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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.

Universe No.100 playing cards

Universe No.100 playing cards made by The Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, Leeds, for Scandinavian countries.

During the 1930s an attractive range of cards was produced for Scandinavian countries. The designs reflected local patterns and were printed with Scandinavian indices: K, D, Kn for the court cards and Es or A for the Aces. The packs were commissioned by local chain stores, stationers, or as advertising products.

Universe No.100 playing cards manufactured by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, c.1933

Above: eight cards from Universe No.100 playing cards manufactured by The Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, Leeds, c.1933. This particular pack was used as advertising for Danish photographic company Ilford Selo S/A in 1933.

Universe No.100 playing cards manufactured by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, c.1933

Above: Universe No.100 playing cards manufactured by The Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, Leeds, c.1933, for Norway. The designs are similar to those of the 'Romanian' pack by the same manufacturer, possibly by the same designer. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

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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.

Recommended

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway deck.

Kalevala

Kalevala

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

Views from Norway

Views from Norway

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

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

Four Centuries

“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

Vasa Dynasty

Vasa Dynasty

The House of Vasa was the royal house of Sweden 1523–1654 and subsequent rulers have emphasized their Vasa descent through a female line

De la Rue for export

De la Rue for export

Non-standard playing cards produced by De la Rue & Co. (London), c.1930s

Salakuljettaja Smugglaren

Salakuljettaja Smugglaren

Salakuljettaja Smugglaren is the Scandinavian version of Pepys’ “Contraband” published by Förlag Bildkonst, 1958.

P. Steinmann

P. Steinmann

Single-figure provincial Paris pattern cards with traditional names on the courts manufactured in Copenhagen by P. Steinmann, c.1820.

Gnav

Gnav

cards from an early 'Gnav' game made by C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen c.1860

C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen 1852-85

C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen 1852-85

C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen 1852-85

Jacob Holmblad c.1830

Jacob Holmblad c.1830

An amazing difference can be seen between the early and the later Jacob Holmblad packs, covering a time span of only 17 years.

Jacob Holmblad, 1820s

Jacob Holmblad, 1820s

The Q♥ has a butterfly net in which she has caught four hearts. Many of Holmblad's designs were replaced or changed in different editions, but this design was not used again.

L. P. Holmblad, c.1845

L. P. Holmblad, c.1845

Holmblad ordered his earlier designs to be re-drawn and updated. Comparison of packs from this era show instances where one figure is replaced by another more imposing version.

Warburg Luxus Bridgekort

Warburg Luxus Bridgekort

“Luxus Bridgekort” was specially designed by Barbara MacDonald in a vibrant Art Deco style for Warburg of Denmark in c.1930, and printed by Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd (England).

Einar Nerman Patience

Einar Nerman Patience

Einar Nerman (1888–1983) was a talented Swedish artist born in Norrköping who designed playing cards during the 1920s.

Holmblads No. 121

Holmblads No. 121

Holmblads No. 121 made by John Waddington, England, for Denmark

Playing cards from Finland

Playing cards from Finland

Playing cards from Finland. Finnish cards have a relatively short history, presumably because the country only finally broke loose from Russian influence in 1920.

Standard Swedish Pattern

Standard Swedish Pattern

Standard Swedish type playing cards manufactured by J.O. Öberg & Son, Eskilstuna, 1929.

‘501’ playing cards by Alf Cooke

‘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.

Universe No.100 playing cards

Universe No.100 playing cards

Universe No.100 playing cards made by The Universal Playing Card Co. Ltd, Leeds, for Scandinavian countries.

Danbrit

Danbrit

Danbrit playing cards by Alf Cooke, 1930s