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Welcome to the World of Playing Cards. Here we celebrate the cultural 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.

We invite you to explore this exciting and vibrant aspect of our social history with us and see how things have changed over the years. Whatever your interest in cards, you'll find something interesting here. — Simon & Adam

Explore Archives

German hunting pack by Theodor Wegener

Hunters, animals and birds feature on all but the Kings in this pack by Theodor Wegener, c.1863-70.

Editors' Picks

Dronning Margrethe II
by Roddy Somerville

Elegant, elongated cards designed by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

Chocolate playing cards with scenes from World War 1
by Paul Symons

An extraordinary Spanish pack of chocolate advertising playing cards dating from 1920

Vivacidol
by Roddy Somerville

Advertising pack for Vivacidol pharmaceutical product, France, c.1960s.


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?


History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.


From Contributors

54: China 1

54: China 1

by Ken Lodge

Although many people would not consider Chinese cards worth collecting, the huge variety of court designs used by the companies based in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan over the years should be of interest to those who like to enjoy variation in court cards, jokers and aces of spades.

12: Goodall & Son

12: Goodall & Son

by Ken Lodge

Charles Goodall & Son, 1820-1922 and beyond.

1906 Russell’s Regulars

Russell’s Regulars

by Rod Starling

Willis W. Russell’s “Regulars” were first issued in c.1906, a brand aimed at the armed forces, in tribute to men of the “regular army”. It was patented with ‘Long Distance Pips’ with shading in the hearts and spades.

1906 Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten

by Barney Townshend

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.

Luxuskarte No.75

Luxuskarte No.75

by Barney Townshend

Stylistically, the deck fits easily into the Dondorf “luxury card” group. The deck has been produced for the Danish firm Adolph Wulff of Copenhagen, also for F. Tilgmann in Helsinki, and a Swedish version by Öberg & Son, Stockholm.


2014 Encarded First Edition by Paul Carpenter

Encarded First Edition by Paul Carpenter

The Encarded First Edition is a limited edition of 2,500 designed by Paul Carpenter and manufactured by the Expert Playing Card Company.

2019 National Playing Cards by Theory11

National Playing Cards by Theory11

Playing cards inspired by mysterious symbolism of secret societies as well as a tribute to the National Playing Card Co.

2021 Fractal Seed - Cyberpunk Playing Cards by Ivan Fortunov

Fractal Seed - Cyberpunk Playing Cards by Ivan Fortunov

Cyberpunk playing cards inspired by advanced science and technology in an urban dystopian future. Designed by Ivan Fortunov, 2021.

2020 Sirocco by Riffle Shuffle Playing Card Co.

Sirocco by Riffle Shuffle Playing Card Co.

Sirocco, nautical themed playing cards by Riffle Shuffle Playing Card Co. and designed by Nathan Oser, 2020.

Collecting Themes

Advertising Collecting Themes

advertising playing cards

Closely following the development of visual advertising in general, such as on labels, packaging and posters, advertising playing cards are used in pubs and cafés and are a popular publicity item. Some packs are widely distributed, others are more exclusive. In some cases single cards are collected from inside the advertised product to complete a full set.


Carreras Ltd Tobacco Advertising

Carreras Ltd Tobacco Advertising

Carreras issued a number of advertising packs, cigarette and trade cards, miniature packs, etc during the 1920s and 30s.

Redheads

Redheads

These unusual and striking playing cards were published sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s by the iconic Australian brand of matches, Bryant & May. Whilst the same court card images are used in each suit, the numeral cards employ matches arranged geometrically instead of the normal pips.

1978 Alphabetti Spaghetti

Alphabetti Spaghetti

Alphabetti Spaghetti Happy Families game for Crosse & Blackwell c.1978.

Biermans Genoese pattern

Biermans Genoese pattern

Biermans Genoese pattern for Clayson agricultural machinery, late 1960s.


Art & Design Collecting Themes

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.


1979 The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards by Andrew Jones Art, 1979.

1890 Argentine Political Cards

Argentine Political Cards

Political Playing Cards, Buenos Aires, 1890.

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh Spanish-suited deck, 2002.

1465 Tarocchi di Mantegna, c.1465

Tarocchi di Mantegna, c.1465

The so-called Tarocchi di Mantegna (c.1465) reflect an ideological structure bringing to mind the soul's progress towards perfection.


Playing Cards Icon Card Games Collecting Themes

Games Childhood Currency Educational Happy Families Pepys Games Logo Jaques Faulkner Quartet Snap Spelling
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.


1995 Educación Vial

Educación Vial

Educación Vial (Road Safety) card game published by H. Fournier, 1995.

1906 Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet by Dondorf for the Dutch market, 1906.

1960 Old Maid

Old Maid

Old Maid card game by Built-Rite toys, Warren Paper Products, Co., c.1960.

Happy Families of the World

Happy Families of the World

Happy Families of the World published by Pepys Games, 1963.


Oracle, Divination & Tarot Collecting Themes

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   more


Jeu de Tarot Pocket Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Jeu de Tarot Pocket Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Tarot game pack with fantasy sci-fi artwork on the trumps published by Pocket SF, France.

1979 Stairs of Gold Tarot

Stairs of Gold Tarot

Whilst the titles of the cards are in Italian, the Hebrew and Sanskrit letters on the Trump cards denote, respectively, associations with the Cabbala and Vedic metaphysics.

1960 Taroquis ‘Obelisco’

Taroquis ‘Obelisco’

78-card 'Taroquis Marca Obelisco' published by Mario Colombo, Buenos Aires, during the 1950s, 60s & 70s, in the style known as "Tarocco Piemontese" which had been developed by Italian cardmakers during the nineteenth century.

Recent Changes

Pentacards

A five-suited set of playing cards published by Fleet and Case Games Ltd., Rainham, Kent, UK, c.1980.

Toby’s Family Playing Cards

“Toby’s Family Playing Cards” published by G. Heath Robinson & J. Birch Ltd, London, 1920s.

Biggles

Biggles card game published by Pepys Games in 1955 based on the popular books by Capt W E Johns.

Pack of Royals

Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals” featuring caricatures of the Royal Family, 1995.

Pirates et Corsaires

“Pirates et Corsaires” playing cards illustrated by Jean Bruneau, 1984.

Astra Games
Astra Games

Astra Games was a subsidiary of the McCorquodale Group of Companies, producing playing cards during the period 1982-87.

Blancanieves

Blancanieves (Snow White) card game published by Heracliio Fournier, 1992.

Conjuring and Magic
Conjuring and Magic

The art of mystifying people is very old indeed. The first conjurers were priests who obtained power over simple minds by performing magical tricks which appeared to have a supernatural origin.