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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.

Tarocco Piedmontese by Fabrica de Naipes La Primitiva, Bs Aires

Tarocco Piedmontese by Fabrica de Naipes La Primitiva, Defensa 125, Buenos Aires c.1890.

Fabrica de Naipes La Primitiva, Buenos Aires, c.1878-1920

Piedmontese Tarot by Fábrica de Naipes La Primitiva, Defensa 125, Buenos Aires.

The cards shown here date from c.1890. The card names are in Italian. The reverse has a red plaid pattern on blue background. The b/w logo of a deer between two trees on the ace of coins is that of Sebastian Comas of Barcelona (Spain) whose standard cards La Primitiva was imitating. It is not known whether the logo was used with permission.

Naipes La Primitiva are also known at Moreno 248 and Victoria 3179, Bs. As.

Piedmontese tarot by La Primitiva, Bs As, c.1890

Similar Piedmontese tarot packs were also produced at later dates by Mario Colombo and Cappellano S.A. The divinatory meanings written in Spanish in ink on the edges of some cards shows that the pack belonged to a student of fortune-telling, rather than a card-player.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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J. W. Spear and Sons

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RCI Playing Cards

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Egyptian Tarot

Egyptian Tarot

Egyptian Tarot published by Naipes La Banca, Buenos Aires, c.1980.

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

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

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot

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Bharata Major Arcana Tarot by Ishan Trivedi & Sunish Chabba, 2018. Inspired by Indian art forms.

Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi

Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi

Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi, c.1850

Bourgeois Tarot by Piatnik 1987

Bourgeois Tarot by Piatnik 1987

Piatnik’s ‘Bourgeois Tarot’ in a version published in 1987 with nice quality images, especially the double-ended trump cards.

V. F. Solesio Tarot

V. F. Solesio Tarot

V. F. Solesio Tarot, Genoa, mid-late 19th century

Rolla Nordic Tarot

Rolla Nordic Tarot

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Le Grand Tarot Belline

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Tarocchi di Mantegna, c.1465

Tarocchi di Mantegna, c.1465

The so-called Tarocchi di Mantegna (c.1465) reflect an ideological structure bringing to mind the soul's progress towards perfection.

58: Woolley & Co.

58: Woolley & Co.

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

Aleister Crowley Tarot – the sombre luminary

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Tarot, originally a 15th century card game from Italy, has evolved into a form of personal mysticism and spirituality.

Sola-Busca Tarocchi

Sola-Busca Tarocchi

The Sola-Busca Tarocchi, c.1491

Nine Lives Tarot

Nine Lives Tarot

Nine Lives Tarot by Annette Abolins, 2013

Housewives Tarot

Housewives Tarot

The ‘Housewives Tarot’ designed by Paul Kepple & Jude Buffum, published by Quirk Books, 2004.

Parker Brothers

Parker Brothers

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48: Ferdinand Piatnik & Sons

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Ferd. Piatnik produced a very large range of cards with many different standard and non-standard patterns. This is a survey of his standard English output.

Héron French tarot

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French edition of the ‘Bourgeois’ Tarot by Héron

C.L. Wüst, 1811 - 1927

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Tarot des Pompiers de Paris

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Tarot des Pompiers de Paris, a French Fire Brigade tribute tarot deck

Vergnano Tarot 1826-1851

Vergnano Tarot 1826-1851

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Empire Card Company: Star Playing Cards

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The “Star” special pack of playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue under their Empire Card Co subsidiary, c.1910.

Tarot of Musterberg

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Tarocco Siciliano

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The highly individual Sicilian Tarot has the Italo-Portuguese suit system with straight, interlocking swords and batons, and maids instead of jacks

Hudson Industries

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Hudson Industries Pty Ltd of Carlton in Victoria was first registered as a printing company in 1920. In the 1940s they registered their own distinctive ace of spades and joker.

John Sands

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John Sands had incorporated the earlier playing card manufacturing businesses of Hudson Industries Pty Ltd and Valentine Publishing Co.

Wüst “Encyclopedic Tarot”

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“Encyclopedic Tarot” by C. L. Wüst with “bourgeois” views of life on the Trumps.

The Valentine Group

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The Valentine Group, Australia.

Vandenborre Tarot

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Belgian Tarot published by François-Jean Vandenborre, Brussels (1762-1803)

Goodall c.1845-60

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Goodall’s earliest cards were traditional in appearance but in around 1845 ‘modernised’ courts were designed

L’Utile col Diletto

L’Utile col Diletto

Geographical and Heraldic Tarocchi cards from Bologna, 1725.

British Playing Cards

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British Playing Cards Ltd was the predecessor of Universal P.C.Co. and involved Alf Cooke of Leeds and Bemrose of Birmingham, and maybe one or two other printing firms.

Oliver Mundy tarot

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Original Tarot designs in Italian Renaissance style by Oliver Mundy.

Charles Cheminade Tarot

Charles Cheminade Tarot

Marseille Tarot cards by Charles Cheminade of Grenoble, France, early 18th century.

36: Minor Makers of the 19th Century

36: Minor Makers of the 19th Century

In 19th century England there were a number of makers who produced cards in relatively small quantities.

OCCO Game of Tarot

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Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

After the first edition of the Rider-Waite tarot in 1909 four further editions were published till approx 1940. These differ in several attributes: outline artwork, colours, lettering and card thickness.

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider Waite Tarot early editions