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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.

17: Waddington, Including Some of Their Less Common Packs

John Berry's two-volume work on the Waddington archive and collection is a very comprehensive presentation of the history of the firm, but there are some items missing from it which I include here.

To see the most comprehensive information about John Waddington Ltd, you should look at John Berry's two-volume work on the Waddington playing card collection, in particular Part 1 (2005), which deals with the Waddington archive of its own cards and related goods. (I'm not sure whether it is still available.) However, there are some gaps in the information, possibly due to his untimely death in 2004, so the first volume was finished off by someone else. I will fill in as many gaps as I can on this page.

A lot of collectors are quite disparaging about Waddington’s cards. One often hears adverse comments about the quality of the printing in the cheap-grade packs, especially after World War II and in the early 1970s, where the blue colour in particular seems to have been repelled from the plates in places, though the quality of the card itself was always good. But this is only one part of their output and as Rex Pitts’ pack illustrated on page 6 shows, there are some surprises to be found. That pack is certainly odd in that all the number cards, including the AS, are of the standard type for the early 1920s and yet the courts and their indices are in the German style with the letter under the pip. So I thought it was worth illustrating and mentioning some of the other unusual items that Waddington have produced, all of them illustrated in my book The Standard English Pattern, and included in my contribution to the Plainbacks website. Unfortunately they do not appear in John Berry’s history of Waddington, presumably because they are not in their collection.

For a full list of Waddington cards in my collection, click the links Part 1Part 2

The first set of courts is, in fact, their first design (W1), an odd mixture of other people’s designs usually on cheap card. It seems to have been produced only in 1922-23.

Most of these packs were published with AS1, as in the Barribal pack below, but a few escaped with ASX, the one complained about by Goodall and subsequently withdrawn.

Above: ASX

Above: W1 with AS1

Note that these are wide cards; John Berry claims that wide cards were introduced in 1925, but these cards clearly show that that is wrong.

During 1923 the firm went into playing card production much more seriously and had a new set of courts designed. These were based on the contemporaneous USPCC wide unturned courts (US3; see page 35), but drawn in a different style. They were used in bridge-size and wide packs; the pack below has an unusual anonymous AS and a back dating from 1923.

Above: W2

In 1924 they seem to have introduced a new version of bridge called Buccaneer Bridge with four extra ones (as well as aces). I have never seen one of these packs: has anyone else?

Soon after this the indices were made larger and then the design itself was reduced in size (W2.1). There is a version of these courts from c.1928 for Hapag-Lloyd with German indices. I no longer have this pack, so I'll have to make do with a black and white photocopy of some of the courts.

Above: W2.1 with German indices

By 1927 Waddington had opened another factory in Keighley (near Leeds) to enable them to print all the card faces at one go by letterpress. The backs were always in single or two-tone colours. These cards catered for the cheaper end of the market. (The fancy backs continued to be printed by gravure in several colours in the Leeds factory.) This meant a new set of courts. They took the same basic pattern of the clothing and postures, but redrew everything to create separate plates. The first of these cheap-grade courts were W4. Note that the KH still has no moustache (a feature which changed later).

Above: W4, found in Viking and Excel brands

In 1932 the firm was involved in a major scheme to provide full-size packs of cards for W.D. & H.O. Wills, the cigarette manufacturers. They also provided the insert cards for the cigarette packets for people to collect in order to get the full-size versions. According to the figures found by John Berry, Waddington made 500 million inserts and 5 million full-size packs of cards. It's no wonder there are so many of them still around - sometimes unopened in the cardboard packaging they were posted in!

Above: Inserts for the Star cigarette brand, 1932-34

The scheme lasted until 1934 and the demand was so great that De La Rue, Universal and Mardon, Son & Hall were all drafted in to help keep up the supply. It was around this time that another version of the cheap-grade courts was produced, both for the inserts and the cheaper full packs. The AS was usually anonymous.

Above: W5 for packs such as The Goose Girl in two colours, 1932-34

The KH from W5 onwards for the cheap packs now has a moustache.

Above: KH & JH from W5.1

The more expensive packs (which required more inserts to be saved) used W2.1 courts and the anonymous 'banded' AS.

Above: W2.1 for Wills, 1932-34

Around 1937-38 a new set of courts was designed for the more expensive packs. Whether this was a result of wear and tear on the plates of W2.1 I can't say, but there are a number of packs with these courts from the early to mid 1930s that show signs of plate wear. The new set was based on W2.1, but in an updated style. The KH has no moustache. These courts survived World War II and were used until the early 1950s. It was even used in around 1948 with a De La Rue AS advertising Cosmos lamps.

Above: W3

They were also used in the less-than-successful 5-suit bridge packs of 1938 (withdrawn in 1939) in which the fifth suit had courts of various suits in the style of W3.1.

Above: Green crown suit with W3.1 hearts

At around the same time this other set of courts with different faces (W3.1) was also used.

Above: From two packs: top, with an Ormond AS for Ireland; bottom, in a pack with a back design extolling the virtues of Waddington's playing cards

In 1939, just before the outbreak of war, the firm introduced a series called "Amo(u)rette" (spelt both ways in the archive material), which were narrower than the bridge cards. They had courts without frames that were the only instance of a turned version of Waddington's own court design (W3.2).

Above: Amo(u)rette with W3.2 courts and a Barribal back design, 1939

After 1940 the slimline cards disappeared, but were resurrected again after the war with Goodall courts (see below for the illustration).

A very unusual court set is the first attempt by Waddington at Goodall’s courts (WG1) after the blitz knocked out De La Rue’s Bunhill Row factory . It’s a mixture of elements of their own design and that of Goodall’s (GD9), using the heads of the latter. This was produced for the Daily Sketch War Fund pack sent out to the troops abroad and also appeared on the home market boxed as Federation 575. It is also found with a Waddington AS and packaging as brand 555. Such packs date from c.1942-45. [Not in Berry.]

There is another wartime pack for the troops (W2.2) in which the court designs are extended so that the margins are small and the indices are set into the frame line. Such packs date from c.1941-42.

Presumably in the wake of the lifting of wartime and post-war restrictions, Waddington introduced a series of unusual shapes in the early 1950s. They resurrected the old circular cards, renamed Rondo, and produced convex cards (Kon-Vex), the Zulu pack (shaped like a Zulu shield), and reintroduced Slimline cards, no longer called Amorette. There was also a version of Slimline with Goodall courts and different backs, which had either a De La Rue AS or a Waddington one. A Kon-Vex version of the Coronation cards of 1953 was produced alongside the standard size, which were marketed together in a presentation box. Interestingly, the standard sized packs are cut from the same sheets as the convex ones, so the image of the Queen still has convex sides and the fronts have wider than usual margins all round. The courts used for the convex and slimline packs are W3.2, used first in the Amorette packs referred to above. (See also the wopc website).

Above: Konvex and Coronation packs in two formats

Above: Zulu and Slimline

For a short period in the late 1960s and early 1970s Waddington made cards for gambling casinos. They were oversize, had redrawn Paris pattern courts and are found with and without English indices. The courts are coloured with either blue or green. The finish was not always up to standard and were probably not good to play with. The one below is anonymous, though usually the name was on the AS and the shield of the JC. [Not in Berry.]

A named, indexed version with green instead of blue is illustrated on the DXPO website

A recent acquisition (which also appears on page 2) was printed by Waddington with an anonymous AS and an unusual joker. Even more peculiar is that its companion pack is in an Empire Card Co tax-wrapper. I don't know whether this joker was made for a particular customer, but the packs in an old-fashioned-looking box (even for the time) date from c.1955.

The one aspect of Waddington's cards that interest many collectors is the wide range and quality of their pre-war back designs. A large number are illustrated in colour in John Berry's book, but I present a small selection here. For further examples of back designs click here

Above: Wide packs from c.1927-30

Above: The Pan pack (for the Wills scheme) has edges in blue and gold.

The packaging for the more expensive packs was also well made. One double box for pictorial backs by Barribal was also very inventive. There was a landscape and a portrait pack and the two were put together to form one complete picture on the underside of the box and when the packs were fitted inside.

Above: Duval double box

And, finally, there's the rather impressive six-pack presentation pack of c.1938: all the packs are packed in padded boxes inside the outside case.