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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.

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.

Myriorama

Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.

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Bone Playing Cards

My late mother found these miniature cards in a skip around 50 years ago.

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Folk Cards

Folk Cards designed by Krystyna Gruchalska-Bunsch for Lot Polish Airlines, 1962.

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IBM Linux One

IBM Linux One playing cards, c.2018.

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Bosch Puzzle Playing Cards

Bosch Puzzle Playing Cards by Sunish Chabba, 2020.

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Standard Handa Pattern

Standard Danish playing cards made by Handa, Copenhagen

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Bibliography & References

The following works on Playing Card history and design have been consulted in preparing this website.

Algeria

Spanish suited playing cards produced by B. P. Grimaud (Paris) for Algeria, around 1910.

Naipes Casino

Naipes Casino Estilo Español Spanish suited playing cards manufactured by Justo Rodero

Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya

This is the official Spanish National pattern of the 18th century. Design and production was controlled from Madrid as a source of national or regional revenue. The factory was located in the town of Macharaviaya, in the province of Málaga.

Nintendo Mario Playing Cards

Special cartoon playing cards designed to accompany Nintendo's Mario series of computer games.

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.

Designers

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Country Craftsmen
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Adolfo Matarelli Transformation
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Test Pilot
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Old Fashioned Snap

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The History of 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?


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History of Playing Cards - 1

A cluster of early literary references refer to the game being introduced by 'a Saracen', 'the Moorish Game' etc.

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Fake Blanchard Ace of Spades

Fake Blanchard Ace of Spades with court cards based on Hall

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Pierre Marechal

After the development of printing at the end of the 15th century, Rouen became an important centre for card-making whose influence extended far afield. Cards from Rouen are significant because they became the model from which our English pack subsequently evolved.

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History of Court Cards

The court cards in English packs of playing cards derive from models produced by Pierre Marechal in Rouen around 1565. A pack of such cards is preserved in the museum at Rouen.

More History Articles

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30: The Not-So-Minor Cardmakers of the 19th Century - Gibson, Hunt & Bancks

A preliminary look at the card-makers operating in the 19th century.

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26: Playing Cards: Rarity, Value, Dating, Sellers and eBay

Notions like rarity and monetary value are slippery customers and need careful handling. And there are still plenty of misleading descriptions on eBay - as well as looney prices!

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28: How to Analyze and Differentiate Playing Card Plates (De La Rue, Waddington and the Berlin pattern [französisches Bild])

My interest in postage stamp variants led me to apply the same principles to playing cards.

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66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

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

More From Ken Lodge

Latin America Conosur

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Naipes Habana

"Naipes Habana" Spanish-suited playing cards manufactured by Justo Rodero e Hijos S.R.L., with the date 1960 printed on the control slip.

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Naipes “La Estrella” for BOLS by Igor Domicelj, Bs Aires, c.1954

Naipes “La Estrella” Spanish-suited playing cards made for BOLS gin by Igor Domicelj, Buenos Aires, c.1954

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Gráfica 2001

Gráfica 2001, successors to Naipes Vigor (Naipes ‘La Española’), founded in 1945.

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Naipes Pokerin by Vigor S.A.C. e I., Buenos Aires, c.1975

Naipes Pokerin playing cards manufactured by Vigor S.A.C. e I., Buenos Aires, c.1975

More From Latin America

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Barribal Series

William H. Barribal (1873 - 1956) was a London artist who created the Waddingtons 'Barribal' playing cards series, which are avidly collected today.

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Anonymous Novelty Cards

Miniature novelty playing cards from the late 1940s or early 1950s with a charm of their own. Probably published as small prizes at fairground or seaside amusement arcades.

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Prisoners of War

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

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Bath and the Cotswolds

“Bath and the Cotswolds” souvenir pack of cards published by John McLean of Edinburgh, c.1990.

More From the UK

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Maxpedition

Hard-Use Gear is used by military, police and outdoor professionals around the world whose lives are dependent on reliable and durable tools... ideal for when you're out and about, on top of a mountain, in your tent, away from the computer, back to basics, enjoying time with your friends having a game of cards!

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Nu-Vue for TWA

Nu-Vue playing cards by Brown & Bigelow have novel courts and a special tint which are promoted as “the modern eye-saving concept in playing cards”

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Ian Roth’s Unique playing cards

Ian Roth’s Unique playing cards

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Lawrence & Cohen, New York

Lawrence & Cohen decided to hire Owen Jones, the English playing card designer who produced back designs for De La Rue (London).

More From the USA

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Fournier’s Castilian pattern

Designed by Emilio Soubrier, Ignacio Díaz and Augusto Rius during the 1880s as a new definitive national pattern.

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Naipes El Heraldo, Cádiz

“El Heraldo” brand by Segundo de Olea Aguilera, c.1925

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Spanish Playing Cards

Spain has played a pivotal role in the history of playing cards in Europe and Latin America.

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Mas-Reynals Catalan Pattern

Mas-Reynals standard Catalan pattern comes in several slightly different versions

More From Spain

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Japanese Playing Cards

Japanese playing cards include: 'Awase' or 'matching pairs' cards and Portuguese or Spanish-derived 'Dragon' type cards.

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Ainu culture

A terrific deck of cards made by Nintendo c.1979 with original designs on every card showing the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan.

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Sanyo Ukiyo-E

Ukiyo-E deck by Sanyo Enterprise Co.

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Nintendo Mario Playing Cards

Special cartoon playing cards designed to accompany Nintendo's Mario series of computer games.

More From Japan

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Maya

“Maya” playing cards were designed by Russian artist V. M. Sveshnikov and first published by The Colour Printing Plant, St Petersburg, in 1975.

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Russian Playing Cards

In 1817 the Imperial Playing-Card Factory (Leningrad) was founded and it played a benevolent role by channelling revenues to the Imperial Foundling Hospitals.

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Winter Deck by Ultramarine Designs

Inspired by freezing tribal images of northern winter, this deck is called to show you all its mystic and dangerous beauty.

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Historical playing cards, 1897

Russian “Historical” playing cards with designs by Nikolay Karazin, 1897

More From Russia

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Li River Souvenir

Li River Souvenir Playing Cards from China

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Hong Kong

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

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Mahjongg

Mahjongg

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Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

More From China

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Spicer & Detmold

Spicer & Detmold (1922-48) produced a lot of pictorial back designs. Most decks with picture backs were printed in 4 colours

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MusoDeck Playing Cards for Musicians

MusoDeck Playing Cards for Musicians

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Sands & McDougall

Sands & McDougall, playing card manufacturers, Melbourne, late 1890s-c.1970

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Nine Lives Tarot

Nine Lives Tarot by Annette Abolins, 2013

More From Australia

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.



Art & Design Collecting Themes

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.


More Art & Design Articles



Ephemera Collecting Themes

Whist and Gaming Counters and Markers

History.of Whist and Gaming Counters and Markers from the 18th Century to modern times.

Music Manuscripts

Artwork featuring playing cards in Music Manuscripts

Pope Joan Trays

Some traditional Pope Joan boards comprise a circular tray, others are square, divided into sections labelled Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Intrigue and Matrimony. In the game, the Nine of Diamonds is “Pope Joan”.

Lottery Scratch Playing Card

Move your mouse over the scratch area...

Playing Cards in other cards

Secondary applications of playing cards.

The Odd Trick

The Odd Trick - a bit of Edwardian naughtiness.

More Ephemera Articles


Card Games Collecting Themes

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.


More Games Articles


Humanities & Society Collecting Themes

Carnival Playing Cards, 1925

The Carnival Playing Card deck designed by Harry D. Wallace (1892-1977) and first published in 1925.

Première Guerre Mondiale

“Première Guerre Mondiale 1914-1918” playing cards published by Éditions J.C. Dusserre (Maitres Cartiers Boéchat Frères), Paris

Baraja Mitológica

“Baraja Mitológica” was first published in Madrid in c.1815 by Josef Monjardín from engravings by José Martínez de Castro.

Penang Souvenir

Souvenir of Penang with a different photograph on every card, manufactured by Yong Guan Heng & Co, Penang, Malaysia

Views of Ireland

Selected views of Ireland Souvenir playing cards published by the Irish Tourist Association, 1950s

Shipping

A survey of modern Shipping advertising playing cards by Matt Probert

Discover Romania

Discover Romania souvenir published by Editura Foton, 2010.

Jeu des Quatre Saisons de l’An II

“Jeu des Quatre Saisons de l’An II” facsimile of French Revolution deck originally published by J. B. Debeine (Reims) 1793.

Naipes ‘El Gaucho’ by Cervantes S.A., Montevideo, c.1970s

Naipes ‘El Gaucho’ manufactured and distributed by Cervantes S.A., Montevideo, c.1970s

Naipes Artiguistas, 1816

Naipes Artiguistas published in Concepción del Uruguay, Entre Rios province (Argentina) in 1816, by Fray Solano García.


Military Collecting Themes

Vacuation

“Vacuation” published by Pepys games, based on the evacuation of children to Reception Areas in the countryside during WW2, c.1939-40.

Historic Ships

“Historic Ships” quartet game from Czechoslovakia illustrated by Jaromír Vraštil

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134 printed by Brepols for Germany, c.1940s.

Prisoners of War

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

26th Yankee Division

“26th Yankee Division Playing Cards” was designed by Alban B. Butler, Jr and printed by the Press of the Woolly Whale, New York, in 1933.

Navy No.303

The second edition of 1883 has slightly larger indices and a more simplified Ace of Spades showing two sailing ships.

Corsaires et Flibustiers

“Corsaires et Flibustiers” playing cards created by G. Delluc and published by Éditions Philibert, Paris, 1958

Atouts de la Vie

“Atouts de la Vie” wartime card game created by Madame Lucien Willemetz, c.1940.

More Military Articles


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


Tarocchino Lombardo

“Tarocchino Lombardo” c.1835, a limited facsimile edition of 2500 by Edizione del Solleone, Italy, 1981.

Il Destino Svelato Dal Tarocco

The Cagliostro Tarot was first published in 1912 as “Il Destino Svelato Dal Tarocco”.

Alison McDonald

Artwork for The Watersprite Tarot© designed and painted by Alison McDonald.

Italian tarot cards, Lamperti (Milan) c.1850

Italian tarot cards, Lamperti (Milan) c.1850

Fortune Telling

Fortune Telling cards by Whitman Publishing Co., 1940.

Playtex

Playtex - le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971.

Baraja Cartomántica Chocolates Nelia

Some examples of playing cards made in Catalonia from the collection of Iris Mundus, Barcelona.

Naipes Tu Destino Cartomancy Cards

“Naipes Tu Destino” Cartomancy Cards from Peru will ease any stress in your interpersonal relationships c.1975

More Fortune Telling Articles


Sports Collecting Themes

Skid-o

Skid-o motorcycle card game by Pepys, 1951.

Barajitas Futbolísticas Golazo, 1973

Figuritas Golazo collectible football cards from Argentina, 1973

Olympics 2012

Each card features a representation of a different sport at the London 2012 Olympic or Paralympic games.

Goal!

Goal! (1st edition) published by Pepys games, 1960.

D’Ye Ken John Peel

“D’Ye Ken John Peel” by Greta Games, Carlisle, c.1920.

Boxing Greats

Boxing Greats published by KickarseCards, a compilation of boxing icons in history.

Spielkarte für Schützen

“Spielkarte für Schützen” deck designed by Karl Heinz Lanz, published by Rudolf Bechtold and Co., c.1966

Kikit

Kikit is an indoor football game made by De la Rue, c.1920.

More Sports Articles


Transformation Collecting Themes

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.


Palladin

Palladin Parlour & Playing Cards by Laura Sutherland, published by Palladin Paperworks, Santa Cruz CA., 1983.

EPCS Transformation

The English Playing Card Society's 10th Anniversary Transformation Playing Cards designed and produced by Karl Gerich, 1993.

Thackeray Transformation Cards, 1876

Transformation playing cards by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1876.

Charles Hodges

Charles Hodges produced engraved geographical and astronomical decks, London, c.1827-30

Mermaid Queen

Mermaid Queen playing cards, from a series of four decks designed by John Littleboy, 2008

Vincenz Raimund Grüner 1809

Transformation cards designed and engraved by Vincenz Raimund Grüner, Vienna, 1809

Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear playing cards designed by Peter Wood for Lyons Quickbrew Tea

Curator

The Curator Deck with designs by Emmanuel José with suit symbols cleverly transformed into artistic designs.

More Transformation Articles


Transport Collecting Themes

Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland Maritime Deck

Dutch Maritime pack designed by J.Verhoeven and printed by Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland c1938

Nederlandse Speelkaarten Fabriek

Shipping line playing cards produced by Nederlandse Speelkaarten Fabriek, c.1910 offering a virtual tour of destinations to the Far East

Geschichte des Motorrades

History of Motorcycles quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck, 1989.

Caledonian Airways “European Phrases”

“European Phrase” playing cards produced for Caledonian Airways, 1994.

Speed 2nd edition

The second edition of Speed by Pepys Games was published in c.1945.

Trans-siberian Express

‘Trans-Siberian Express’ playing cards designed by Veronika Nicolaeva, Az-Art Publishing House, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2015

N.A.S.A. Aircraft

Lessons of a Widowmaker and Other NASA Aircraft, c.2010.

Temple Press War Planes

“War Planes” playing cards for aircraft recognition published by Temple Press Limited, c.1940.

More Transport Articles