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Sherlock Holmes Box 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. If you'd like to make a contribution get in touch Simon & Adam

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Swadeshi Playing Cards

Named after the first National movement in India

Editors' Picks

Habesha playing cards

Habesha playing cards

by Peter Burnett

Habesha playing cards published by “Ethiopian Reflection”

Revolutionary playing cards

by Roddy Somerville

Revolutionary playing cards with decapitated courts published by ATYPYK, Paris, 2010.

Kings Wild Tigers Playing Cards

by Adam Wintle

Kings Wild Tigers is Jackson Robinson’s 27th successful playing card Kickstarter campaign. A luxury collectable deck inspired by vintage matchboxes.


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?


1946 Impuesto de Timbre para Naipes

Impuesto de Timbre para Naipes

EL CONGRESO DE COLOMBIA. LEY 69 DE 1946, por la cual se elevan las tarifas de algunos impuestos indirectos y se dictan otras disposiciones.

1786 Pedro Varangot, 1786

Pedro Varangot, 1786

Archaic Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly by Pedro Varangot in 1786.

Fake Blanchard Ace of Spades

Fake Blanchard Ace of Spades

Fake Blanchard Ace of Spades with court cards based on Hall.

1878 Portuguese Type Cards made in Belgium

Portuguese Type Cards made in Belgium

Portuguese Type Playing Cards made in Belgium, c.1878.


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45: New Zealand

45: New Zealand

by Ken Lodge

There are three main NZ makers that I'm aware of: A.D. Willis, John Dickinson, and Strong & Ready.

1900 A miniature theatrical pack of playing cards, Germany? c.1900

A miniature theatrical pack of playing cards, Germany? c.1900

by Paul Symons

This miniature pack is very similar to one made by C.L.Wúst in c.1890.

Cribbage Board Collection

Cribbage Board Collection

by Tony Hall

A collection of antique and vintage Cribbage Boards by Tony Hall

Tales from the Stage

Tales from the Stage

by Rod Starling

16: European Standard Playing Cards

16: European Standard Playing Cards

by Ken Lodge

A brief survey of the different types of standard cards to be found in Continental Europe.


2018 Kings Wild Tigers Playing Cards

Kings Wild Tigers Playing Cards

Kings Wild Tigers is Jackson Robinson’s 27th successful playing card Kickstarter campaign. A luxury collectable deck inspired by vintage matchboxes.

2022 Billionaire Boys Club Playing Cards by Theory11

Billionaire Boys Club Playing Cards by Theory11

Limited edition luxury playing cards by Billionaire Boys Club and Theory 11.

2021 The Grand Chinatown Edition by Riffle Shuffle Playing Card Co.

The Grand Chinatown Edition by Riffle Shuffle Playing Card Co.

1920s gangster-themed playing cards, "The Grand", were produced by Kevin Yu under the Riffle Shuffle Playing Card Company brand name, after raising CAD$104,453 from 884 backers on Kickstarter in 2021.

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.

Collecting Themes

Advertising Collecting Themes

Advertising and Promotional 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.


1990 Laboratorios Magma, S.A.

Laboratorios Magma, S.A.

Publicity playing cards manufactured for Laboratorios Magma, S.A., Lima, Peru, c.1990.

1960 Tobacco advertising

Tobacco advertising

Advertising decks made in Belgium by A. Van Genechten, 1960s.

1980 Roche Playing Cards

Roche Playing Cards

Roche Pharmaceutical playing cards, 1980s.

1980 Argenar, Buenos Aires, c.1980

Argenar, Buenos Aires, c.1980

The reverse has advertising for Cymaco motor spares who have branches in Uruguay.


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.


1862 New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.

Tungsram Playing Cards

Tungsram Playing Cards

Tungsram Playing Cards, Art Deco playing cards from Hungary

1978 Capilettor

Capilettor

Capilettor cartoon playing cards published by VASS, Leinfelden, 1978.


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.


1930 Wills’s Happy Families game

Wills’s Happy Families game

Wills’s “Happy Families” cards were issued by the Imperial Tobacco Company (of Great Britain and Ireland) Limited in around 1930.

1920 Nederlandsche Oliefabriek

Nederlandsche Oliefabriek

This beautiful quartet game from Holland illustrates the strange life cycle of the peanut.

1905 Candid Confessions

Candid Confessions

“Candid Confessions” published by Jaques & Son, Ltd, c.1905.

1880 Caught in a Trap

Caught in a Trap

A Victorian card game telling a story of a victim being ensnared in a trap, being caught, and finally escaping.


Oracle, Divination & Tarot Collecting Themes

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


1750 Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.

1780 Vandenborre Tarot

Vandenborre Tarot

Belgian Tarot published by François-Jean Vandenborre, Brussels (1762-1803)