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Sherlock Holmes Box Welcome to the World of Playing Cards, where we delve into the rich heritage and history of playing cards, and the many ways in which they bring people together. Playing cards have been shared and enjoyed for centuries for everything from games and gambling to fortune-telling, magic and conjuring. Today they continue to be a popular and educational pastime for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Playing cards combine many aspects of our history including paper-making, printing technologies, innovation, symbolism, graphic design and how these have changed over the years. Whatever your interest in cards, you'll find something interesting here.

Impressionist Art Cards

Details of 13 paintings by 8 different Impressionist artists on elongated cards.

Freimaurer Spielkarten / Masonic playing cards
Freimaurer Spielkarten / Masonic playing cards

Masonic playing cards created by Ivan Wojnikow, 2004. • Peter Burnett

Carte Osteologiche
Carte Osteologiche

Skulls and bones of all descriptions have become the suits and pips in this 40-card pack from Italy.... • Roddy Somerville

Tuxedo playing cards
Tuxedo playing cards

Stylish ‘Tuxedo’ playing cards with animal faces created by Natalia Silva, USA, 2016. • Peter Burnett

Tarot de Madrid
Tarot de Madrid

Black-and-white photographs of models whose faces are made up using elements found on the major arca... • Roddy Somerville

Shakespeare playing cards: Insults
Shakespeare playing cards: Insults

Shakespeare Insults playing cards with portraits by Jan Padover, USA, 2005. • Peter Burnett

SEMP playing cards
SEMP playing cards

Modified Anglo-American courts advertising a French medical publishing company. • Roddy Somerville

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Jeu de la V<sup>me</sup>
Jeu de la Vme

A political pack designed by Pino Zac and published in 1977 by Editions Arts et Lettres.

Peter Burnett • 23 February 2024, 14:18

Postak – Las Postas
Postak – Las Postas

‘Postak - Las Postas’ playing cards commemorating the history of the Basque postal service, Spain, 1996.

Peter Burnett • 23 February 2024, 08:58

ČZ playing cards
ČZ playing cards

Advertising pack for the Czechoslovak motorcycle factory Česká Zbrojovka.

Roddy Somerville • 22 February 2024, 19:13

Bourbon Bridge
Bourbon Bridge

Attractive, woodcut-style courts adapted for modern play.

Roddy Somerville • 22 February 2024, 10:20

Storia del Fascismo - gioco di carte
Storia del Fascismo - gioco di carte

‘Storia del Fascismo’ playing cards depicting persons, symbols and artifacts associated with Italian fascism.

Peter Burnett • 21 February 2024, 22:03

Miniature Card Dominoes
Miniature Card Dominoes

A miniature set of Goodall domino cards (5.9 x 3.5 cms) still in perfect condition.

Tony Hall • 21 February 2024, 16:12

Bischofszell
Bischofszell

Advertising pack for the food producer Bischofszell, designed by Heinz Looser-Brenner, with non-standard suits.

Roddy Somerville • 21 February 2024, 12:17

Calon Arang • Калон Аранг - Бали
Calon Arang • Калон Аранг - Бали

Calon Arang, a figure from 12th-century Javanese and Balinese folklore known as a witch skilled in black magic, is the subject of a preserved manuscript at the Royal Netherlands Institute. Калон Ар...

Александр Царёв • 21 February 2024, 07:31

Wedding of Krechinsky • Свадьба Кречинского
Wedding of Krechinsky • Свадьба Кречинского

A pack of cards depicting characters from the famous play "The Wedding of Krechinsky" by Sukhovo-Kobylina. Колода содержит изображения персонажей известной пьесы Сухово-Кобылина "Свадьба Кречинск...

Александр Царёв • 21 February 2024, 06:28

Souvenir of Scotland playing cards
Souvenir of Scotland playing cards

I'm just wondering weather you'd be able to help me? I noticed on your a...

Peter Hill 21 February 2024, 05:53 • 1 Comments

Could anyone help identify and date this deck please
Could anyone help identify and date this deck please

I found these cards in an old box along with some old postcards etc and ...

Kellie Jane Gillott 21 February 2024, 05:48 • 1 Comments

Jeu des Médecins
Jeu des Médecins

Cartoons of doctors and nurses by Pino Zac, published by B.P. Grimaud in 1983.

Peter Burnett • 20 February 2024, 09:35

T. Drayton & Son
T. Drayton & Son

Bezique and Whist boxed sets by T. Drayton & Son, London, c.1875.

Tony Hall • 20 February 2024, 09:30

Scheffmacher
Scheffmacher

Advertising pack for Scheffmacher, master painters in Schaffhausen, with comic designs by Fritz Bünzli.

Roddy Somerville • 18 February 2024, 13:05

Hartley’s Circular Playing Cards
Hartley’s Circular Playing Cards

I have a full set of Hartley's Cir...

Andrew Serong 17 February 2024, 12:03 • 1 Comments

Query About Playing Cards
Query About Playing Cards

Hello! I have a query about two fr...

Isabella Rosner 17 February 2024, 11:54 • 1 Comments

Early French Deck mid 1800's or earlier?
Early French Deck mid 1800's or earlier?

I have a set of playing cards that my grandfather had but I don't know w...

Karen Taylor 17 February 2024, 11:43 • 1 Comments

Canasta deck (Mexican) over 60 yrs old
Canasta deck (Mexican) over 60 yrs old

Anything that you can tell me about this old game deck that my parents h...

Lloyd 17 February 2024, 11:38 • 1 Comments

Hitchcock
Hitchcock

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating the master of mystery, murder and mayhem, Alfred Hitchcock.

Ian Taylor • 17 February 2024, 09:12

Colour doodle deck
Colour doodle deck

“1952-2002 commemorative deck” customised with doodles by an uncredited artist, UK, 2011.

Peter Burnett • 16 February 2024, 18:20

Jeu Boléro
Jeu Boléro

Sweeping, semi-abstract designs by J.L. Jolin in red and black only.

Roddy Somerville • 16 February 2024, 10:59

Le Giscarte
Le Giscarte

Le Giscarte political playing cards designed by Eddy Munerol, France, 1976.

Peter Burnett • 15 February 2024, 13:28

The Lovers playing cards
The Lovers playing cards

Reproductions of old postcards with romantic messages for Valentine’s Day.

Roddy Somerville • 13 February 2024, 23:13

Freimaurer Spielkarten / Masonic playing cards
Freimaurer Spielkarten / Masonic playing cards

Masonic playing cards created by Ivan Wojnikow, 2004.

Peter Burnett • 13 February 2024, 12:06

I Gatti Originali di Evelyne Nicod
I Gatti Originali di Evelyne Nicod

Etchings of cats on a set of major arcana created by Evelyne Nicod.

Roddy Somerville • 12 February 2024, 12:58

Safety playing cards
Safety playing cards

Safety playing cards designed to reinforce the “Think and Be Safe” concept.

Peter Burnett • 12 February 2024, 10:13

Politicards 2016 & Politikids 2016
Politicards 2016 & Politikids 2016

Politicards™ 2016 & Politikids 2016: twin decks of satirical playing cards produced by Peter Green for the 2016 presidential election.

Peter Burnett • 11 February 2024, 08:38

Knoll International
Knoll International

Geometric designs by the French artist Jean Garçon for Knoll International, the furniture company.

Roddy Somerville • 10 February 2024, 21:45

Carte Osteologiche
Carte Osteologiche

Skulls and bones of all descriptions have become the suits and pips in this 40-card pack from Italy.

Roddy Somerville • 10 February 2024, 16:08

Marcello Morandini
Marcello Morandini

Modern designs by Italian artist Marcello Morandini using the simplest of forms and colours.

Roddy Somerville • 10 February 2024, 14:25

Cartes à Jouer Fluorescentes
Cartes à Jouer Fluorescentes

Standard French cards but printed with fluorescent inks on a black background.

Roddy Somerville • 10 February 2024, 12:46

K Deck
K Deck

“K Deck” political playing cards, USA, c. 2004.

Peter Burnett • 10 February 2024, 11:30

Tuxedo playing cards
Tuxedo playing cards

Stylish ‘Tuxedo’ playing cards with animal faces created by Natalia Silva, USA, 2016.

Peter Burnett • 09 February 2024, 11:09

The Deck of Hillary
The Deck of Hillary

‘The Deck of Hillary’ with quotes and photographs of Hillary Clinton, USA, 2003.

Peter Burnett • 09 February 2024, 11:00

SEMP playing cards
SEMP playing cards

Modified Anglo-American courts advertising a French medical publishing company.

Roddy Somerville • 08 February 2024, 11:31

Tarot de Madrid
Tarot de Madrid

Black-and-white photographs of models whose faces are made up using elements found on the major arcana.

Roddy Somerville • 08 February 2024, 11:30

Shakespeare playing cards: Insults
Shakespeare playing cards: Insults

Shakespeare Insults playing cards with portraits by Jan Padover, USA, 2005.

Peter Burnett • 07 February 2024, 08:16

Waddington Linen Tennant's Stout Deck
Waddington Linen Tennant's Stout Deck

I bought this pack of linen cards for .25 cents today at a thrift store ...

Jessica Campbell 07 February 2024, 00:43 • 0 Comments

Shakespeare playing cards: Quotes
Shakespeare playing cards: Quotes

Shakespeare playing cards: Quotes, the first volume of a double set published by Prospero Art of San Francisco, 2004.

Peter Burnett • 06 February 2024, 11:41

Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here
Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland themed playing cards, UK, 2020.

Peter Burnett • 05 February 2024, 09:43

Old City Scape London with Bridge
Old City Scape London with Bridge

The box the cards came in is brown wood grained paper thick over a card ...

Bryan Cook 05 February 2024, 05:07 • 0 Comments

Jeu Quatre Empereurs
Jeu Quatre Empereurs

Brazilian scenic aces with emperors of Brazil, Austria and France and other dignitaries on the court cards.

Simon Wintle • 04 February 2024, 22:57

Portrait de Fribourg
Portrait de Fribourg

Fine reproduction of a Fribourg pattern pack, originally by Jean-Jacques Burdel.

Roddy Somerville • 04 February 2024, 13:36

Claude Weisbuch
Claude Weisbuch

Free reinterpretation of the traditional Paris pattern courts by the artist Claude Weisbuch.

Roddy Somerville • 04 February 2024, 12:58

Old Testament playing cards
Old Testament playing cards

Old Testament playing cards with illustrations by Jan Padover, USA, 2012.

Peter Burnett • 03 February 2024, 12:53

Politicards 2008
Politicards 2008

Politicards ’08 with caricatures cast as characters from classic movies, USA.

Peter Burnett • 03 February 2024, 12:06

Orientierungslauf Skat
Orientierungslauf Skat

Humorous designs by Helmut Härtelt on the subject of orienteering.

Roddy Somerville • 02 February 2024, 12:20

Borna Skat
Borna Skat

Publicity pack for the Saxon town of Borna, with designs by Andreas Wachter.

Roddy Somerville • 02 February 2024, 11:18

Starz behind bars
Starz behind bars

Starz behind bars playing cards with mug shots of the rich and famous under arrest, USA, 2003.

Peter Burnett • 01 February 2024, 11:46



CCCP playing cards

Soviet and other Communist celebrities depicted on every card, designed by Vladislav Pankevitch.

El Al Airlines

Pack designed by Jean David (1908-93) for El Al Airlines. The courts are named after Biblical charac...

Vues de Monaco-Monte Carlo

Souvenir pack with 54 different views of Monaco, especially Monte Carlo.

Playing cards for the Bombay Market

An interesting pack of playing cards with illustrated Indian aces made "Specially for the Bombay Mar...

WW2 German Propaganda Playing Cards

showing satirical portraits of Allied leaders and politicians

Wüst Lenormand deck, c.1860

Wüst Lenormand deck, c.1860

Spielkarten in Bromsilber-Photographie

“Spielkarten in Bromsilber-Photographie” facsimile edition by Vito Arienti of Edizioni del Solleone,...

Eurocell® playing cards

Eurocell® playing cards

Promotional playing cards produced by Eurocell® (UPVC window, door, conservatory and roofline system...

Baraxa Galega

Baraxa Galega designed by F. Perez Llamosas and published by Naipes Heraclio Fournier, 1983.

20: English Card-Makers 1761-1905

20: English Card-Makers 1761-1905

An initial survey of 19th century playing-card production. More detailed information appears on ot...

41: A Guide to Dating Playing Cards

41: A Guide to Dating Playing Cards

Dating is a particularly tricky but very interesting problem to tackle and there are many pitfalls. ...

Medicaer Spielkarte No.272

Medicaer Spielkarte No.272

The deck has Italian indices (A, R, D, F) and was probably produced for the Italian market. The four...

Thomas Walters Transformation

Hand-drawn transformation pack dated 1874 with the name Thomas Walters on the ace of spades.

Deutsches Luxusbild

Deutsches Luxusbild

The court cards in this well designed double-ended pack are realistically dressed in 16th century co...

Snap

Snap

Snap card game published in UK by Globe (Oppenheimer und Sulzbacher), late 19th century.

Classique

“Classique” by Draeger Frères, Paris, c.1949 with designs reminiscent of early French cards.

The Streets of London

“The Streets of London” published by John Jaques & Son, London, c.1880.

Morgan-Greer Tarot

Based on the knowledge, wisdom and interpretation of Paul Foster Case and Arthur Edward Waite.

New Palladini Tarot

“The New Palladini Tarot” by David Palladini published by U.S. Games Inc., in 1996.

The Aquarian Tarot Deck

The Aquarian Tarot Deck illustrated by David Palladini, published by Morgan Press, Inc., 1970.

The Tarot Strikes Back

Roy Huteson Stewart's The Tarot Strikes Back combines Star Wars with Rider-Waite tarot imagery.

House of Tudor

Randy Butterfield's House of Tudor playing cards feature detailed art in a high-quality collectible ...

Jack-O’-Lantern Tarot

Giuliano Costa's Jack-O’-Lantern tarot blends Rider-Waite symbolism with the rich and atmospheric th...

Jeu Quatre Empereurs

Brazilian scenic aces with emperors of Brazil, Austria and France and other dignitaries on the court...

Kings and Queens of Brazil & Portugal

Historical playing cards by C. L. Wüst depicting monarchs of Brazil and Portugal.

Mythological tarot by Michael Schatzberger

Mythological tarot by Michael Schatzberger, Passau, Bavaria, early 19th century.

The History of Playing Cards

Scene of people playing cards

Playing cards arrived in Europe the late 14th century and rapidly became a part of popular culture. Antique playing cards are like a visit to the local museum and evoke images of past eras and ways of life and also demonstrate archaic technology or production methods. So what do the oldest surviving playing cards look like?


1705 Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during t...

History of Online Casinos

History of Online Casinos

Online casinos appeared shortly after the internet became a more mainstream tool for the public to u...

1545 Peter Flötner, c.1545

Peter Flötner, c.1545

Seven cards from a satirical pack produced by Peter Flötner of Nuremberg, c.1545. The suit symbols a...

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.


Art & Design

Design Caricatures Abstract Cartoon Celtic Deco Jugendstil Renaissance Rococo Surrealism

The playing card calls for artistic treatment and although the constrained size imposes some limitations there is an almost bewildering wealth and variety of designs in playing cards and their tuck boxes. The serious player requires design to be unobtrusive so that aesthetic considerations remain in the background. However, with modern manufacturing technology more eye-catching designs are becoming popular as gifts, collectibles and for their attractive appearance.


2001 Mickey Mouse y Amigos

Mickey Mouse y Amigos

“Mickey Mouse y Amigos” Spanish-suited pack mimicking Fournier’s Castilian pattern, 2001

Karl Gerich

Karl Gerich

Karl Gerich's interest in playing-card production came to the fore while studying at Bath Academy of...

1974 The Perishers

The Perishers

The Perishers, based on the TV cartoon series, published by Pepys in 1974.

2017 Arthurian by Kings Wild Project

Arthurian by Kings Wild Project

Arthurian Playing Cards by Kings Wild Project, a luxury playing card deck designed by Jackson Robins...


Oracle, Divination & Tarot

Cat Cartomancy The art of interpreting divine omens - augury or reading karma - has since ancient times been integral to political, civic and religious life.

More recently, Cartomancy and modern esoteric tarot packs have been produced in a wide variety of conceptions and involve use of imagination and intuition to assess one’s thoughts and feelings from the view point of the symbolic images and numbers. It is possible for an object to be construed as a game in one context, and as something other than a game in a different context.

Tarot, originally a 15th century card game, has evolved into a popular system of personal mysticism, self-exploration and spirituality   Learn more about tarot


1911 Wahrsage-Karten

Wahrsage-Karten

In this version an explanatory verse is printed at the top of each card.

1984 Bilder zum Tarot

Bilder zum Tarot

Detailed pen and ink drawings of the major arcana by the German artist Helmut Wonschick.

Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

After the first edition of the Rider-Waite tarot in 1909 four further editions were published till a...

1491 Sola-Busca Tarocchi

Sola-Busca Tarocchi

The Sola-Busca Tarocchi, c.1491


Schwarzer Peter Cards

The games we play mirror the world we live in, like popular art. There was a time when friends and family played indoor games by the fireside and enjoyed countless hours of pleasure and amusement. Children don’t play card games so much because they prefer computer games, the ultimate excitement. Antique and vintage card games offer documentary evidence, as well as nostalgic memories, of the social interaction, fashions and stereotypes of bygone days and are a study in social anthropology.

French card games are mostly Jeux des Sept Familles. German games are often pleasing on the eye, and they seem to favour quartet games. USA love quartets of world worthies like authors, painters, composers. Games are not simply an escape from the real world, they are also educational and provide a place to process what it all means.


1948 Sylabex / Wordmaker

Sylabex / Wordmaker

Sylabex / Wordmaker was first published by Pepys in 1948.

1890 Oliver Twist Snap

Oliver Twist Snap

Oliver Twist Series Snap card game manufactured by A. Collier, London, c.1890.

1896 Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales

the Game of Fairy Tales published by Multum in Parvo Co,, from 1896

1958 Spell

Spell

Spell word game published by Pepys Games, 1958.

The Big Picture

Playing cards have a universal appeal and are a reflection of human culture.

Simon & Adam Wintle

Above: Chinese money-suited cards. Some of the earliest cards have origins in the Far East.

Playing cards are a part of almost every culture and society around the world. These small, rectangular pieces of paper have been a source of entertainment for generations and are still enjoyed by people of all ages today. Whether it’s a simple game of solitaire, a high-stakes game of poker, or a magic trick that delights, there’s something about playing cards that captures the imagination and inspires creativity. As Delef Hoffmann once said “whether we consider cards as mere merchandise or as the bond which unites people with one another, just think of what we would be if we had no cards! How boring and unsociable our lives would be without this invention!

Joker by Simon Wintle

Above: Dasavatara Ganjifa from India. Playing cards from India are often circular.

The origin of cards can be traced back to China, where they were first used as early as the 9th century. From there, the cards travelled across Asia and the Middle East, and finally found their way to Europe in the 14th century.

Since then, playing cards have been used for a wide range of purposes, including fortune-telling and even propaganda. But the most significant impact they have had on humanity is through their use in games, which have brought people together for centuries.

Above left: a set of Spanish playing cards from 1638 was discovered inside a prison wall during demolition, likely used for gambling by prisoners. Above center: Trump Presidential playing cards, playing cards are often used for political messages. Above right: the Magician from the popualr Rider-Waite tarot, which has become the template for modern tarot decks.

Above left: a set of Spanish playing cards from 1638 was discovered inside a prison wall during demolition, likely used for gambling by prisoners. Above center: Trump Presidential playing cards, playing cards are often used for political messages. Above right: the Magician from the popualr Rider-Waite tarot, which has become the template for modern tarot decks.

While playing cards have brought people together for fun and play, they have also been a source of disruption in the form of gambling. For many, gambling has become an addiction, leading to financial ruin and even anti-social problems.

The artistic value of cards cannot be overlooked, with their intricate details and unique designs of each card reflecting the creativity and ingenuity of artists. Playing cards are a reflection of our society, with each country and region having its unique designs and styles. As Sylvia Mann put it “there are fashions in cards, and these fashions very often reflect the history of the times”. From the bold and colourful designs of India to the intricate and detailed patterns of Russia, playing cards are a testament to the creativity and diversity of the human experience.

Simon & Adam Wintle

Above left: Kashmir Playing Cards, above center: Ethiopian Air Lines playing cards produced by Nintendo, above right: striking playing cards designed by Masuo Ikeda.

Playing cards have a wide embrace, spanning across cultures and countries, with a scope of diverse subjects that reflect the values and beliefs of their respective societies.

Playing cards are an enduring symbol of human connection and creativity, transcending language, borders and cultures. Through the power of games, they have brought people together for centuries, creating shared experiences that have fostered friendships, learning and social bonds. While their role in gambling has been disruptive, their stunning artistic designs elevate them to works of art, worthy of appreciation and admiration. Playing cards are a testament to the power of human creativity and a reflection of the rich cultural tapestry of our world.

References

  • The Playing Card, Delef Hoffmann, 1972
  • Collecting Playing Cards, Sylvia Mann, 1966

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About the World of Playing Cards

Our aim is to increase awareness and appreciation of the cultural and historical significance of playing cards.

The World of Playing Cards was established in 1996 as a place where you can learn about playing cards, their history, design and manufacture, and see cards from around the world.

Simon & Adam Wintle

Simon Wintle (right) with Adam Wintle (left) visiting Ayutthaya in Thailand, 2016.

They reflect the traditions of many countries. They vary widely in size, style, shape, artistry, usage and many other purposes in education, marketing or even for fortune telling. There is a fascination in playing card design: the neat symmetries and quirky symbols. The composition of the pack - court cards, suits, pips - provides endless scope of play.

Joker by Simon Wintle

They are recognised everywhere around the world - we rarely question their origins.

Since their invention, cards have lost none of their popularity. Playing cards have a long history and it's in the art that the richness of playing cards is to be discovered.

Simon & Adam

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The amount you donate is up to you and we are grateful that so many people find value in the World of Playing Cards and want to sustain its future.