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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

Goodall’s “Historic” Playing Cards
Goodall’s “Historic” Playing Cards

Goodall’s “Historic” Playing Cards depict royal costumes of four periods in English history, 1893.

Japanesque
Japanesque

Goodall’s “Japanesque” brand was used for stationery products since around 1880 but these playing cards were added to the range in around 1900.

Don Quijote IV Centenario
Don Quijote IV Centenario

Baraja IV Centenario Don Quijote is the work of artist Vicente Arnás, published by Asescoin, Madrid, 2004.

Bicycle Playing Cards, 1st edition
Bicycle Playing Cards, 1st edition

1st edition of famous Bicycle Playing Cards printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., Cincinnati, 1885.

Artists & Designers

Biggles
Biggles
Lakeland
Lakeland
Schwarzer Peter Quartett
Schwarzer Peter Quartett
Carte Romane
Carte Romane
Star Kings
Star Kings
Masonic Playing Cards
Masonic Playing Cards
Jass Allemand
Jass Allemand

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?


Unsun Karuta

Unsun Karuta

Unsun Karuta うんすんかるた Japan c.1780.

Pierre Marechal

Pierre Marechal

Rouen became an important centre for card-making whose influence extended far afield. Cards from Rouen are significant because they became the model from which our English pack subsequently evolved.

Hermanos Solesi

Hermanos Solesi

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

Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya

Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya

This is the official Spanish National pattern of the 18th century. Design and production was controlled from Madrid as a source of national or regional revenue. The factory was located in the town of Macharaviaya, in the province of Málaga.


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.

2: Over 75 Years of Collecting Playing Cards

2: Over 75 Years of Collecting Playing Cards

This is a personal account of some of my experiences collecting playing cards.

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.

27: Cards at Strangers’ Hall, Norwich

27: Cards at Strangers’ Hall, Norwich

There is a very interesting collection of playing cards held at the Strangers' Hall Museum in Norwich.


United Kingdom

Zooloo Misfitz

Zooloo Misfitz

Zooloo Misfitz card game designed by George Lambert for C.W. Faulkner & Co, c.1907.

Belisha

Belisha

Belisha, published by Castell Brothers Ltd (Pepys Games) in 1937, was produced with a desire to make a helpful contribution to the national Safety First campaign.

United States of America

Tally-Ho

Tally-Ho

The earliest Ace of Spades had the Centre Street address and the Jolly Joker was used until the “Tally-Ho” Joker was introduced in the early 1900s. The brand has seen only minor variations over the years.

Kismet Temple

Kismet Temple

The deck was made to honour Conrad V. Dykeman as Imperial Potentate of the Kismet Temple of the Ancient Arab Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, a spin off of the Free and Accepted Masons.


Spain

Educación Vial

Educación Vial

Educación Vial (Road Safety) card game published by H. Fournier, 1995.

Moliner - Burgos

Moliner - Burgos

Cards from a "Nº 4" pack manufactured by Antonio Moliner, Burgos.

Latin America Conosur

Anonymous manufacturers 2

Anonymous manufacturers 2

Argentina has produced a series of anonymous decks, both Spanish-suited and Anglo-American type and children's games.

Bosco by A.S.S. for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru

Bosco by A.S.S. for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru

‘Bosco’ Playing Cards manufactured by A.S.S. for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru, 1930s.


Japan

Akadama Honey Wine by Nintendo

Akadama Honey Wine by Nintendo

Suntory Akadama Honey Wine playing cards manufactured by Nintendo, Japan, c.1970.

Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty

Waddington’s “Hello Kitty” themed deck produced in 2009.

China

Lucky Buddha Beer

Lucky Buddha Beer

Deck made in China in c.2010 advertising the Chinese brew “Lucky Beer, the enlightened beer”

Maxi Puke 201 Circus Poker

Maxi Puke 201 Circus Poker

Maxi Puke 201 Circus Poker brand produced by Wenyu Paper Products, Shanghai.


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.


100 Pipers

100 Pipers

100 Pipers Scotch Whisky promotional deck, Waddingtons P.C.Co., c.1973. Includes a Tarot pack offer.

Michie Tavern Museum

Michie Tavern Museum

Historic Michie Tavern Museum playing cards by Brown & Bigelow.

Qantas

Qantas

Qantas Airways Limited is the flag carrier of Australia and is the world's third-oldest airline still in operation, having been founded in November 1920.

Biography Channel

Biography Channel

The ‘Biography Channel Card Game’, 2002


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.


Bicycle Emotions

Bicycle Emotions

Bicycle Emotions playing cards with custom emotions on the courts to help you bluff at cards, 2013.

Ritter & Cie, 1933

Ritter & Cie, 1933

A colourful re-working of the standard Anglo-American pattern in Art Deco style.

14: Back Designs

14: Back Designs

A few examples of the many interesting back designs.


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.


Punch & Judy

Punch & Judy

Punch and Judy card game published by Pepys, 1956.

Casais Portugueses

Casais Portugueses

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

Old Maid

Old Maid

‘Old Maid’ card game manufactured by Milton Bradley Co., Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, c.1920s

Chitrashala Press

Chitrashala Press

Chitrashala Press produced some charming children's pictorial alphabet cards for early learning purposes in the 1940s.


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


Lenormand Cartomancy

Lenormand Cartomancy

Mlle Lenormand Cartomancy deck made by Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkartenfabriken, Stralsund, c.1890.

Ramses II tarot

Ramses II tarot

Ramses II Tarot deck was published c.1975 in conjunction with a Peruvian occult or esoteric magazine.

Stairs of Gold Tarot

Stairs of Gold Tarot

Whilst the titles of the cards are in Italian, the Hebrew and Sanskrit letters on the Trump cards denote, respectively, associations with the Cabbala and Vedic metaphysics.

Baraja de Amor

Baraja de Amor

Hijos de José Garcia Taboadela was a book-seller who also published this charming pack of lovers' fortune telling cards in 1871.


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.


Cotta Transformation playing cards

Cotta Transformation playing cards

In 1804, J.C. Cotta, a publisher and bookseller in Tübingen, Germany, produced the first set of transformation cards that was published as an actual deck of playing cards.

Mermaid Queen

Mermaid Queen

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

Renaissance Playing Cards

Renaissance Playing Cards

Renaissance Playing Cards by Maxim Hurwicz, showing 54 different drawings spanning the years 1066 to 1400.


Magic & Conjuring Collecting Themes

Martin Mystère

Martin Mystère

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

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.

Serpentine

Serpentine

‘Serpentine’ Playing Cards published by Legends P.C.Co., 2014.

Conjuring Decks

Conjuring Decks

Conjuring Decks by Universal Playing Card Co (Alf Cooke) and others...

Recent Changes

Mitelli Tarocchini
Mitelli Tarocchini

The title refers to “a new form of Tarocchini”. Mitelli's designs are to a high standard of artistic quality and a complete departure from the old tradition, especially the 22 Trump cards which are unnamed and unnumbered.

Swiss Mogul Cards, 1880-1890
Swiss Mogul Cards, 1880-1890

English type 'Mogul' playing cards manufactured in Switzerland by John Müller for export to India, c.1880-1890.

60: Some less common Goodall packs, 1875-95
60: Some less common Goodall packs, 1875-95

There are some interesting packs from Goodall in the last quarter of the 19th century.

58: Woolley & Co.
58: Woolley & Co.

The firm of Thomas Woolley lasted for many years from 1836-1904 in several different guises.

“Naipes Finos” No.304 Spanish Pack
“Naipes Finos” No.304 Spanish Pack

Spanische Spielkarten "Naipes Finos" No.304, manufactured by B. Dondorf designed by the catalan artist Apel-les Mestres, Barcelona, 1902.

My Word
My Word

My Word “The last word in card games” designed by Michael Kindred and Malcolm Smith, published in 1980 by Waddingtons.

The Peerless Playing Card Company, London c.1890
The Peerless Playing Card Company, London c.1890

James English's playing card factory was re-named Peerless in around 1880 when the title Peerless Card Company appeared on the ace of spades.