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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.

Le Jeu des Alliés

“Le Jeu des Alliés” manufactured by Mesmaekers N.V., Turnhout, 1945.

The court cards in this patriotic commemorative pack manufactured just after WW2 by Mesmaekers N.V., Turnhout, depict characters from the four allied countries during WW2. The kings are C. de Gaulle, J. Stalin, F. D. Roosevelt and W. Churchill. The queens are allegorical figures of each nation and the valets are soldiers. The aces are designated with the number 1 and each displays the shield of an allied country. The joker is a caricature of Adolf Hitler wearing a dunce hat.

“Le Jeu des Alliés” manufactured by Mesmaekers N.V., Turnhout, 1945

Above: “Le Jeu des Alliés” lithographic printed by Mesmaekers N.V., Turnhout, 1945. 52 cards + joker in box, gilded corners. The joker, printed in b/w only, depicts Adolf Hitler wearing a dunce hat and waving a pennant with the legend "Le Fou". The back shows V signs on blue or red background.

“Le Jeu des Alliés” manufactured by Mesmaekers N.V., Turnhout, 1945

Above: Aviator decks manufactured by the United States Playing Card Company were donated to the Red Cross and American POWs during WW2.

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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.

Recommended

Panko

Panko

Panko (Votes for Women) suffragette card game published by Peter Gurney Ltd, c.1912.

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134 printed by Brepols for Germany, c.1940s.

Anma US Armed Forces

Anma US Armed Forces

Anma US Armed Forces, 1942.

Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América

Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América

Fifth Centenary of the Discovery of America by Heraclio Fournier, 1992.

My Goodness my Guinness

My Goodness my Guinness

Gilroy Special Edition Playing Cards to commemorate the centenary of the birth of John Gilroy, 1989.

Victory

Victory

“Victory" cards celebrating U.S. participation in the Allied victory, c.1945.

Year of the Child

Year of the Child

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

Renovation 2.000

Renovation 2.000

Renovation 2.000 playing cards with special courts designed by Jean Hoffmann.

French Revolution

French Revolution

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

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.

Inspector

Inspector

Inspector card game published by W F Jackson & Sons, 1940s.

Spy

Spy

Spy card game published by Valentine’s Games, c.1915.

Sister Susie Snap

Sister Susie Snap

Sister Susie Snap published by Valentine & Sons Ltd, c.1915.

Who’s Who

Who’s Who

Who’s Who or Food for Thought, a wartime card game, c.1939.

Woman’s Hour

Woman’s Hour

The Woman’s Hour playing cards published by David Westnedge, 1996.

Bicycle Civil War Deck

Bicycle Civil War Deck

The Civil War Deck designed by Jackson Robinson, 2017.

Tyrolean Playing Cards

Tyrolean Playing Cards

Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.

Atouts de la Vie

Atouts de la Vie

“Atouts de la Vie” wartime card game created by Madame Lucien Willemetz, c.1940.

Prisoners of War

Prisoners of War

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

Safety First

Safety First

Safety First card game embodying the Kerb Drill, published by John Jaques & Son Ltd, 1940s.

Victory Snap

Victory Snap

Wartime Snap, a memoir of past times, c.1941.

World Leaders Snap

World Leaders Snap

World Leaders Snap published around WW2, c.1940.

Leipzig Exhibition Skat, 1897

Leipzig Exhibition Skat, 1897

“Leipziger Skat-Karte” depicting scenes from the Leipzig Industry and Trade Exhibition designed by Arthur Lewin, 1897.

Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz card game published by Pepys, 1940,

Queen’s Silver Jubilee 1977

Queen’s Silver Jubilee 1977

Queen’s Silver Jubilee playing cards designed by Susan Rae for John Wadddington Ltd, 1977

Jeu des Quatre Saisons de l’An II

Jeu des Quatre Saisons de l’An II

“Jeu des Quatre Saisons de l’An II” facsimile of French Revolution deck originally published by J. B. Debeine (Reims) 1793.

Jeu des Drapeaux c.1816

Jeu des Drapeaux c.1816

“Jeu des Drapeaux” commemorating Napoleon’s greatest battles, c.1816.

Naked Truth

Naked Truth

“Naked Truth” Playing Politics with caricatures by Jason Pratt, 1997

Jungle Parties

Jungle Parties

“Jungle Parties” or “Playing Politics '87” designed & drawn by Patrick Cuenot.

Altenburger Bauerntrachten

Altenburger Bauerntrachten

“Altenburger Bauerntrachten” commemorating 150 years of playing cards from Altenburg, designed by Andreas Wachter, 1982.

Churchill in WW2

Churchill in WW2

Churchill ‘Walking with Destiny’ playing cards published by the Imperial War Museum.

Mapit

Mapit

“Mapit” war map card game published by Geographia Ltd, 55 Fleet Street, London E.C., c.1940s.

Jeu de Cartes Napoléon

Jeu de Cartes Napoléon

Deck created by Matéja celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Napoleon (1769-1969)

Aleister Crowley Tarot – the sombre luminary

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Aleister Crowley Tarot - Crowley and Lady Freda Harris worked on the illustrations between 1938 and 1943

Mayall Press Art Studies

Mayall Press Art Studies

Photographic playing cards - each face having an "art study" of a female nude, Mayall Press, Stockwell, London, c.1946.

Prince of Wales National Relief Fund 1914

Prince of Wales National Relief Fund 1914

A two-pack patience set produced by Thomas De la Rue on behalf of the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund in 1914.

Anti-Fascist Propaganda Pack for the Siege of Leningrad, 1943

Anti-Fascist Propaganda Pack for the Siege of Leningrad, 1943

In 1943 a pack of ‘anti-fascist’ playing cards was designed by Vasiliy Andrianovich Vlasov mocking the rulers of Germany and the Axis powers.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft Tomb Raider 20 Years Commemorative Deck, 2016.

Carel de Wagenaer

Carel de Wagenaer

Facsimile edition of cards first published by Carel de Wagenaer, Amsterdam in c.1698

Playing Politics

Playing Politics

“Playing Politics” or “Cabinet Shuffle” specially commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983