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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.

34: Design Copies

Some copies of the designs of Goodall and the New York Consolidated Card Co.

As is quite obvious to any collector of playing cards, makers copy each others' designs. It is, however, a complicated issue since there are varying degrees of copying that can take place. A maker might try to copy an original design exactly. Before the days of photography and electronic scanning exact copies were not possible. Photographic methods of reproduction don't seem to have featured in the manufacture of cards very much. Today, on the other hand, a manufacturer can make an exact replica of someone else's design from the other side of the world, simply by scanning the original. So the term 'copy' covers a whole range of reproductions from close to slightly similar. Some makers' designs are taken as models quite widely. Three of the most commonly copied designs from 1900 onwards are those of Goodall, New York Consolidated Card Co (NYCCC) and USPCC's modern version of a NYCCC design used in their poker cards. This must to some extent reflect patterns of exportation. To start with I will illustrate some Goodall copies. G4 was copied by an anonymous maker, probably Belgian, for a round-cornered Isle of Man pack. It is a very close copy, but is not from Goodall plates.

Goodall G4

Anonymous copy

Samuel Hart, the American maker, used the same design but changed several details, such as the hair-styles and faces. Note that the two jacks that don't have moustaches in the Goodall original sport one in this version.

Samuel Hart, c.1870

At around the same time the Eagle Card Co., classified as part of the Longley group by the Dawsons, used a very similar version. This examples shows that it is difficult to know in any particular case who used the copied design first and who copied it afterwards. Note the jacks' moustaches again.

Eagle Card Co., c.1870

Goodall's G6, used by them from c.1900 until c.1930, was copied even more.

Goodall G6

G6 copy by Amirayan, Egypt, c.1936

This is a very close copy as well, but not from Goodall plates. These close copies are sometimes misinterpreted as coming from Goodall's factory, but the plates are the key and if they don't match exactly, then they can't be by Goodall (or whatever maker is relevant). In fact, it is possible to suggest a reason for copying in this case. The tobacconist's firm, Carvelli Frères of Cairo, had cards made for them by De La Rue in c.1935-39 using genuine G6 courts. The local firm, Amirayan, simply copied these in order to produce cheaper cards.

Tricklico pack by De La Rue for Egypt, c.1935 (see bridge no trump score)

De La Rue's redrawing of Goodall's bridge-width cards (GD10) was also used occasionally as a model.

The English firm C.H. Gee, who made a few advertising packs in the 1930s, used GD10 as a model, changing details of the clothing and the style of index.

De La Rue/Goodall GD10, c.1930

C.H. Gee, c.1930

An interesting copy was made by Van Genechten in which all the courts were turned, so they were copied 'as is' to produce the reverse image. These cards were made in the 1930s for export to India, many to be used as temple offerings. A large consignment was stuck in Belgium at the outbreak of World War II. (Don't believe anyone who dates them as 1890 or earlier, just because they're square-cornered and indexless.)

Van Genechten, c.1935

A recent acquisition provides an interesting example of a Goodall-based design in a pack which purports to be American-inspired. The pack is by María Gonzalez Rizzo of Cadiz; it's square-cornered with a back design based on a USPCC one with a biplane at each end. Oddly, the brand is called "Monoplano"! The joker is based on Goodall's design with a redrawn head and with 'OS' in each left-hand corner, like the American 'US'. So an odd mixture.

Rizzo, c.1926

And here's a very recent double pack made in Taiwan for Ted Baker, which is a copy of the Italian versions of Goodall (Dal Negro, Modiano, Cambissa, etc.). One pack has courts in red, black and gold, the other in green, black and gold, with the red suits all green.

Taiwan, 2012

There's another version, made for Ridley's Games Room series, with the courts in just red and dark blue; none of the kings or jacks has a moustache.

Taiwan for Ridley's, 2014

It's interesting to see how certain versions of a design get established as a kind of local standard. This Italian version of Goodall's design is still used as a model for new versions. Moda of Trieste, a relative newcomer to the playing card scene, is a good example. The faces are redrawn, but the clothing is more of less the same as the older makers.

Moda, c.2010

The same version of the design has been used as a model for a Croatian pack by Grafiko-Grafoprint with some interesting reinterpretations of the attributes. For example, the JS has a decoratively tipped spear (rather than the incomprehensible development of most standard English packs), and the JC's weapon looks more like a harpoon than the original arrow. The JD is drawn with a small black area below his curls, which gives the appearance of a neck inside his clothing, another invented feature.

Grafiko-Grafoprint, c.2010

One final example of a less exact copy of Goodall's design is furnished by the Thai Playing Card Factory.

Wide-size, c.1970

The wide-size cards are still in production and so is a bridge version, where the courts have been compressed by computer. (The bar codes are for dealing at a bridge tournament.)

Bridge-size, 2010

For a description of a visit to the Thai factory and other Thai cards, see

https://www.wopc.co.uk/thailand/playing-cards-factory

For another Thai design, see page 3 of this blog.

Sometimes designs are a mixture of some elements from one maker and others from another. An example using some Goodall characteristics as well as some of Waddington's design is that of KZWP, Krakow, whose cards have been imported into the UK since the 1960s, and are now marketed under the name of Trefl.

KZWP/Goodall/Waddington designs

Here we see that the JD is based on that of Goodall, whereas the KC is based on Waddington's. The QH has elements of both designs, for instance, an undulating collar design from Waddington and long sleeves with a heart design from Goodall. The JC does its own thing but has elements of Waddington's design as well, e.g. the arrow decoration and the cloak edge at the left.

The NYCCC design, originally derived from De La Rue's D5 via several redrawings and with six turned courts, has also been widely copied.

NYCCC US6.1, c.1900

Anonymous copy of about the same period

Below are three slightly different versions of the JD by NYCCC followed by nine copies from a variety of makers.

NYCCC, c.1900-10

From top left to bottom right these are: 1 the anonymous copy illustrated above; 2 Willner Brothers, Czechoslovakia, c.1920, an odd version in which all courts except for the red jacks are turned and switched as to their suits; 3 Piatnik, c.1925; 4 Van Genechten, c.1910; 5 Brepols, c.1920; 6 Stralsunder, c.1930; 7 Piatnik Kaffeehaus, extra large, c.1950; 8 ASS, c.1970; 9 Protea, South Africa, modern.

The later redrawing of US6.1 resulted in the design they use for most of their wide-size cards, US7. This is copied widely, especially in the Far East.


Chinese copies of USPCC's current poker cards with minor variation, c.1970-present

Further Chinese copies with greater variation, c.1970-2000


The USPCC originals are illustrated on pages 1 & 43 of the blog.

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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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