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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Welcome to the World of Playing Cards community! 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 wish to make a contribution just get in touch

Explore Archives

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

Editors' Picks

Georg Kapfler
Georg Kapfler

Antique deck of old Bohemian playing cards of the German type manufactured by Georg Kapfler and dated 1611.

Hundertjahrkarte
Hundertjahrkarte

A new ‘medieval look’ is intended to suggest the power and virtue of the German character.

Delta Playing Cards
Delta Playing Cards

Delta playing cards are a modern art concept deck invented by Professor M. R. Ali, an artist operating under the company name of “Artology Internation...

The Steamboat Brand
The Steamboat Brand

The theme of steamboats navigating up and down the Mississippi also extended to the cotton plantations alongside the river and to African American peo...

Artists & Designers

Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty
Penalty
Penalty
Dartmouth Happy Families
Dartmouth Happy Families
Mickey and the Beanstalk
Mickey and the Beanstalk
Hunting Themed Skat
Hunting Themed Skat
Kargo
Kargo
Der Feinen Welt
Der Feinen Welt
The Muppet Show
The Muppet Show

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?


Portuguese Type Cards made in Belgium

Portuguese Type Cards made in Belgium

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

Moorish playing cards

Moorish playing cards

These two uncoloured, uncut sheets of early Moorish playing cards were formerly preserved in the Instituto Municipal de Historia in Barcelona.

Provence Pattern

Provence Pattern

The 'Provence' pattern contains figures which go back to the fifteenth century.

Antique Swiss Playing Cards, c.1530

Antique Swiss Playing Cards, c.1530

The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawkbells and flowers originated sometime during the fifteenth century.


50: Joseph Reynolds

50: Joseph Reynolds

A presentation of my database of Reynolds cards.

57: China 3

57: China 3

A third and final look at some Chinese cards.

19: 19th Century Breaks With Tradition - Unusual Versions of the Standard English Pattern

19: 19th Century Breaks With Tradition - Unusual Versions of the Standard English Pattern

The centuries-long tradition of English court cards was subject to misinterpretation and in some cases a desire for individuality. Here are some examples of breaks with that tradition.


United Kingdom

Pooltella

Pooltella

Pooltella cards by John Waddington Ltd, the cards that simplify football pool forecasts, 1930s.

Picture Rummy

Picture Rummy

Picture Rummy by R. Turner Ltd, 1937.

United States of America

Indicator No.50

Indicator No.50

No.50 appears at the bottom of the Ace of Spades and the cards have corner indices and miniature suit symbols in the corners.

Friendly Felines

Friendly Felines

‘Friendly Felines’ playing cards designed by Azured Ox, 2017.


Spain

Inspector Gadget

Inspector Gadget

The Adventures of Inspector Gadget quartet game published by Fournier in 1983.

Maciá Pattern

Maciá Pattern

Maciá Pattern

Latin America Conosur

Buena Suerte Cartomancy

Buena Suerte Cartomancy

Buena Suerte Cartomancy cards published by Difusora S.A., Argentina, c.1975

Naipes Estrella Antigua

Naipes Estrella Antigua

Naipes Estrella Antigua, La Cubana, S.A. (Fabrica de Naipes El Aguila), Mexico, c.1960.


Japan

Hana Fuda - Japan

Hana Fuda - Japan

Hana Fuda playing cards hand-made by Patricia Kirk, 2003

Uta Garuta

Uta Garuta

These cards are basically a poetry anthology (the Hyakunin Isshu, or 百人一首), transposed onto cards.

China

Mad Jack Miracle Pack

Mad Jack Miracle Pack

Mad Jack Miracle Pack by Chu’s Magic (Tobar) 1999.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Playing Cards from Hong Kong. A large proportion of the world's souvenir and pin-up playing cards originate from Hong Kong.


Explore 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.


Estudio Negrin PIRELLI, c.1960

Estudio Negrin PIRELLI, c.1960

Estudio Negrin playing cards for PIRELLI, made by Orestes A. Cappellano S.R.L., Buenos Aires, Argentina, c.1960.

Capel Vinos

Capel Vinos

Advertising playing cards for Capel Vinos S.A., manufactured by Naipes Comas, 2001.

Titicaca ® Playing Cards

Titicaca ® Playing Cards

Each card in this novelty deck, subtitled “Funny Card”, carries information about a prestigious or popular brand.


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.


La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras, published by Jeux et Jouets Français. Paris, early 1900s.

Periquito y Tontín Dominoes

Periquito y Tontín Dominoes

Periquito y Tontín Dominoes, featuring Feliz and Bonzo, 1920s.


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.


Countries of the World

Countries of the World

“Countries of the World” published by H.P. Gibson & Sons, Ltd, c.1939.

Find Out

Find Out

Find Out mystery card game based on the Find Out books by Enid Blyton, published by Pepys, 1958.

Pierre l’Ebouriffé

Pierre l’Ebouriffé

Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) wrote the Struwwelpeter stories in 1847 for his son Carl. The stories quickly became famous and were translated into many languages...

Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty

Waddington’s “Hello Kitty” themed deck produced in 2009.


Oracle, Divination & Tarot Collecting Themes

The art of interpreting divine omens - augury or reading karma - have 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


Art Deco Gypsy Oracle

Art Deco Gypsy Oracle

Art Deco fortune telling deck published by Piatnik, 1936.

Tarocco Piedmontese, Buenos Aires c.1900

Tarocco Piedmontese, Buenos Aires c.1900

Tarocco Piedmontese by Fabrica de Naipes La Primitiva, Moreno 248, Buenos Aires c.1900

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Thomson-Leng Tarot

Thomson-Leng Tarot

The Thomson-Leng Tarot Cards were issued by the publishers of women's magazines during the 1930s. The cards are loosely based upon the Rider-Waite tarot.


Transformation Collecting Themes

Two Pips Icon The best-known fantasies with playing cards are the ‘Transformation’ cards. Hand-drawing ‘transformations’ onto a pack of ordinary playing cards, with the suit symbols forming part of the overall composition, became a popular pastime 200 years ago and a test of skill in drawing. A great deal of ingenuity is required in their design. The earliest printed sets were published at the start of the 19th century, often published in the form of an almanac or sometimes known as ‘metastasis’, and these became a fashionable and entertaining novelty.

In the strict sense of the word ‘Transformation’ the pips should be in their standard positions and form part of, or fit into, the overll image portrayed on the card.


Eroticartes

Eroticartes

Eroticartes with drawings by Pino Zac, 1983.

Inky-Dinky Playing Cards

Inky-Dinky Playing Cards

A series of four decks designed by John Littleboy.

Cartes Recréatives

Cartes Recréatives

Cartes Recréatives is a set of Transformed playing cards designed by Armand-Gustave Houbigant (1790-1863) and first published by Terquem et May, Metz, in 1819.


Magic & Conjuring Collecting Themes

Serpentine

Serpentine

‘Serpentine’ Playing Cards published by Legends P.C.Co., 2014.

Mad Jack Miracle Pack

Mad Jack Miracle Pack

Mad Jack Miracle Pack by Chu’s Magic (Tobar) 1999.

Ridley’s Magic Trick Cards

Ridley’s Magic Trick Cards

Ridley’s Magic Trick Cards, 2011.

Dragon Fanning Deck

Dragon Fanning Deck

This set of cards published by DP Group Ltd (Japan) allows the performer to create different fans

Recent Changes

Bicycle Butterfly
Bicycle Butterfly

Bicycle Butterfly playing cards from RSVP Magic with artwork by ‘Lotrék’ and printed by USPCC, 2012.

Dutch costume playing cards
Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

Naipes Siluv, Valparaiso, Chile, 1931
Naipes Siluv, Valparaiso, Chile, 1931

Naipes Siluv, Valparaiso, Chile, 1931

Naipe Infantil by Plasticos Pardo M.R.
Naipe Infantil by Plasticos Pardo M.R.

Naipe Español Infantil miniature children's playing cards with suit signs of ice creams, baseball bats, swords and suns, manufactured in Chile by Plasticos Pardo M.R.

Mapocho
Mapocho

Naipes Marca Mapocho, Santiago de Chile.

Chilean Playing Cards
Chilean Playing Cards

Naipes Chilenos ~ Early Chilean playing cards were based upon Spanish models.

Naipes Sonia
Naipes Sonia

Spanish-suited playing cards manufactured in Chile by Imprenta y Litografía Universo S.A., Valparaiso, Chile.

Neue Deutsche Spielkarte
Neue Deutsche Spielkarte

Neue Deutsche Spielkarte (Reformkarte) conceived by Dr. Timon Schroeter, 1883.