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Sherlock Holmes Box 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. If you'd like to make a contribution get in touch Simon & Adam

Explore Archives

Swadeshi Playing Cards

Named after the first National movement in India

Editors' Picks

Habesha playing cards

Habesha playing cards

by Peter Burnett

Habesha playing cards published by “Ethiopian Reflection”

Revolutionary playing cards

by Roddy Somerville

Revolutionary playing cards with decapitated courts published by ATYPYK, Paris, 2010.

Kings Wild Tigers Playing Cards

by Adam Wintle

Kings Wild Tigers is Jackson Robinson’s 27th successful playing card Kickstarter campaign. A luxury collectable deck inspired by vintage matchboxes.

Artists & Designers


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?


1682 Geographical Playing Cards, c.1682

Geographical Playing Cards, c.1682

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

1946 Impuesto de Timbre para Naipes

Impuesto de Timbre para Naipes

EL CONGRESO DE COLOMBIA. LEY 69 DE 1946, por la cual se elevan las tarifas de algunos impuestos indirectos y se dictan otras disposiciones.

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.


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Annapurna

Annapurna

by Roddy Somerville

Annapurna playing cards produced and published by Himalayan MapHouse, Kathmandu, Nepal.

1965 El Al Airlines

El Al Airlines

by Roddy Somerville

Pack designed by Jean David (1908-93) for El Al Airlines. The courts are named after Biblical characters.

17: Waddington, Including Some of Their Less Common Packs

17: Waddington, Including Some of Their Less Common Packs

by Ken Lodge

John Berry's two-volume work on the Waddington archive and collection is a very comprehensive presentation of the history of the firm, but there are some items missing from it which I include here.

1870 Kinder-Karte

Kinder-Karte

by Barney Townshend

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.


2018 Kings Wild Tigers Playing Cards

Kings Wild Tigers Playing Cards

Kings Wild Tigers is Jackson Robinson’s 27th successful playing card Kickstarter campaign. A luxury collectable deck inspired by vintage matchboxes.

2022 Billionaire Boys Club Playing Cards by Theory11

Billionaire Boys Club Playing Cards by Theory11

Limited edition luxury playing cards by Billionaire Boys Club and Theory 11.

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.

Collecting Themes

Advertising Collecting Themes

Advertising and Promotional 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.


2022 Billionaire Boys Club Playing Cards by Theory11

Billionaire Boys Club Playing Cards by Theory11

Limited edition luxury playing cards by Billionaire Boys Club and Theory 11.

1980 Redheads

Redheads

These unusual and striking playing cards were published sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s by the iconic Australian brand of matches, Bryant & May. Whilst the same court card images are used in each suit, the numeral cards employ matches arranged geometrically instead of the normal pips.

2003 Festival des Pains

Festival des Pains

Festival des Pains Artisan Boulanger (Artisan Bread Festival), c.2003.

2016 Four Days of Walking Event

Four Days of Walking Event

Dutch playing cards promoting the annual International Four Days of Walking Event held in Holland, 2016


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.


1998 Baraja Asescoin 1998

Baraja Asescoin 1998

Asescoin 1998 member’s pack designed by Josep Soriano.

1968 Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner playing cards designed by Melchior Annen.

1968 Boerenbond Veevoeders

Boerenbond Veevoeders

Promotional deck designed by Ray Goossens for the Boerenbond farmers’ union, c.1968.


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.


Games Leaflets

Games Leaflets

Thos De la Rue & Co. & Gibson's Games Leaflets.

1937 Lustiges Quartett

Lustiges Quartett

Lustiges Quartett Wilhelm Busch published by Franz Schmidt, Nuremberg, 1937.

1950 Muffin

Muffin

Muffin card game based on children’s TV series, c.1950.

1885 Ups & Downs

Ups & Downs

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


Oracle, Divination & Tarot Collecting Themes

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


1932 Baraja Cartomántica Chocolates Nelia

Baraja Cartomántica Chocolates Nelia

Some examples of playing cards made in Catalonia from the collection of Iris Mundus, Barcelona.

1900 Tarocco Piedmontese, Buenos Aires c.1900

Tarocco Piedmontese, Buenos Aires c.1900

Tarocco Piedmontese by Fabrica de Naipes La Primitiva, Moreno 248, Buenos Aires c.1900

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.

Recent Changes

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.

Funny Snap

Funny Snap one penny game designed in England, printed in Bavaria, c.1920.

Baraja Carlos IV by Félix Solesio, 1800

Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.

Swadeshi Playing Cards

Named after the first National movement in India

Disneyland Paris

Disney characters deck from Euro Disney, Marne la Vallée, France, c.2000.

Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas

Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas

Atlantis Paradise Island Hotel casino playing cards.

Reagan’s Rogues Gallery

A pack inspired by the Iran-Contra affair or Gipper-gate during the Reagan era, produced by R. Billingsley, USA, 1987.

Mickey for Kids

Mickey for Kids

Mickey for Kids playing cards from Disney.