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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.

‘501’ playing cards by Alf Cooke

“Five 'o One” playing cards, a version of the Dondorf Rhineland pattern, manufactured by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd for export to Scandinavia.

a version of the Dondorf Rhineland pattern manufactured by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd for export to several Scandinavian countries.

501 playing cards by Alf Cooke

Above: eight cards from "Five 'o One" playing cards, a version of the Dondorf Rhineland pattern, manufactured by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd in around 1960 for export to Denmark and Sweden. Scandinavian indices K, D, Kn on the courts. Each suit is differentiated by a different colour glow in the background of the court figures.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.

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Kaffeehaus-Pikett

Kaffeehaus-Pikett

Kaffeehaus-Pikett featuring the old Viennese Large Crown pattern, made by ASS.

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway deck.

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.

63: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 1

63: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 1

A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.

61: French regional patterns: the kings

61: French regional patterns: the kings

On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).

Kalevala

Kalevala

Kalevala playing cards by Sunish Chabba and Ishan Trivedi inspired by ancient Finnish mythology.

Modern English Court

Modern English Court

Modern English court style by Games & Print Services Limited, c.1997.

Dal Negro Bridge set

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Dal Negro Bridge set featuring old Vienna pattern courts.

Carte Romane

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“Carte Romane” designed by Giorgio Pessione, 1973, celebrating the history of Rome.

Sarde Pattern

Sarde Pattern

Sarde pattern published by Modiano, c.1975, based on early XIX century Spanish model.

Triestine Pattern

Triestine Pattern

The Triestine pattern is derived from the Venetian (Trevisane) pattern but with its own characteristics.

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Primiera Bolognese

Primiera Bolognese

Primiera Bolognese by Modiano, c.1975

Bergamasche Pattern

Bergamasche Pattern

Bergamasche Pattern by Modiano, 1970s.

Jonas Fouquet Navarra Pattern

Jonas Fouquet Navarra Pattern

Navarra Pattern by Jonas Fouquet, c.1720 and c.1820.

Navarra Pattern, 1682

Navarra Pattern, 1682

Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly in 1682.

Hermanos Solesi

Hermanos Solesi

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

Dvouhlavé Hrací Karty

Dvouhlavé Hrací Karty

“Dvouhlavé Hrací Karty” (Czech Seasons playing cards) made by Obchodní Tiskárny, c.1980.

AGMüller English Pattern

AGMüller English Pattern

AGMüller standard English pattern for the Royal Jordanian Airline, 1980s

Georg Kapfler

Georg Kapfler

Antique deck of old Bohemian playing cards of the German type manufactured by Georg Kapfler and dated 1611.

Genovesi Pattern

Genovesi Pattern

Genoese pattern from Italy.

Modern Swiss-German Pattern

Modern Swiss-German Pattern

Modern Swiss-German Pattern by AGMüller, c.2000.

Skat Express

Skat Express

One end Berlin pattern the other standard English pattern

Salzburger Pattern

Salzburger Pattern

Salzburger pattern by Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne, Vienna

Views from Norway

Views from Norway

“54 Views from Norway” souvenir playing cards published by Normanns Kunstforlag A/S, c.1990s.

Brepols Genoese pattern

Brepols Genoese pattern

“Cartes Françaises” and Genoese pattern by Brepols.

Dutch Pattern for Van Perlstein

Dutch Pattern for Van Perlstein

Brepols Dutch Pattern for Van Perlstein distillery, c.1960.

Warburg’s Danske

Warburg’s Danske

Warburg’s Danske playing cards published by Aktieselskabet Emil Jensen, København, 1944.

Warburg’s Skandinaviske Bridge Kort

Warburg’s Skandinaviske Bridge Kort

“Warburg’s Skandinaviske Bridge Kort” published by Aktieselskabet Emil Jensen, København, c.1935.

VR-VISA

VR-VISA

VR-VISA playing cards published by VR Group, the state-owned railway company in Finland.

Löjliga Spel Kort

Löjliga Spel Kort

Facsimile edition of “Löjliga Spel Kort” (1825) illustrated playing cards from Sweden, showing scenes from Fredman‘s Epistles and Songs

Jacob Bagges AB

Jacob Bagges AB

Playing cards published by Jacob Bagges AB Stockholm, close copies of Dondorf designs.

Standard Handa Pattern

Standard Handa Pattern

Standard Danish playing cards made by Handa, Copenhagen.

Öbergs ‘Svenska Lloyd’

Öbergs ‘Svenska Lloyd’

‘Svenska Lloyd’ shipping company playing cards published by J.O. Öberg & Son, Eskilstuna, c.1955.

Åkerlund & Rausing

Åkerlund & Rausing

Swedish style pack by Åkerlund & Rausing, Stockholm, 1931-1937

Four Centuries

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“Four Centuries” playing cards by Esselte Öbergs with court cards depicted as caricatures from different historical periods.

Olsen Smygvänliga

Olsen Smygvänliga

Olsen Spelkort Smygvänliga - Swedish pattern made by F.X. Schmid for Olsen

Offason “Beau”

Offason “Beau”

Offason AB “Beau” playing cards designed by Åke Arenhill from Sweden, c.1990.

Kille

Kille

‘Kille’, an old Swedish card game