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Sherlock Holmes Box Welcome to the World of Playing Cards, where we delve into the rich 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.

Playing cards combine many aspects of our history including paper-making, printing technologies, innovation, symbolism, graphic design and how these have changed over the years. Whatever your interest in cards, you'll find something interesting here.

Lend Me Five Shillings

or “Her Majesty’s Privy Purse” - a merry round-the-table game published by D. Ogilvy.

Laughing Made Easy
Laughing Made Easy

a Victorian card game published by D. Ogilvy.

Simon Wintle • 11 April 2024, 23:00

Eves Playing Cards
Eves Playing Cards

A pack of cards with colour photos of Indian film stars from the era

Paul Symons • 09 April 2024, 16:07

Poker Lusso
Poker Lusso

Richly costumed courts on a luxury poker pack from Masenghini.

Roddy Somerville • 09 April 2024, 10:25

Music playing cards
Music playing cards

Portraits of 13 classical music composers.

Roddy Somerville • 08 April 2024, 10:03

Classic Card Games for Kids
Classic Card Games for Kids

A boxed set of playing cards, Happy Families and an alphabet pack with rules for 22 games.

Roddy Somerville • 08 April 2024, 10:00

L Day
L Day

Antique cards forming a composite pack by L.Day, Kingdom of Ireland, 1780.

Simon Wintle • 07 April 2024, 20:50

Les plaques émaillées d’Antoine Vollon
Les plaques émaillées d’Antoine Vollon

54 different enamel plaques depicting silk manufacture, by the Lyon artist Antoine Vollon.

Roddy Somerville • 07 April 2024, 11:49

Asha Industries’ Castilian pattern
Asha Industries’ Castilian pattern

Colourful Spanish (Castilian) pattern cards made by Asha Industries in India for Mexico.

Roddy Somerville • 07 April 2024, 08:49

Le Roi bridge
Le Roi bridge

Reprint of a Piatnik (Budapest) pack of 1927 with Hungarian historical figures and scenic aces.

Roddy Somerville • 06 April 2024, 21:09

Manara: baraja de poker
Manara: baraja de poker

Exotic illustrations by Italian comic book artist and writer Milo Manara.

Peter Burnett • 06 April 2024, 12:31

Club Soft Drinks
Club Soft Drinks

Promotional pack for Club soft drinks with amusing illustrations of different kinds of ‘club’.

Roddy Somerville • 06 April 2024, 11:41

Mit Rhino auftrumpfen
Mit Rhino auftrumpfen

Black rhinos on a publicity pack for Armstrong, a flooring company, with comic designs by Pit Flick.

Roddy Somerville • 05 April 2024, 18:46

Fratelli Armanino
Fratelli Armanino

I have a pack of

Michaela Harris 05 April 2024, 16:12 • 0 Comments

Early Chad Valley Snap, Linda Edgerton
Early Chad Valley Snap, Linda Edgerton

I'm sorting out my box of memories and found an old game of snap which I...

David Phillips 05 April 2024, 15:54 • 2 Comments

Valhalla spillekort
Valhalla spillekort

Characters from the Valhalla comics, designed by Peter Madsen, as commemorated on a Danish stamp.

Roddy Somerville • 05 April 2024, 11:05

So-Lah – A Game of Music
So-Lah – A Game of Music

An early 20th century domino-type musical card game by Goodall.

Roddy Somerville • 04 April 2024, 20:28

High School Musical 3: Senior Year
High School Musical 3: Senior Year

American teen film depicting students staging their last spring musical.

Peter Burnett • 04 April 2024, 19:31

Marmite
Marmite

Fifty-Four images celebrating a UK savoury spread, that has been around one hundred and twenty two years! It's about time!

Ian Taylor • 04 April 2024, 04:27

Word Making and Word Taking
Word Making and Word Taking

How crossword and spelling games became popular.

Tony Hall • 03 April 2024, 21:09

Pinocchio playing cards
Pinocchio playing cards

Comic book drawings inspired by Carlo Collodi’s children’s classic, Pinocchio.

Roddy Somerville • 03 April 2024, 13:36

Le Ore playing cards
Le Ore playing cards

Caricatures of famous personalities from the late 1970s for the Italian magazine Le Ore.

Roddy Somerville • 02 April 2024, 18:07

Jeux de cartes To Tom
Jeux de cartes To Tom

Bonjour Je possède un jeux de cart...

Plourin 02 April 2024, 17:14 • 1 Comments

G&G Armament playing cards
G&G Armament playing cards

G&G Armament Airsoft replica gun playing cards from Taiwan.

Peter Burnett • 02 April 2024, 13:43

Carte Romantiche Italiane
Carte Romantiche Italiane

Scenes of life and the theatre in Milan towards the second half of the 19th century.

Peter Burnett • 01 April 2024, 19:14

Walt Disney Cards II
Walt Disney Cards II

Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and other familiar Disney characters.

Roddy Somerville • 01 April 2024, 13:06

Postabank 3
Postabank 3

Caricatures of German personalities on a promotional pack for a Hungarian commercial bank.

Roddy Somerville • 31 March 2024, 20:11

Managing cards without corner indices
Managing cards without corner indices

For many hundreds of years cards had no corner indices, were square cut and mostly made from card without the smooth, slippery surfaces we enjoy today.

Tony Hall • 30 March 2024, 13:44

Guanlangaoshou / Slam Dunk playing cards
Guanlangaoshou / Slam Dunk playing cards

Basketball-themed manga animated playing cards from Japan.

Peter Burnett • 30 March 2024, 11:57

Whatever you’re up to, stay safe
Whatever you’re up to, stay safe

Safety advice playing cards by New Zealand Police and the Wellington City Council.

Peter Burnett • 30 March 2024, 10:45

Postabank 1
Postabank 1

Caricatures of Hungarian politicians on a promotional pack for a commercial bank.

Roddy Somerville • 29 March 2024, 13:22

Le Jeu des Musiciens
Le Jeu des Musiciens

Artist Silvia Maddonni’s gently humorous take on musicians and their instruments.

Roddy Somerville • 29 March 2024, 11:45

New bond playing cards
New bond playing cards

I have a pack of new bond playing cards with a fabric finish still inner...

Steve J Hall 29 March 2024, 02:15 • 1 Comments

Mechanical Decks – Part 2
Mechanical Decks – Part 2

This article examines the Rough and Smooth principle in mechanical decks used in magic, detailing several types such as the Invisible, Brainwave, Split, and Nudist Decks. It explores their history and...

Roy J Hopwood • 29 March 2024, 02:02

Film Noir
Film Noir

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating hard boiled heroes, wise-cracking women, mean streets, guns and gumshoes!

Ian Taylor • 29 March 2024, 01:43

Science Fiction
Science Fiction

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating a time when Science Fiction truly was, Science Fiction.

Ian Taylor • 29 March 2024, 01:43

Absolut Deck
Absolut Deck

Promotional deck published for Absolut Vodka in Sweden.

Peter Burnett • 28 March 2024, 20:34

Lo Stampatore
Lo Stampatore

‘Lo Stampatore’ linocut images created by Sergio Favret, published as a deck of cards by Editions Solleone / Vito Arienti in 1977.

Peter Burnett • 28 March 2024, 12:15

Les Saints Guérisseurs et Protecteurs
Les Saints Guérisseurs et Protecteurs

Healing and patron saints portrayed in paintings, manuscripts, altarpieces and statuary.

Roddy Somerville • 28 March 2024, 09:31

Bernard Dondorf
Bernard Dondorf

For an assignment I have to make a...

Jelte Jacops 28 March 2024, 07:25 • 0 Comments

Eroticartes
Eroticartes

I have a full set of the 1983 Fren...

Maria 28 March 2024, 07:08 • 0 Comments

Scenic Views of Australia
Scenic Views of Australia

54 different scenic views of Australia in full colour.

Roddy Somerville • 27 March 2024, 14:39

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland collector’s edition with illustrations of characters from the film, published by Fournier, Spain, 2010.

Peter Burnett • 27 March 2024, 12:13

Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville
Ulysses a Vau-de-Ville

the James Joyce cards with drawings by Rosita Fanto.

Peter Burnett • 26 March 2024, 22:18

Kuzco, l’empereur mégalo
Kuzco, l’empereur mégalo

Notched cards featuring toys representing characters from the Disney film Kuzco, as offered by McDonald’s.

Roddy Somerville • 26 March 2024, 12:08

The Beatles playing cards
The Beatles playing cards

Two packs featuring photos of The Beatles issued by the same publisher in 2004 and 2005.

Roddy Somerville • 24 March 2024, 20:24

Nepali children
Nepali children

Photographs of Nepali children offering glimpses of joy, hope and the beauty of life.

Peter Burnett • 24 March 2024, 16:57

Women by Royo
Women by Royo

‘Women by Royo’ erotic playing cards published by Heraclio Fournier, Spain, 2001.

Peter Burnett • 24 March 2024, 11:21

Costume Playing Cards
Costume Playing Cards

Four centuries of costumes from the Costume Court at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Roddy Somerville • 23 March 2024, 14:15

Hilti I
Hilti I

Promotional pack for Hilti power tools, with courts in medieval costume and non-standard pips.

Roddy Somerville • 23 March 2024, 12:49



Deutsche Dampflokomotiven

German steam locomotives from the period 1892 to 1950.

Naipe Centenario

Latin American designs by Productora de Naipes y Confetti (Pronaco), S.A., Mexico, c1980.

Promo-Québec

Fun designs by Normand Hudon promoting the Canadian province of Quebec.

Miniature Theatre playing cards

Miniature playing cards, possibly for children, with a romantic theatrical theme. C.L. Wüst c.1890. ...

Vues et Caractères Suisses No.228

A Swiss souvenir pack by Dondorf

Art Nouveau Whist playing cards from a small Dutch factory

The factory probably only produced playing cards for a few years in the 1920's

Rembrandt playing cards

Rembrandt playing cards

Rembrandt playing cards published by the Rembrandthuis (The Rembrandt House Museum) in Amsterdam. ...

Centenario Nascita Benito Mussolini

Playing cards to commemorate the centenary of Benito Mussolini's birth, Italy, c.1983.

Calcio Storico Fiorentino

‘Calcio Storico Fiorentino’ by Costante Costantini is based on an early form of football that origi...

34: Design Copies

34: Design Copies

Some copies of the designs of Goodall and the New York Consolidated Card Co.

The making of a Bridge or Bézique marker

The making of a Bridge or Bézique marker

This post-mortem was carried out on a Bezique marker which was already falling apart.

Piquet: the game and its artifacts

Piquet: the game and its artifacts

Piquet may be the oldest card game which is still played today with origins going back to early 16th...

Cribbage Board Collection part 4

Cribbage Board Collection part 4

A collection of antique and vintage Cribbage Boards by Tony Hall, part 4.

Karl Gerich No.22: “Rouennais”

Karl Gerich’s hand-made design No.22: “Rouennais”, Victoria P.C.C, Bath (UK), 1990.

Mittelalter No.150

These designs imitating late medieval costumes were published by B. Dondorf in Germany in various ed...

Japanesque

Goodall’s “Japanesque” brand was used for stationery products since around 1880 but these playing ca...

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Forest Echoes

Chad Valley’s “Forest Echoes Zoological Snap” from before the First World War depicts superb illustr...

Ups & Downs

Ups and Downs humorous card game published in UK by A. N. Myers, c.1885.

Morgan-Greer Tarot

Based on the knowledge, wisdom and interpretation of Paul Foster Case and Arthur Edward Waite.

New Palladini Tarot

“The New Palladini Tarot” by David Palladini published by U.S. Games Inc., in 1996.

The Aquarian Tarot Deck

The Aquarian Tarot Deck illustrated by David Palladini, published by Morgan Press, Inc., 1970.

The Tarot Strikes Back

Roy Huteson Stewart's The Tarot Strikes Back combines Star Wars with Rider-Waite tarot imagery.

House of Tudor

Randy Butterfield's House of Tudor playing cards feature detailed art in a high-quality collectible ...

Jack-O’-Lantern Tarot

Giuliano Costa's Jack-O’-Lantern tarot blends Rider-Waite symbolism with the rich and atmospheric th...

Lend Me Five Shillings

or “Her Majesty’s Privy Purse” - a merry round-the-table game published by D. Ogilvy.

Laughing Made Easy

a Victorian card game published by D. Ogilvy.

L Day

Antique cards forming a composite pack by L.Day, Kingdom of Ireland, 1780.

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?


1460 Hofamterspiel, c.1460

Hofamterspiel, c.1460

Hofamterspiel, c.1460

1450 Early German playing cards

Early German playing cards

Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.

1800 Joseph Losch

Joseph Losch

French-suited pack with full-length courts by Joseph Losch, c.1800.

2014 Origins Playing Cards

Origins Playing Cards

Rick Davidson's “Origins” playing cards is an inspired, present-day re-design of the standard Anglo-...


Art & Design

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.


1967 Jungle Book

Jungle Book

Jungle Book by Pepys games, inspired by Walt Disney, 1967

2005 Vintage skyscraper playing cards

Vintage skyscraper playing cards

Vintage skyscraper playing cards published by Inkstone Design, Inc., 2005.

1999 Deportistas Guipuzcoanos

Deportistas Guipuzcoanos

Guipuzcoa’s best athletes of the twentieth century, playing cards sponsored by El Diario Vasco and E...

1993 Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art playing cards designed by Takenobu Igarashi.


Oracle, Divination & Tarot

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


Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

After the first edition of the Rider-Waite tarot in 1909 four further editions were published till a...

EPCS February 2003 Newsletter

Waddington Catalogue • Poets at the Card Table • Hindooy • White Witchcraft • New Transformation Car...

1975 Baraja Nefertiti

Baraja Nefertiti

Mexican fortune-telling pack with black and white designs by Thania Nicolopulus.

1460 The Visconti-Sforza Tarot, c.1460

The Visconti-Sforza Tarot, c.1460

This pack of tarot cards appears to have have been made in the Bembo workshop in Cremona for Bianca ...


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.


2016 Cartes Illustrées

Cartes Illustrées

Standard French designs adapted for children. Made by France Cartes for La Grande Récré, c.2016.

1980 My Word

My Word

My Word “The last word in card games” designed by Michael Kindred and Malcolm Smith, published in 19...

1968 Snip Snap

Snip Snap

Decimal Snap created by Eric Wagstaff, published by Michael Stanfield Holdings, London 1968.

Malaya 1941-1942: King George VI currency notes

Malaya 1941-1942: King George VI currency notes

Playing cards featuring King George VI Currency Notes, Malaya 1941-1942.

The Big Picture

Playing cards have a universal appeal and are a reflection of human culture.

Simon & Adam Wintle

Above: Chinese money-suited cards. Some of the earliest cards have origins in the Far East.

Playing cards are a part of almost every culture and society around the world. These small, rectangular pieces of paper have been a source of entertainment for generations and are still enjoyed by people of all ages today. Whether it’s a simple game of solitaire, a high-stakes game of poker, or a magic trick that delights, there’s something about playing cards that captures the imagination and inspires creativity. As Delef Hoffmann once said “whether we consider cards as mere merchandise or as the bond which unites people with one another, just think of what we would be if we had no cards! How boring and unsociable our lives would be without this invention!

Joker by Simon Wintle

Above: Dasavatara Ganjifa from India. Playing cards from India are often circular.

The origin of cards can be traced back to China, where they were first used as early as the 9th century. From there, the cards travelled across Asia and the Middle East, and finally found their way to Europe in the 14th century.

Since then, playing cards have been used for a wide range of purposes, including fortune-telling and even propaganda. But the most significant impact they have had on humanity is through their use in games, which have brought people together for centuries.

Above left: a set of Spanish playing cards from 1638 was discovered inside a prison wall during demolition, likely used for gambling by prisoners. Above center: Trump Presidential playing cards, playing cards are often used for political messages. Above right: the Magician from the popualr Rider-Waite tarot, which has become the template for modern tarot decks.

Above left: a set of Spanish playing cards from 1638 was discovered inside a prison wall during demolition, likely used for gambling by prisoners. Above center: Trump Presidential playing cards, playing cards are often used for political messages. Above right: the Magician from the popualr Rider-Waite tarot, which has become the template for modern tarot decks.

While playing cards have brought people together for fun and play, they have also been a source of disruption in the form of gambling. For many, gambling has become an addiction, leading to financial ruin and even anti-social problems.

The artistic value of cards cannot be overlooked, with their intricate details and unique designs of each card reflecting the creativity and ingenuity of artists. Playing cards are a reflection of our society, with each country and region having its unique designs and styles. As Sylvia Mann put it “there are fashions in cards, and these fashions very often reflect the history of the times”. From the bold and colourful designs of India to the intricate and detailed patterns of Russia, playing cards are a testament to the creativity and diversity of the human experience.

Simon & Adam Wintle

Above left: Kashmir Playing Cards, above center: Ethiopian Air Lines playing cards produced by Nintendo, above right: striking playing cards designed by Masuo Ikeda.

Playing cards have a wide embrace, spanning across cultures and countries, with a scope of diverse subjects that reflect the values and beliefs of their respective societies.

Playing cards are an enduring symbol of human connection and creativity, transcending language, borders and cultures. Through the power of games, they have brought people together for centuries, creating shared experiences that have fostered friendships, learning and social bonds. While their role in gambling has been disruptive, their stunning artistic designs elevate them to works of art, worthy of appreciation and admiration. Playing cards are a testament to the power of human creativity and a reflection of the rich cultural tapestry of our world.

References

  • The Playing Card, Delef Hoffmann, 1972
  • Collecting Playing Cards, Sylvia Mann, 1966

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About the World of Playing Cards

Our aim is to increase awareness and appreciation of the cultural and historical significance of playing cards.

The World of Playing Cards was established in 1996 as a place where you can learn about playing cards, their history, design and manufacture, and see cards from around the world.

Simon & Adam Wintle

Simon Wintle (right) with Adam Wintle (left) visiting Ayutthaya in Thailand, 2016.

They reflect the traditions of many countries. They vary widely in size, style, shape, artistry, usage and many other purposes in education, marketing or even for fortune telling. There is a fascination in playing card design: the neat symmetries and quirky symbols. The composition of the pack - court cards, suits, pips - provides endless scope of play.

Joker by Simon Wintle

They are recognised everywhere around the world - we rarely question their origins.

Since their invention, cards have lost none of their popularity. Playing cards have a long history and it's in the art that the richness of playing cards is to be discovered.

Simon & Adam

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