succession of packs commemorating the various stages in the careers of the Prince or Princess of Wales, e.g. investiture, marriage, etc. produced by English manufacturers, commencing in the Victorian era. These usually feature coats-of-arms or photographs on the reverse, with standard English courts on the faces. The Prince of Wales is also often depicted in Monarchy card games which have proven very popular on account of their educational value as well as providing a means of amusement.
The eighteenth century playing card manufacturer John Llewellyn, registered in Piccadilly, London, may have been a Welshman, or a descendent of a Welsh family, who had moved away. Owen Jones, the Welsh architect and interior designer who worked for De La Rue in the nineteenth century, created 173 different playing card designs.
During WWII the “Bevin Boy” coal workers enjoyed playing cards in their time off. However, a group that seemed to sit around all day playing cards was taken to court. When asked by the judge “How do you manage to exist?”, the defendant replied “By my wits sir”. The judge said “Then you'd better do six months by your wits” - a great source of amusement around the hostel when heard.
In 1974 the leek was added to the design of Waddington's Ace of Spades. More recently a number of Souvenir of Wales playing cards packs have been published, by John Hinde and others, usually manufactured in the Far East. These either have a Welsh-themed design on the back with standard courts, or photographic scenes of popular tourist locations on each card. There has also been a ‘Welsh Tarot’ pack based upon Welsh mythology and paganism. From time to time Welsh costumes or traditions appear depicted in a stereotyped manner in card games from around the world.
Whereas the distinctiveness of Wales is an important resource contributing to the rich texture of variety which characterises the island of Britain, to date no Welsh playing cards cards have been found which were actually manufactured in Wales. The Welsh Political Figures playing cards (shown above right) were published in Cardiff but actually manufactured in London!