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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.

Calavera Playing Cards

Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015

Eyecatching Calavera death-skull themed playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen from Antwerp for Cartamundi as part of a new range aimed at the teenage and young adult market, 2015. The white, turquoise and orange colour scheme with bold black skull motifs, and suit symbols as multi-faceted jewels, produce a striking play on the Mexican festive theme of death and the cycle of life.

Right: detail from box (click to zoom)

Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015
Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015 Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015

Above: Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

REFERENCES

Interview woth Jirs Huygen

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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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