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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.


A survey of modern Shipping advertising playing cards by Matt Probert

Before the invention of the aeroplane travel by sea was much more common than it is today. First class travel was provided by cruise liners steaming between Europe and America, Africa and Australasia, third class travel provided to passengers not requiring any semblance of luxury by freight service, ferries still provide short-haul travel over water ways both within countries and between continents. Traditionally these shipping lines have sold souvenir decks of playing cards, both representing the shipping line such as Cunard, Manchester Line, Pacific and Orient (P & O), White Star or Union Castle and also the individual cruise ships such as the famous Queen Elizabeth 2. These souvenir playing cards were formerly made by leading names such as Waddington’s and De La Rue, however, during the later part of the 20th century decks were produced in Belgium, Hong Kong and China.

CREDITS: all images and text courtesy Matt Probert, who writes: "I get most of my decks from flea markets and car boot sales for 50p a deck. I rummage around and rescue old decks for a few pence. Occasionally I splash out a few quid on a deck, but I cannot justify paying more. This is a good way to start or expand a hobby."