Sadly, there is no book on De La Rue's playing card manufacture similar to those by Mike Goodall on many of their competitors. And yet there is a great deal of material available in their archives. True, the material is dispersed somewhat, mainly between the University of Reading and the Fournier collection. I understand that a lot of the background material sold at auction by De La Rue in 1970 is not available at the museum in Vitoria. If that is so, it's a great pity.
There are two further interesting sources of information: one is on the wopc website and the other is a book about the firm The house that Thomas built written by Lorna Houseman and published in 1968, just before the firm sold their playing card interests to Waddington. The book only relates the story up until 1941, when the Bunhill Row premises were destroyed in an air-raid and is not restricted to the production of playing cards, so there's no doubt enough for another book on their later development.
In December 1831 Thomas de la Rue was granted his patent for printing playing cards by letterpress. In the submission for the patent the details of both his early designs is given. D1 is a break with some of the postures and clothing of the traditional figures and D2 is based on the contemporary Type III courts used by Reynolds, Hardy and several other smaller makers such as H. Wheeler and Stopforth.
It is said D1 did not find favour with the card-playing public, because he had changed so many traditional features; D2, on the other hand, was in line with cards of other makers. De la Rue liked to experiment, even in the early days, so we find packs with a white line round every pip and packs with a lot of gold on them.
There are also packs with green added to the traditional colours; sometimes the packs have mixed gold and green and gold courts with a consistent back design. (Don't forget, packs were put together by hand, so mixing of this kind occurred quite easily.)
By 1840 he had redesigned his courts again, updating the design and adding a lot of extra decoration to the clothing. These were produced for quite a while and even survived into the post-Frizzle period.
At about the same time or slightly later the firm introduced a smaller-sized pack, possibly aimed at card-playing ladies, called The Victoria in adverts and price lists.
There is even a double-ended version of the latter.
After 1922, when Goodall and De La Rue had merged, both of their current designs were used for a few years, but by about 1930 the De La Rue design D9 had been discontinued. Eventually the Goodall design was taken over by Waddington, as they printed De La Rue and Goodall cards from 1942 onwards. De La Rue sold out their playing card interest to Waddington in 1969.
Here is an indication of the development of the JS design from c.1890-1930, also to be found on page 28.
De La Rue also introduced a number of what were considered improvements to cards to enhance handling during play. The pneumatic finish appeared some time in the 1880s and continued into the 1960s, by which time it was referred to as herringbone. There was also a silk-watered finish, which give the impression of shot silk; it seems to have been used only on one-colour plain backs.
The firm also produced cards for those with poor sight. As far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition they were showing Optik cards. What they looked like I don't know, but later ones had different coloured suit-signs and the courts and AS had an extra blue-grey added.
For a discussion of the plate analysis of De La Rue's courts, see page 28; a detailed set of illustrations from my collection is on page 49.
From 1844 until 1874 the designer Owen Jones produced a series of colourful and highly decorative back designs for De La Rue. I have never seen a full list of the designs and it's not always possible to know for certain whether he was the designer in any particular case. It would also appear that other people designed backs for the firm as well. Here is a selection of obvious examples. The first two are from the set he designed for the Royal Family, which were on sale at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
By the 1880s, a while after his death, others had taken over, but they clearly found inspiration in some of his ideas and themes.
A selection of backs from c.1880-1910
Member since May 14, 2012View Articles
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...
Limited edition gift set issued to mark the American Bicentennial, 1776-1976, produced by John Waddington Ltd and the Bristol Pottery for the British American Bicentenary Group, 1970.
Nursery rhyme playing cards by Waddingtons, Leeds, UK, 1975.
South Park characters and famous one-liners, by Carta Mundi for Hasbro Int. Inc., 2001.
A five-suited set of playing cards published by Fleet and Case Games Ltd., Rainham, Kent, UK, c.1980.
52 selected views of Scotland by De La Rue (Waddingtons) for GlenAlan Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, c.1960s.
Publicity items for a group of entertainers, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK, 1911.
Cards made by John Waddington Ltd. for the Madras Club, Chennai (formerly Madras), India, c.1930.
54 different personalities from the city of Inverness published by the Highland Hospice.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme covers from 1956 to 2016 published by Winning Moves UK Ltd.
Images from the Ministry of Defence Cape Wrath Training Centre, Sutherland, Scotland. Published 2010.
Celebrating the work of Andreas Vesalius in the quincentenary year of his birth.
Great Britains’s Olympic gold medallists from 1964 to 2004 published by the British Olympic Association.
Celebration of the work of David Kindersley, stone letter-carver and typeface designer. Published by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, Cambridge, UK, 2015.
Pack celebrating the rugby world champions of 2003. Produced by MMcardz.
Pack designed by Jean David (1908-93) for El Al Airlines. The courts are named after Biblical characters.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Hall & Son
Comic Fortune-Telling Cards published by Reynolds & Sons, c.1850.
Comic Question & Answer cards by Josh. Reynolds & Sons, circa 1850.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
Playing Cards: A Secret History
Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith
We are deeply saddened by news of the passing of Anthony Rex Pitts (1940-2021).
The Story of Pepys Games by Rex Pitts
Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany
Chad Valley Co. Ltd (incorporating Johnson Brothers (Harborne) Ltd, the long-established UK brand bought by Woolworths in 1988 and now sold at Argos.
Multum in Parvo published a range of indoor games during the period from 1884-1927.
The founder of Ariel Productions, Philip Marx, was a prolific publisher of children’s books and comics towards the end of and just after the Second World War.
Kum-Bak Sports, Toys & Games MFG Co., Ltd, London S.E.11
Crazy People children’s card game illustrated by caricaturist and graphic artist Walter Trier, c.1950.
Panko (Votes for Women) suffragette card game published by Peter Gurney Ltd, c.1912.
Anonymous Snap game, 1930s.
Panto People published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Hats-Off! miniature card game published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Zoo-Boots published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
The XIXth Century published by John Jaques & Son, c.1875.
The ‘Rinker’ highly amusing snap game, c.1910.