HE EARLIEST ENGLISH playing cards are very scarce few specimens have survived and little is known about the manufacturers. This page exhibits several early examples of traditional, standard English playing cards of which the best known are those of Hewson of the seventeenth century, and Blanchard from the eighteenth century.
An Exciting Find
Whilst renovating a house in Ross-on-Wye, and having removed the floorboards in the attic, workmen discovered 33 rather old playing cards: 9 court cards and 24 pip cards in varying states of wear and deterioration.
It is unusual to find so many cards under floorboards, and suggests that the cards may have been hidden there. One recalls edicts and laws forbidding card playing to servants and apprentices except during the Christmas holidays. The maker is unidentified, and there is no Ace of Spades or tax stamp, however there are clues which assist in dating the cards:
King of clubs: early style with Cross of Lorraine on an imperial orb
King of hearts: early style wielding an axe
King of diamonds: armed with a battle axe
Queen of hearts: a very long, thin stalk to the flower
During the 18th century the design of standard English playing cards tended to become set and stereotyped, so that these designs differed less noticeably from maker to maker. Wood blocks were supplied to card makers by a different trade and so a block-maker might have supplied various manufacturers with the same style of court designs. The designs tended to become more distorted, sometimes slightly grotesque, as the features and attributes were corrupted.
Between 1820 and 1840 designs began to be revised, and printing methods evolved, so that, once again, designs between manufacturers became more and more distinctive and competition stimulated innovation. However, it needs to be borne in mind that even as late as the 1870s packs of playing cards were assembled by hand, and that left-overs might have been used to complete another pack. Thus it is sometimes difficult to distinguish these mixed packs from more recent mixes of incomplete packs.
Finally, although De La Rue pioneered letterpress for the production of playing cards in the 1830s, a number of other manufacturers, such as Hunt/Bancks and Reynolds, continued wood-block and stencil use right up until the 1870s. The cutting work and the application of wood blocks had by this time become more refined.
Member since February 01, 1996View Articles
Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
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.
Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.
Pack celebrating the rugby world champions of 2003. Produced by MMcardz.
Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.
“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.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.
Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith
We are deeply saddened by news of the passing of Anthony Rex Pitts (1940-2021).
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.
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.
Round the World Happy Families by Chiefton Products Ltd of Bristol, c.1950s.
Abbatt Toys Animal Families, c.1970.