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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.

M/S Kronprins Harald

Souvenir of Jahre Line Ferry M/S Kronprins Harald

Souvenir of Jahre Line Ferry M/S Kronprins Harald manufactured in Belgium by Mesmaekers, Turnhout, probably dating from the 1960s as Mesmaekers were taken over by Van Genechten in 1968.

Souvenir of Jahre Line Ferry M/S Kronprins Harald

Above: Souvenir of Jahre Line Ferry M/S Kronprins Harald manufactured by Mesmaekers, Turnhout, with standard English pattern courts. Double pack 52 cards + 2 identical jokers each. Images courtesy Matt Probert.

Standard English pattern by Mesmaekers, 1960s
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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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‘Seefahrers’ maritime deck designed by Klaus Ensikat for Deutsche Seereederei Rostock, GDR.

M/S Kronprins Harald

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Souvenir of Jahre Line Ferry M/S Kronprins Harald

Servicio de Hidrografía Naval

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125th anniversary of the Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service, 2004.

Convoy

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“Convoy” WW2 card game published by Tree Brand c.1940, based on wartime naval convoys.

Ship Sails

Ship Sails

“Ship Sails” card game c.1885.

Sefite card game

Sefite card game

“Sefite” card game, Woolley & Co,. Ltd, London, c.1905

Royal Dutch Mail

Royal Dutch Mail

Elegant “Nieuw Neerlandia” pattern designed by M.A. Koekkoek and produced by Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland, c.1930s

Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland Maritime Deck

Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland Maritime Deck

Dutch Maritime pack designed by J.Verhoeven and printed by Speelkaartenfabriek Nederland c1938

Pneumatic Series ‘F’

Pneumatic Series ‘F’

De la Rue Pneumatic Series ‘F’ playing cards, c.1925.

Historic Ships

Historic Ships

“Historic Ships” quartet game from Czechoslovakia illustrated by Jaromír Vraštil.

Öbergs ‘Svenska Lloyd’

Öbergs ‘Svenska Lloyd’

‘Svenska Lloyd’ shipping company playing cards published by J.O. Öberg & Son, Eskilstuna, c.1955.

Shipping

Shipping

A survey of modern Shipping advertising playing cards by Matt Probert

Cartes à Jouer Héron

Cartes à Jouer Héron

Promotional decks by Héron.

Our Ship

Our Ship

The “New Game of Our Ship”, published by Chas Goodall & Son, London, 1896.

Nederlandse Speelkaarten Fabriek

Nederlandse Speelkaarten Fabriek

Shipping line playing cards produced by Nederlandse Speelkaarten Fabriek, c.1910 offering a virtual tour of destinations to the Far East

World Bridge

World Bridge

‘World Bridge’ produced by Modiano in Trieste, Italy, since around 1950.

Gdynia-America Line

Gdynia-America Line

Non-standard playing cards produced by Artex (Budapest) for the Gdynia-America Line, Poland, c.1958.

Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company

Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company

Possibly one of the most beautiful decks produced for commercial purposes, this was printed by Modiano for the Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company of Trieste in c.1895

S.S. France playing cards

S.S. France playing cards

A special non-standard pack of playing cards was designed by M. Marie for the maiden voyage of the transatlantic liner S.S. France in 1962.

Poker No. 140

Poker No. 140

Dondorf Poker-Karte No. 195, re-issued as Poker No. 140 for the "Argentina Compañia General de Navegación Sociedad Anónima", 1920s