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

National Geographic Nature

National Geographic Nature playing cards, 2006.

Editors' Picks

Korchma Taras Bulba
Korchma Taras Bulba

The first of two decks designed by Ukrainian illustrator Vladislav Erko for “Korchma Taras Bulba” restaurant which serves traditional Ukrainian cuisin...

De La Rue
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 183...

Sands & McDougall Aces & Jokers
Sands & McDougall Aces & Jokers

Sands & McDougall produced many beautiful Spade Aces and Jokers.

J. Glanz Historical playing cards
J. Glanz Historical playing cards

Historical Theatrical playing cards manufactured by J. Glanz, c.1865

Artists & Designers

Baraja Gallega
Baraja Gallega
Siriol Clarry
Siriol Clarry
Stairs of Gold Tarot
Stairs of Gold Tarot
Tops and Tails
Tops and Tails
Hindooly
Hindooly
Patriotic Misfitz
Patriotic Misfitz
Märchen-Quartett
Märchen-Quartett
Steampunk playing cards
Steampunk playing cards

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?


Prisoners of War

Prisoners of War

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

64: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 2

64: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 2

A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.

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.


67: Adverts and related material after 1900

67: Adverts and related material after 1900

The final page of material relating to playing cards from British periodicals.

20: English Card-Makers 1761-1905

20: English Card-Makers 1761-1905

An initial survey of 19th century playing-card production. More detailed information appears on other pages.

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

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.

53: Some recent acquisitions

53: Some recent acquisitions

The following items are a selection of what has come my way over the past two to three years.


United Kingdom

De Reszke Cigarettes “What the Stars Say”

De Reszke Cigarettes “What the Stars Say”

De Reszke Cigarettes “What the Stars Say” astrology cards issued by J. Milhoff & Co., 1934.

Bancks Brothers

Bancks Brothers

The 'Old Frizzle' Ace of Spades shows the duty paid as one shilling, and the manufacturer's name is engraved at the bottom of the ace.

United States of America

RCI Playing Cards

RCI Playing Cards

RCI Playing Cards, a 20th century playing-card maker of Minneapolis, 1969-1985.

Steamboat No.999

Steamboat No.999

Owing to the romantic appeal of gambling on the Mississippi river many manufacturers added “Steamboats” to their range, differentiated by a number, such as 999.


Spain

Pedro Varangot, 1786

Pedro Varangot, 1786

Archaic Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly by Pedro Varangot in 1786.

Phelippe Ayet, c.1574

Phelippe Ayet, c.1574

Archaic, late medieval Spanish-suited playing cards printed by Phelippe Ayet, c.1574.

Latin America Conosur

Editorial Gráfica Flores, c.1970-90

Editorial Gráfica Flores, c.1970-90

Editorial Gráfica Flores S.A. were manufacturers of playing cards and card games around c.1970-90.

La Española Classic

La Española Classic

‘La Española Classic’ is a traditional ‘La Española’ Spanish-suited pack and is produced in several sizes (standard, round, small and pocket).


Japan

DRRR!!

DRRR!!

DRRR!!, short for Durarara!!, is an anime adaptation of a Japanese light novel written by Ryohgo Narita.

Roaring Twenties

Roaring Twenties

Roaring Twenties playing cards by Angel Playing Cards Co Ltd, Japan. 1980.

China

Toyo playing cards No.88 for Peru

Toyo playing cards No.88 for Peru

Toyo playing cards No.88 manufactured in China for the “Estanco de Naipes del Perú”, 1950s.

Playing Cards in Singapore

Playing Cards in Singapore

Playing Cards in Singapore, one of the Four Asian Tigers.


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.


Lion Brand No.1492 : Jet Fuel

Lion Brand No.1492 : Jet Fuel

Advertising deck for "Jet" fuels, and "Lion Brand" No.1429 manufactured in Belgium by Biermans, 1960s.

Permalon Ltd

Permalon Ltd

Miniature playing cards advertising "Perma" smoking-related products featuring the "Perma Girl" on the backs and Joker.

Advertising & publicity playing cards by Joker S.A.

Advertising & publicity playing cards by Joker S.A.

Advertising and publicity playing cards manufactured by Joker S.A.

Conrad Punta del Este Resort & Casino

Conrad Punta del Este Resort & Casino

Naipes Conrad Punta del Este Casino playing cards produced specially for Conrad Punta del Este Resort & Casino. .


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.


Wallace & Gromit

Wallace & Gromit

Wallace & Gromit playing cards published by Marks & Spencer, 2009.

Leonor Fini

Leonor Fini

The originality of Leonor Fini's work is evident in these playing card designs. The imagery of her paintings was loosely based on dreams and this led her to be associated with the Surrealists...

Geprüfte Sicherheit

Geprüfte Sicherheit

Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Accident Research, 1978

Society Misfitz

Society Misfitz

Society Misfitz published by C.W Faulkner & Co, c.1904.


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.


Goal!

Goal!

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

Die 4 Jahreszeiten

Die 4 Jahreszeiten

Die 4 Jahreszeiten Quartett-Spiel illustrated by Anneliese Tesdorpf, published by F X Schmid, 1950.

Spell

Spell

Spell word game published by Pepys Games, 1958.

Naval and Military Families

Naval and Military Families

Naval and Military Families produced by Prince and Princess Louis of Battenberg, printed by Ernst Nister of Nuremberg, c.1905-10.


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


Kart do Tarota

Kart do Tarota

78-card Polish tarot pack designed by Edyta Gdek.

Georgian Fortune Telling Cards

Georgian Fortune Telling Cards

Georgian Fortune Telling Cards, c.1800.

Épinal Tarot

Épinal Tarot

The woodcuts were produced by Francois Georgin (1801-1863), a famous engraver during the Napoleonic period, retaining the composition and general features of the Tarot de Marseille.

Hafez Fortune Telling Cards

Hafez Fortune Telling Cards

Fortune Tellers use the Hafez Cards by interpreting the Hāfez poems printed on the card backs when cards are selected randomly by their consultants.


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.


South German Engraver

South German Engraver

Conforming to an archaic format of 52 cards with banner 10s, female 'Sotas', horsemen and kings, the pack is of interest on account of a number of other packs with similar characteristics surviving elsewhere, suggesting an archaic variant of the Spanish-suited pack.

Mermaid Queen

Mermaid Queen

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

El Barco

El Barco

El Barco playing cards designed by E. Pastor, Valencia, Spain, c.1895

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.


Magic & Conjuring Collecting Themes

Ridley’s Magic Trick Cards

Ridley’s Magic Trick Cards

Ridley’s Magic Trick Cards, 2011.

Legends Playing Cards

Legends Playing Cards

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

Dragon Fanning Deck

Dragon Fanning Deck

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

Martin Mystère

Martin Mystère

Martin Mystère based on the comic book by Alfredo Castelli. The cards were designed by Giancarlo Alessandrini.

Recent Changes

Circular Coon Cards
Circular Coon Cards

Circular playing cards in a round tin titled: Sutherland's Circular Coon Cards published by Hartley Bros Pty Ltd, Australia, late 19th century.

Donald’s Circular Snap
Donald’s Circular Snap

Donald’s Circular Snap published by Pepys, 1951.

National Geographic Nature
National Geographic Nature

National Geographic Nature playing cards, 2006.

Portuguese Conjuring Playing Cards
Portuguese Conjuring Playing Cards

Portuguese Conjuring Playing Cards, c.1850.

Vier-Erdteile c.1870
Vier-Erdteile c.1870

Dondorf's Luxus-Spielkarte “Vier-Erdteile” (“Four Continents”) was first published in c.1870 and has been re-published in several editions, variations and formats since then.

Kinder-Karte
Kinder-Karte

First published in c.1870, children are presented in these miniature Patience cards disguised as Kings, Queens and Jacks. The Kings' crowns are slightly over-sized for their heads and the children are wearing false beards.

Four Continents Patience
Four Continents Patience

Dondorf's 'Four Continents' Patience, c.1910.

Playing Cards by J J Nunes
Playing Cards by J J Nunes

Playing Cards by J J Nunes, Lisbon, Portugal