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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

150 Years of Czechoslovakian Railways

Czech trains and railwayana from 1839 to 1989, made by Obchodní Tiskárny, Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Editors' Picks

German hunting pack by Theodor Wegener
by Roddy Somerville

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

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

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

Cadiz-Catalan style pack
by Roddy Somerville

High-quality standard designs by Sebastián Comas y Ricart, Barcelona, Spain, 1896.


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?


Provence Pattern

Provence Pattern

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

1644 Rois de France

Rois de France

Cartes des Rois de France (1644) facsimile edition by Edizioni del Solleone, 1986.

1682 Geographical Playing Cards, c.1682

Geographical Playing Cards, c.1682

Geographical playing cards sold by Henry Brome, second edition, c.1682.


From Contributors

22: Belgian Makers: Van Genechten

22: Belgian Makers: Van Genechten

by Ken Lodge

Van Genechten started making playing cards in c.1840 and continued until the founding of Carta Mundi in 1970.

Past-L-Eze Playing Cards

Past-L-Eze Playing Cards

by Barney Townshend

On “Past-L-Eze” playing cards Kings, Queens and Jacks are no longer stodgy and conventional but pleasingly reflect suspicion, flirtation and worry.

1941 Submarine Cards

Submarine Cards

by Barney Townshend

Lighting in submarines involved wearing red goggles to preserve night vision for viewing instrument panels. The goggles solved one problem but created another: the red suits on playing cards were not visible through the red goggles.

American Bank Note Company

American Bank Note Company

by Rod Starling

The American Bank Note Company was a long-established firm producing national currency, finely engraved stock certificates and other security printing, including postage stamps. They also entered the playing card market c.1908-1914.

44: Australia

44: Australia

by Ken Lodge

Two early makers, Thomas and Sands & McDougall, used courts copied from those of the New York Consolidated Card Co.


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.

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.

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.


2010 Playboy Fragrances, 2010

Playboy Fragrances, 2010

In 2010 Playboy Fragrances (Coty) released a 'gaming' set promotion comprising two decks of identical cards, one set of five dice and poker chips.

1900 Chocolat du Planteur

Chocolat du Planteur

Chocolat du Planteur cards (reproduction) by French artist Louis Bourgeois-Borgex, c.1900.


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.


2000 San Playing Cards

San Playing Cards

Rock paintings and engravings of the San people, better known as the “Bushmen”.

2013 Punch Studio: ‘Geisha Girls’

Punch Studio: ‘Geisha Girls’

‘Geisha Girls’ playing cards published by Punch Studio, Culver City, CA., 2013

1920 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.


1866 Snap

Snap

Snap, the Old Original Game, has captured the imaginations of children for over a century!

1970 Casais Portugueses

Casais Portugueses

Matching game by Majora, Lisbon, c.1970, featuring figures in national dress from Portuguese provinces and colonies

Die Vogel-Welt No. 351

Die Vogel-Welt No. 351

Dondorf’s “Die Vogel-Welt” No. 351 quartet game, c.1905

El Negrito Pedro, c.1950s

El Negrito Pedro, c.1950s

El Negrito Pedro, children’s card game, Buenos Aires, Argentina, c.1950s.


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


1868 Le Destin Antique

Le Destin Antique

Le Jeu du Destin Antique, originally published by Grimaud in XIX c., republished many times since...

Austrian Cartomancy Cards

Austrian Cartomancy Cards

During the 19th century a system of fortune telling arose in Europe using unnumbered, pictorial cards depicting popular imagery with subtitles in several languages.

Tarot of Musterberg

Tarot of Musterberg

Designed by Cesare Asaro to simulate decks from the 1700s or earlier, the Tarot of Musterberg is based on the traditional Tarot de Marseille but with an imaginary historical background.

Recent Changes

Piñón Fijo
Piñón Fijo

“Piñón Fijo” is an Argentine clown, whose real name is Fabián Gómez. He is well-known on Argentine children's television.

Waddingtons Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhyme playing cards by Waddingtons, Leeds, UK, 1975.

68: Playing cards in glass
68: Playing cards in glass

My wife and I have recently commissioned a unique pair of stained glass windows for our home.

Islenzk Spil

This historical Icelandic deck was first published in c.1930 and shows the native Icelandic Vikings of some thousand years ago rendered in a romantic naturalistic style.

No.6 Austrian

This early Gerich work is an adaptation of the English pattern with continental stylisation. The double-ended designs are slightly different at each end and divided by a gold band.

National Misfitz

National Misfitz published by C.W. Faulkner & Co c.1900.

Jack Horner Snap

“Little Jack Horner” Snap made by Thomas De la Rue & Co Ltd, c.1890.

De La Rue

De La Rue introduced letter-press printing into playing card production and his patent was granted in 1831. He produced his first playing cards in 1832.