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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.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland card game based on original designs by Sir John Tenniel published by Thomas De la Rue & Co. Ltd, c.1900

Thomas De la Rue & Co’s “Alice in Wonderland” card game based on the original designs by Sir John Tenniel was first published in c.1898. John Tenniel had been commissioned to produce illustrations for a new book titled “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), published by Macmillan & Co in 1865. The illustrations from the 1896 edition of the book were used for the De la Rue card game, after being adapted by E. Gertrude Thomson.

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” turned Victorian children’s literature on its head. Unlike earlier Victorian child protagonists, Alice is critical, defiant and self-assertive. She is the only one to stand up to the arbitrary and domineering Queen. She rejects authority and asserts the rights of the child.

The pack consists of forty-eight cards arranged in sixteen sets of three cards each, all three bearing the same number. One card in each set is a “Leading” card and shows the title of the other two cards.  See the complete rules

John Tenniel also created the designs for Jaques “Snap” which first appeared in 1866.


front of box

“Alice in Wonderland” card game published by Thomas De la Rue & Co. Ltd, c.1898. The game was published for several years and the side of the boxes reads “Manufacturers to Her Majesty” during Queen Victoria’s reign, or “Manufacturers to His Majesty” during the reign of Edward VII.

Hand-made Set

hand-made Alice in Wonderland cards

Above: delightful hand-made Alice in Wonderland cards, drawn on old post cards. 48 cards. Image courtesy John Morgan.

FURTHER REFERENCES and CREDITS

Christensen, Thomas: River of Ink: literature, history and art, Counterpoint, Berkeley, Ca, 2014.

All images courtesy Adam West-Watson.

See also: Carreras Alice in Wonderland cards

See also: Alice in Wonderland Notched Card Set

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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