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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.

Moyen-Age by Daveluy

Cartes Moyen-Age by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1875.

‘Cartes Moyen-Age’ by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1875

Daveluy produced these lovely double-ended fantasy “Historical Costume” playing cards based on the popular theme of the Middle Ages in several editions, with slightly different design details, starting from around 1850. Earlier versions had no corner pips on the Aces and the Kings had no crowns on their suit signs. Some of these designs, or their style, suggesting a romantic preoccupation with the past, influenced some of the Turnhout manufacturers who subsequently published similar designs with different titles or as standard patterns. As with many of Daveluy's designs, the cards show figures against a landscape background which the later copies omitted.

Above: ‘Cartes Moyen-Age’ by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1875. The Aces have small corner pips and the Kings have small crowns above the suit sign in this edition and the gold borders have rounded inner corners. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

Above: cards from a similar set but without gold borders.

See also: Première Croisade

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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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