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

Luxury Collectable Decks

Luxury packs of cards have been produced since the 15th century, a trend that is very popular among collectors today.

Editors' Picks

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards
XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

French suited German engraved cards c1610 to 1650,

Jeu Louis XV
Jeu Louis XV

B.P. Grimaud of Paris issued this very ornate costume deck called “Jeu Louis XV No.1502” in c.1895. It has been so popular that it has been re-publish...

2000 Pips Transformation
2000 Pips Transformation

Peter Wood’s “2000Pips” transformed playing cards reveal the artist’s love of nature.

Unknown Maker
Unknown Maker

Early German deck by unknown maker, c.1825

Artists & Designers

About Karl Gerich
About Karl Gerich
Scottish Legends
Scottish Legends
Decked Out
Decked Out
Firefly Playing Cards
Firefly Playing Cards
Curator
Curator
Maya Deck
Maya Deck
Master PW Circular Cards
Master PW Circular Cards
Qantas
Qantas
Australia by Steve Parish
Australia by Steve Parish
Patience No.21
Patience No.21

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?


A. Camoin & Cie

A. Camoin & Cie

This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.

Hermanos Solesi

Hermanos Solesi

“Money Bag” pattern by Hermanos Solesi, late 18th c.

Navarra Pattern, 1793

Navarra Pattern, 1793

Navarra pattern by an unknown cardmaker with initials I. I., 1793.


23: Belgian Makers: Mesmaekers

23: Belgian Makers: Mesmaekers

Gustaaf Mesmaekers founded his business in 1859 in association with Louis-François Moentack, who left the business in 1862.

55: China 2

55: China 2

Some further American designs used in China.

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.


United Kingdom

Round the World Families

Round the World Families

Round the World Families published by the London Missionary Society, c.1945.

Sylabex / Wordmaker

Sylabex / Wordmaker

Sylabex / Wordmaker was first published by Pepys in 1948.

United States of America

Lewis I. Cohen

Lewis I. Cohen

Lewis I. Cohen made his first deck of cards in 1832. In 1835 Mr Cohen invented a new machine to print four colours on a sheet at once, which was to revolutionise the entire playing card industry. This innovation soon led to his dominance in the market.

American Bank Note Company

American Bank Note Company

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.


Spain

About Heraclio Díaz

About Heraclio Díaz

Heraclio Díaz lives in the Canary Islands (Spain).

Far East

Far East

Far East playing cards with designs by Isabel Ibáñez de Sendadiano, c.1980.

Latin America Conosur

Pavias Playing Cards made in Peru

Pavias Playing Cards made in Peru

Pavias playing cards made in Peru, c.1990.

Baraja Cuauhtémoc

Baraja Cuauhtémoc

Baraja Cuauhtémoc published by Treviño Narro, Monterrey, Mexico Original artwork by P. X. Santaella featuring Aztec and other important pre-Columbian cultures.


Japan

Nintendo Mario Playing Cards

Nintendo Mario Playing Cards

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

Unsun Karuta

Unsun Karuta

Unsun Karuta うんすんかるた Japan c.1780.

China

Khanhoo

Khanhoo

Khanhoo by Charles Goodall & Son, 1895.

Li River Souvenir

Li River Souvenir

Li River Souvenir Playing Cards from China.


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.


Artistas del Cine

Artistas del Cine

Advertising pack designed by J. Passos and first printed by Cromografía Irández, Barcelona, c.1926. Re-printed in 1995.

Shipping

Shipping

A survey of modern Shipping advertising playing cards by Matt Probert

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau

Elegant gold-printed playing cards in Jugendstil style designed by Otto Benz for Renault, 1987

Hendrick’s Gin

Hendrick’s Gin

Nice advertising deck for Hendrick’s Gin, c.2015.


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.


Tarot de l’An 2000

Tarot de l’An 2000

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

Benedicte Morand-Bail

Benedicte Morand-Bail

Benedicte Morand-Bail’s striking and colourful abstract poker deck with French named courts

Dumbo

Dumbo

Walt Disney’s Dumbo card game published by Pepys, 1939.

Ancient Civilisations

Ancient Civilisations

Ancient Civilisations playing cards designed by Celedonio Perellón, produced by Heraclio Fournier, 1973.


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.


Historic Ships

Historic Ships

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

Jungle Jinks

Jungle Jinks

Jungle Jinks card game with artwork by Constance Stannard Chapman, manufactured by Thomas De La Rue & Co Ltd for H P Gibson & Sons Ltd, c.1905.

St George Game

St George Game

St George Game, 1858, depicting St George and other saints engaged in battle slaying the dragon to save souls from perdition.

Rat-a-Tat Cat

Rat-a-Tat Cat

Rat-a-Tat Cat illustrated by Roni Shepherd, published by Gamewright Inc, Boston, 1997.


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


Alison McDonald

Alison McDonald

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

Thomson-Leng Tarot

Thomson-Leng Tarot

The Thomson-Leng Tarot Cards were issued by the publishers of women's magazines during the 1930s. The cards are loosely based upon the Rider-Waite tarot.

Cartes Lenormand

Cartes Lenormand

“Cartes Lenormand” published by H. P. Gibson & Sons Ltd, London, printed in Germany by B. Dondorf, 1920s.


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.


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.

Wild! by Peter Wood

Wild! by Peter Wood

Wild! by Peter Wood.

Zoo Comics

Zoo Comics

ZOO COMICS animated playing cards made by Litografía Ferri, Valencia (Spain), first published in 1968.


Magic & Conjuring Collecting Themes

Portuguese Conjuring Playing Cards

Portuguese Conjuring Playing Cards

Portuguese Conjuring Playing Cards, c.1850.

Secret Magic Cards

Secret Magic Cards

‘Secret Magic Cards’ published by Hanky Panky Toys Thailand Ltd., © World Magic International, 2006.

De Land’s Nifty playing cards

De Land’s Nifty playing cards

De Land’s Nifty playing cards published by S. S. Adams Co, c.1930.

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

Baraja Gaucha Juan C. Yelina
Baraja Gaucha Juan C. Yelina

Baraja Gaucha by Juan C. Yelina for Profertil S.A., 2006.

Rococo No.2130
Rococo No.2130

Piatnik: Rococo No.2130 playing cards designed by Prof. Kuno Hock, c.1975

Gulliver’s Travels
Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels card game no.293 published by Piatnik, c.1950.

Black Peter
Black Peter

Two Black Peter games by Willy Mayrl published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne, 1950s.

Martin Mystère
Martin Mystère

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

Literary Figures
Literary Figures

Non-Standard Literary Figures playing cards manufactured by Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne A.G., Vienna, 1924.

Translucent Playing Cards
Translucent Playing Cards

Translucent Playing Cards made by an unknown maker, c.1850

Austrian Wine
Austrian Wine

Skat deck for Austria’s excellent wines, Österreichischer Weinwirtschaftsfonds, c.1965