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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.

William Detmold Limited

William Detmold Limited, manufacturers of playing cards.

William Detmold Limited / W. Thomas & Co.

It is believed that William Detmold was producing playing cards under the trade name “W Thomas & Co” since early 1890s, although some of these appear to have been printed for them by Troedel & Co. Several of their playing card brands were registered around 1898, including “Eclipse”, “Bengal”, “Empire” & “Union”. Catalogues and lists from that time (see below) give details of colours, back designs, boxes and other manufacturing options, as well as advertising playing cards and the Australia Souvenir deck of 53 views. It can also be noted that they were agents for Goodall & Son (“Imperial Club” playing cards), N.Y.C.C.Co & U.S.P.C.Co / National Card Co (“Hart’s Crown Squeezers” and “Rambler” playing cards). Whist Markers also appear to have Goodall & Son item numbers in the catalogue.

“W Thomas & Co” boxes, c.1900-1910

Above: “W Thomas & Co” boxes, c.1900-1910.

“W Thomas & Co” backs, c.1900-1910

Above: “W Thomas & Co” backs, c.1900-1910.

“W Thomas & Co” Ace of Spades, Joker and backs, c.1900-1910

Above: “W Thomas & Co” Ace of Spades, Joker and backs, c.1900-1910. The sitting jester first appeared around the turn of the century and was used until the early 1930s. The back designs tended to come in a choice of four colours.

The “Zingara Gipsy Fortune-Telling” playing cards were also produced around 1910. Later brand names include “Kookaburra”, “The Dragon”, “New Bridge” and “Full Hand”.

At some point around 1922 William Detmold became Spicer & Detmold. Spicer & Detmold split up in 1948, with the Detmold part becoming Detmold Packaging (boxes, packaging and the like, and still going today) whilst Spicers (Australia) took the playing card business.

1905 William Detmold Limited Illustrated Catalogue

William Detmold Limited Illustrated Catalogue 1905

1906/7 William Detmold Limited Illustrated Catalogue

A slightly later catalogue, c.1906/7, lists W. Thomas & Co’s Playing Card brands

William Detmold Limited Illustrated Catalogue 1906

Above: William Detmold Limited Illustrated Catalogues 1905 & 1906/7. All images courtesy John Daniels.

See also: William Detmold Limited Circular, 1899

William Detmold kept boards with the faces printed ready for printing special designs or advertisements on the back  See examples

Above: “Chateau Tanunda” Brandy advertising playing cards, date uncertain but possibly early 1890s-1910. The court cards are copies of the N.Y.C.C.Co courts of the time. Also known with four-colour courts.

“Kookaburra” playing cards, c.1915-20

Above: “Kookaburra” playing cards, c.1915-20. See also: “New Bridge”, “The Dragon” and “Full Hand” playing cards, c.1910-20. The sitting jester seen in these decks first appeared around the turn of the century. He appears in two and four-colour versions and was used until the early 1930s. The ace of spades was designed to mimic a national coat of arms.

“Kookaburra” playing cards, c.1915-20

Above: an ace of spades with handwritten cartomancy interpretations, plus four versions of a typical back design, c.1920.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: thanks to John Daniels, Jan Walls & Ken Lodge for their contributions to this page.


By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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