The World of Playing Cards Logo

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

Astronaut

Astronaut card game published by Pepys Series (Castell Bros) celebrating the arrival of space travel, 1960s

Editors' Picks

H. F. Müller
H. F. Müller

Transformation playing cards by H. F. Müller, Vienna, 1809

Fournier “El Fundador”
Fournier “El Fundador”

The cards shown here were originally printed in 12-colour lithography and published by Heraclio Fournier in 1889.

Indian Ganjifa
Indian Ganjifa

‘Ganjifa’ playing cards made in Sheopor in the North of Madhya Pradesh province in Central India. The Ganjifa game probably developed from 13th centur...

Hundertjahrkarte
Hundertjahrkarte

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

Artists & Designers

Einhorn
Einhorn
Stairs of Gold Tarot
Stairs of Gold Tarot
Bjørn Wiinblad
Bjørn Wiinblad
Domino Cinematográfico
Domino Cinematográfico
Zole
Zole

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?


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.

Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya

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.

Trevisane pattern

Trevisane pattern

The double-ended version of the ‘Trevisane’ pattern originated in the early 19th century.


48: Ferdinand Piatnik & Sons

48: Ferdinand Piatnik & Sons

Ferd. Piatnik produced a very large range of cards with many different standard and non-standard patterns. This is a survey of his standard English output.

HOLIDAY COTTAGE FOR RENT

HOLIDAY COTTAGE FOR RENT

My wife and I have recently started to offer a holiday cottage for rent.

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.


United Kingdom

GoFishFriday

GoFishFriday

GoFishFriday is a unique deck of playing cards designed and created in an offbeat and quirky horror-punk style by Catch Phrase Dan

Golden Egg

Golden Egg

Chad Valley “Golden Egg” card game.

United States of America

De Luxe No.142

De Luxe No.142

A wide size version of De Luxe No.142 had been published in c.1920, with a similar Ace of Spades and Joker, but which was never very popular.

USPCC

USPCC

Over the years the pressures of competition and other market forces have led to many smaller manufacturers being taken over by larger ones. The outcome is that the U.S.P.C.C. is now the largest manufacturer in the United States.


Spain

Juan Roura, Cadiz pattern

Juan Roura, Cadiz pattern

Cádiz type playing cards made by Juan Roura for export to Spanish-speaking countries.

Spanish Playing Cards

Spanish Playing Cards

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

Latin America Conosur

Hungarian Seasons playing cards by G. Berger, Buenos Aires

Hungarian Seasons playing cards by G. Berger, Buenos Aires

Hungarian 'Seasons' playing cards made by G. Berger, Alsina 373, Buenos Aires c.1940

Naipes del Salitre

Naipes del Salitre

Playing cards recovered from the Northern Chile saltpetre workers. The cards are mostly from Spanish 'Cadiz' pattern decks, and several manufacturers can be identified.


Japan

Unsun Karuta

Unsun Karuta

Unsun Karuta うんすんかるた Japan c.1780.

One Piece Hana Fuda

One Piece Hana Fuda

One Piece Hanafuda King card set published by Beverly Enterprises Inc, Tokyo, 2010

China

57: China 3

57: China 3

A third and final look at some Chinese cards.

3: 20th/21st Century Variants including some from China

3: 20th/21st Century Variants including some from China

I expect most collectors ignore cards made in China for export. It's true that many of them are close copies of American models, but there are also some interesting, even peculiar, redrawings of the standard English pattern.


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.


Gas Warm Homes

Gas Warm Homes

Gas Warm Homes Happy Families game published by British Gas, c.1980.

Cow & Gate Happy Family Game

Cow & Gate Happy Family Game

Cow and Gate Happy Family game was issued around 1928 to promote nutrition products.

Porterprint Ltd

Porterprint Ltd

Porterprint was a printing business based in Leeds (UK) which manufactured playing cards during the period c.1930-1980.

Dengue

Dengue

Dengue prevention playing cards. Juego de 40 Naipes. Material para la prevención del Dengue, Ministerio de Salud de la Nación (Argentina).


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.


Baraja Gallega

Baraja Gallega

Baraja Gallega designed by cartoonists and caricaturists Pinto Chinto (David Pintor & Carlos López) in 2002.

About Peter Wood

About Peter Wood

PETER WOOD is a UK based artist.

Tarot de l’An 2000

Tarot de l’An 2000

“Tarot de l’An 2000” designed by Pino Zac, 1981, satirising 20th century life.


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.


Jigstar

Jigstar

Jigstar film star card game by Murphy Games Ltd, 1936.

Woody Woodpecker

Woody Woodpecker

Woody Woodpecker card game by Pepys, 1975.

Happy Families of the World

Happy Families of the World

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

Neerlands Glorie

Neerlands Glorie

Neerlands Glorie Kwartetspel published by Hausemann & Hötte N.V, Amsterdam, 1945.


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


Housewives Tarot

Housewives Tarot

The ‘Housewives Tarot’ designed by Paul Kepple & Jude Buffum, published by Quirk Books, 2004.

Playing Card Oracles - Alchemy Edition

Playing Card Oracles - Alchemy Edition

Playing Card Oracles - Alchemy Edition - by Charles J. Freeman and Ana Cortez

The Fortune Teller's Deck

The Fortune Teller's Deck

The Fortune Teller’s Deck was published in 1995 in conjunction with a book written by Jane Lyle. The deck was designed by Neil Breeden and the court cards incorporate traditional symbolism.

Kart do Tarota

Kart do Tarota

78-card Polish tarot pack designed by Edyta Gdek.


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.


Kitten Club

Kitten Club

From Empresses to King Cats and One-Eyed Jacks, every game is a pageant of unforgettable cats, each with a story to tell...

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair No.41 Playing Cards by the United States Playing Card Co, 1895. All the number cards have been imaginatively transformed.

Thackeray Transformation Cards, 1876

Thackeray Transformation Cards, 1876

Transformation playing cards by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1876.


Magic & Conjuring Collecting Themes

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.

Legends Playing Cards

Legends Playing Cards

Legends Playing Card Company aspires to print the highest quality playing cards and packaging in the world

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

Astronaut
Astronaut

Astronaut card game published by Pepys Series (Castell Bros) celebrating the arrival of space travel, 1960s

Electrical Mah Jong
Electrical Mah Jong

Electrical Mah Jong was produced by De La Rue for The Western Electric Company Ltd in 1924 for the Wembley Exhibition.

Radio Banker
Radio Banker

Radio Banker by John Waddington Ltd for Marconiphone Co Ltd.

Globalstar
Globalstar

Naipes Globalstar TE.SA.M. Telefonía Satelital playing cards, manufactured by Gráfica 2001.

Mercury One-2-One Situations
Mercury One-2-One Situations

Mercury ‘One-2-One Situations’ playing cards published by Mercury Communications.

Secondary Uses
Secondary Uses

The unprinted backs of playing cards have led people to use them for secondary purposes such as memorandum slips, bibliographic index cards, for declarations of love, rendezvous notes, emergency money, visiting cards and so on.

Perspectives on Tarot
Perspectives on Tarot

Tarot, originally a 15th century card game, has evolved into a form of personal mysticism and spirituality.

Egyptian Tarot
Egyptian Tarot

Egyptian Tarot published by Naipes La Banca, Buenos Aires, c.1980.