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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.

27: Cards at Strangers’ Hall, Norwich

There is a very interesting collection of playing cards held at the Strangers' Hall Museum in Norwich.

There is a very interesting collection of playing cards held at the Strangers’ Hall Museum in Norwich. Paul Bostock and I have written an article about the collection, which appeared in a recent issue of The Playing Card (41/4). Since there wasn't enough room to illustrate all the packs in the journal, I'll put up a number of further scans of items from the collection. All the catalogue numbers are prefixed with NWHCM.

Above: 1950.179.5.1 Hall & Son, c.1820

Above: 1967.3.4 Maior, c.1810

Above: 1979.412.1 Reynolds, 1870s

Above: 1950.179.3.1 Gibert, 1858, European Royalty

Above: 1967.762.2 Probably German. Derived from the earlier Paris pattern; note that the JD is made from a duplicate JH. The writing says: Nave diments!

Above: 1967.762.1 Süsz & Kunz, c.1790. Another version of the Paris pattern; the tax stamp is Scandinavian.

Above: One of a number of Gatteaux designs, this one with pale turquoise rather than blue

Above: 1933.154 Hand-painted pack, c.1820; how about the cross-eyed KC?!

Above: 1941.99.1 J. Sabatas Spanish pack, dated 1853

Above: 1944.42.1 Jehan Volay, South West France, c.1700

Above: 1968.979 Hand-made transformation pack, c.1875, using De La Rue standard. Said to have been drawn by Minna Watson, a member of the Bolingbroke family, who at one time owned Strangers’ Hall.

Above: 1956.191 Lenthall’s Arithmetical pack, c.1707-11 (incomplete)

Above: 1968.39 ?Baragioli Portuguese dragon pack, c.1750 (incomplete)

Above: 1944.42.3 Willis Deakin's Political pack, c.1881

Above: 1968.1005.1 Goodall standard English, c.1863-65

Above: 1965.563.1 Anonymous Spanish pack, c.1850s

The Museum is well worth a visit. For access to the cards, contact Strangers’ Hall (01603 767138) in advance.

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By Ken Lodge

Member since May 14, 2012

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​I'm Ken Lodge and have been collecting playing cards since I was about eighteen months old (1945). I am also a trained academic, so I can observe and analyze reasonably well. I've applied these analytical techniques over a long period of time to the study of playing cards and have managed to assemble a large amount of information about them, especially those of the standard English pattern. Read more...

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