The World of Playing Cards Logo

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.

Chinese Dragon Robes

Deck featuring 54 different images of Chinese Dragon Robes that emperors, empresses and royal family members wear on important occasions.

Chinese Dragon Robes (龙袍 Longpao)

Costume deck featuring 54 different images of Chinese Dragon Robes from the collections of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing, made from precious materials with exquisite workmanship and lavish ornamentation. The robes are embroidered with yellow dragons and auspicious symbolic patterns. According to the back of the card box: “Dragon robes refer to long outer garments with dragon patterns that emperors, empresses and royal family members wear on important occasions, such as banquets, sacrificial ceremonies and official activities, to show their majestic political statuses.”

detail from Chinese Dragon Robe from the collections of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing
Chinese Dragon Robes playing cards from the collections of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing

Above: Chinese Dragon Robes playing cards marketed by Gugong World; 54 Bridge sized cards in box. Images courtesy Matt Probert.

avatar

By Matt Probert

Member since March 02, 2012

View Articles

I have adored playing cards since before I was seven years old, and was brought up on packs of Waddington's No 1. As a child I was fascinated by the pictures of the court cards.

Over the next fifty years I was seduced by the artwork in Piatnik's packs and became a collector of playing cards.

Seeking more information about various unidentified packs I discovered the World of Playing Cards website and became an enthusiastic contributor researching and documenting different packs of cards.

I describe my self as a playing card archaeologist, using detective work to identify and date obscure packs of cards discovered in old houses, flea markets and car boot sales.

Recommended

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

Korchma Taras Bulba

Korchma Taras Bulba

The first of two decks designed by Ukrainian illustrator Vladislav Erko for “Korchma Taras Bulba” restaurant which serves traditional Ukrainian cuisine

Müller: Richelieu

Müller: Richelieu

This deck is named after Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (1585-1642), a French Roman Catholic Clergyman and statesman, Chief Adviser to King Louis XIII, noted for the authoritarian measures he employed to maintain power.

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.

Newsletter: Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

Newsletter: Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

In this newsletter we’re looking at how fashion and costume is represented through playing card art since the 14th century through to today.

Folk Cards

Folk Cards

Folk Cards designed by Krystyna Gruchalska-Bunsch for Lot Polish Airlines, 1962.

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

‘History of fashion’ cultural quartet game designed by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.

Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet

Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet

Dutch costumes quartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, 1983.

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett Nr.282 published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne.

Norwegian Troll Cards

Norwegian Troll Cards

Norwegian Troll Cards published by Aune Forlag of Trondheim, c.2000.

Caperucita Roja

Caperucita Roja

Caperucita Roja card game published by H. Fournier, 1981.

Pulgarcito

Pulgarcito

Pulgarcito (Tom Thumb) card game published by H Fournier, 1981.

La Belle au bois dormant

La Belle au bois dormant

Sleeping Beauty card game published in France, c.1980s.

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

Sprookjes Kwartet

Sprookjes Kwartet

Fairy Tales quartet published by Heinrich Schwarz + Co for Dutch market, c.1970.

Märchen-Quartett

Märchen-Quartett

Fairy Tales quartet game by F.X. Schmid, Munich, 1960.

Märchen-Quartett

Märchen-Quartett

Märchen-Quartett (Fairy Tales) illustrated by J. P. Werth and published by J. W. Spear & Söhne, c.1915.

Märchenquartett

Märchenquartett

Fairy Tales quartet designed by Annemarie Gramberg, published by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken AG, 1955.

Fancy Dress Ball

Fancy Dress Ball

Spear’s “Fancy Dress Ball” card game with children dressed in period costumes, 1930s.

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties throughout the ages, published in Hungary, 1967.

Fairy Legend Misfitz

Fairy Legend Misfitz

Fairy Legend Misfitz published by C W Faulkner & Co Ltd, c.1908.

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.

Casais Portugueses

Casais Portugueses

Matching game by Majora, Lisbon, c.1970, featuring figures in national dress from Portuguese provinces and colonies

Naipes Criollos

Naipes Criollos

“Naipes Criollos” Gaucho playing cards, 1995.

Naipes Cardón

Naipes Cardón

Naipes Cardón designed by Mario Luis Rivero depicting traditional Argentine culture and identity, 2002.

Martín Fierro

Martín Fierro

Naipes “Martín Fierro” based on the epic poem by José Hernandez.

Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales published by C.W. Faulkner & Co., c.1903.

Gunfighters

Gunfighters

Gunfighters playing cards from the Wild West Series by SPCC, 2018.

Le Avventure di Pinocchio

Le Avventure di Pinocchio

Avventure di Pinocchio by Dal Negro, based on Carlo Collodi’s famous 1883 novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio”.

Folklore No.169

Folklore No.169

Austrian Folklore deck first published by Piatnik in 1934.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots and other Tudor period dignitaries, published by Piatnik, 1990.

Bharata Playing Cards

Bharata Playing Cards

Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2, based on Indian folk art, published by Sunish Chabba, 2018.

Pinocchio

Pinocchio

Pinocchio card game published by Pepys Games, 1940.

Pinocchio

Pinocchio

Pinocchio fairy tale playing cards illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev for Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Calavera Playing Cards

Calavera Playing Cards

Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot by Ishan Trivedi & Sunish Chabba, 2018. Inspired by Indian art forms.

Davy Crockett

Davy Crockett

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier... card game published by Pepys Games, 1956.

Fashion Face Off

Fashion Face Off

“Fashion Face Off” card game illustrated by Erin Petson for Laurence King Publishing, c.2011.

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

French suited German engraved cards c1610 to 1650,

Far East

Far East

Far East playing cards with designs by Isabel Ibáñez de Sendadiano, c.1980.