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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.

Erlenmeyer City Sights

Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015.

Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015

Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015

Above: the back of the cards is traveller's crest for Jet Setters United.

Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015 Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015

Above: the court cards show landmarks of Sydney (Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Luna Park and Uluru/Ayers rock), Paris (Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre), New York (Times Square, Statue of Liberty and the Empire State building), and London (Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament).

Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015 Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015

Above: Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015. Plasic coated cards, embossed linen-effect finish, 52 cards + 2 jokers + title card in plastic case.

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By Matt Probert

Member since March 02, 2012

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I have adored playing cards since before I was seven years old, and was brought up on packs of Waddington's No 1. As a child I was fascinated by the pictures of the court cards.

Over the next fifty years I was seduced by the artwork in Piatnik's packs and became a collector of playing cards.

Seeking more information about various unidentified packs I discovered the World of Playing Cards website and became an enthusiastic contributor researching and documenting different packs of cards.

I describe my self as a playing card archaeologist, using detective work to identify and date obscure packs of cards discovered in old houses, flea markets and car boot sales.

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Müller: Richelieu

Müller: Richelieu

This deck is named after Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (1585-1642), a French Roman Catholic Clergyman and statesman, Chief Adviser to King Louis XIII, noted for the authoritarian measures he employed to maintain power.

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.

Alice

Alice

Alice with artwork by Jesús Blasco, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Liberty

Liberty

Liberty playing cards designed by Antonella Castelli, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Polska

Polska

Polska with artwork by Katarzyna Tomala & Krzysztof Korzeniak, 2011.

Baracca & Burattini

Baracca & Burattini

Baracca & Burattini puppetry deck printed by Dal Negro, 1998.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes deck with caricatures by Jeff Decker published by Gemaco Playing Card Co. 1989

Martin Mystère

Martin Mystère

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

Ethiopian

Ethiopian

Ethiopian playing cards designed for the Ethiopian Tourist Organization by Afewerk Teklé.

Sapra Studio Original

Sapra Studio Original

Sapra Studio Original playing cards featuring wild animals of S Africa, 1999.

Seefahrers II

Seefahrers II

‘Seefahrers’ maritime deck designed by Klaus Ensikat for Deutsche Seereederei Rostock, GDR.

Brazil Pictorial Aces

Brazil Pictorial Aces

Genoese pattern with Pictorial Aces for Brazil by Brepols, Turnhout, c.1920.

El Al Airlines

El Al Airlines

El Al Airlines deck designed by Jean David, Israel, c.1970.

Sanyo Ukiyo-E

Sanyo Ukiyo-E

Ukiyo-E deck by Nintendo for Sanyo Enterprise Co.

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique by Mesmaekers, 1934.

Year of the Child

Year of the Child

Year of the Child commemorative deck designed by Jhan Paulussen, 1979.

Maya Deck

Maya Deck

The Maya Deck produced by Stancraft for Hoyle, 1976.

Einhorn

Einhorn

‘Einhorn’ designed by Richard König, c.1986.

French Revolution

French Revolution

Bicentenaire de la Révolution Française 1789–1989 created by Christian Offroy.

Bicycle Steampunk

Bicycle Steampunk

Bicycle Steampunk playing cards with Gothic artwork by Anne Stokes, 2015.

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.

Bicycle Knights

Bicycle Knights

Bicycle Knights playing cards designed by Sam Hayles in 2018.

Souvenir from Zakynthos

Souvenir from Zakynthos

Souvenir from Zakynthos by Euro Card.

Friendly Felines

Friendly Felines

‘Friendly Felines’ playing cards designed by Azured Ox, 2017.

Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt playing cards dedicated to the culture of Ancient Egypt.

Bicycle 808 Bourbon

Bicycle 808 Bourbon

Bicycle 808 Bourbon themed deck by US Playing Card Company 2017.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland playing cards designed by Sasha Dounaevski, 2018.

Kaiserkarte

Kaiserkarte

“Kaiserkarte” first published by Schneider & Co in 1895-1897 for the Imperial Court.

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway deck.

Age of Dragons

Age of Dragons

Age of Dragons by Anne Stokes, 2017.

Anne Stokes Collection

Anne Stokes Collection

Anne Stokes Collection playing cards, 2010.

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards by Andrew Jones Art, 1979.

68: Playing cards in glass

68: Playing cards in glass

My wife and I have recently commissioned a unique pair of stained glass windows for our home.

Views of New Zealand

Views of New Zealand

Views of New Zealand published by G.B.Scott Souvenirs, Auckland, c.1960.

New Zealand Souvenir

New Zealand Souvenir

Souvenir from New Zealand by Croxley (John Dickinson) c.1950.

Chinese Jokers

Chinese Jokers

Chinese playing card makers have probably produced the widest variety of jokers of any single part of the world.

Ken McCarthy

Ken McCarthy

An unknown deck by Ken McCarthy, c.2018.

Ocean to Ocean Canada Souvenir

Ocean to Ocean Canada Souvenir

“Ocean to Ocean” Canadian Pictorial Souvenir pack by Chas Goodall & Son Ltd, c.1912.

Ocean to Ocean Souvenir of Canada, c.1905

Ocean to Ocean Souvenir of Canada, c.1905

Ocean to Ocean Souvenir of Canada by Chas Goodall & Son Ltd, c.1905.