Standard and Non-standard Playing Cards

Standard Playing Cards

Queen of Clubs c.1700

Above: Standard Playing Cards, 1700

Queen of Clubs c.1875

Above: Standard Playing Cards, 1865

Queen of Clubs c.1935

Above: Standard Playing Cards, 1935

Queen of Clubs c.1965

Above: Standard Playing Cards, 1965

Standard playing cards are those in which the court card figures are based upon traditional designs, and the pip cards are arranged logically, as would be expected. These cards are used for card games. The illustrations (right) show how playing card designs have evolved from full length figures, with square corners and no indices, to double-ended ones, with the addition of indices. During the 19th century the court cards were often flipped horizontally so that the pip sign and index lie at the top left-hand corner, to make fanning the cards more convenient (see illustration).  See further details of early English playing cards click here →

By around 1880, rounded corners had become the accepted norm in England. The Printer and Stationer of January 1880 reported that "… it appears that most of our card manufacturers make round cornered cards now - their convenience being undeniable." However, square cornered cards were still produced until around the turn of the century.

Jack of clubs' attribute Goodall/Willis imps

"Life is a pack of cards.
Childhood's best cards are hearts;
youth is captured with diamonds;
middle age is conquered by a club,
while old age is raked in by the insatiable spade."

Non-Standard Playing Cards

Non-standard playing cards are those in which the court cards, pip cards, aces and or jokers have deviated from the traditional, 'standard' pattern and have been stylised, decorated or re-designed (see below). Sometimes the shape of the cards is different, sometimes the court cards are representations of political personalities, royalty or cartoons. A pack of cards may be produced to honour a Royal commemoration, a political party, a new tourist attraction or the next millennium.

King of Hearts published by Charles Hodges, c.1827 Queen of Hearts by Goodall, c.1899 Queen of Hearts published by Arpak, c.1928 Eight of Shamrocks, EPCS, 1999

Above: Non-Standard English playing cards, c.1820-1999.

Advertising Playing Cards

Advertising playing cards display advertising propaganda, either on the reverse of the cards, or else on the pip cards, court cards, aces, jokers or even the box. Some of the more popular collector's advertising themes include breweries, shipping lines, and household products. Naturally, the style of advertising on playing cards changes over the decades, not only due to changing technologies, but also fashions and taste.

Sanderson Bros and Newbould Ltd, Sheffield, c.1905 I must have left it behind c.1910 Household advertising, 1920s Manchester Evening News, 1927
3M Company Brickwoods, Portsmouth c.1960 Special Joker, c.1960 Billing Systems, 1998 Rivington Corporate Print Limited, 1998 Advertising on box, c.1989 Clements coal merchants (Portsmouth) c.1930

Card Games

Card games represent a fascinating part of our cultural and social history. They tell the story of British life seen through an unusual key hole! The style and design of card games from the nursery to adult drinking games encompasses a wide range of different material, much of which stimulates debate and differences of opinion. For example, whilst "Snap", "Happy Families" and "Old Maid" are familiar titles, other games such as currency, travel or war-time card games are less common, and they all provide something new to learn.

Children’s Card Games with Advertising

Sales incentives - from the collection of Rex Pitts



Some collectors specialise in items connected with playing cards, such as score cards, markers, ash trays, glasses, erasers, key rings, post cards, advertisements, brochures, stickers etc. Whatever you may decide to collect, it will lead to new discoveries, hours of 'hunting' and much pleasure.

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Last Updated September 15, 2020 at 03:41pm


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