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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.

Cheery Families, c.1893

Cheery Families card game designed by Richard Doyle and printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1893

Cheery Families by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1890

Designed by Richard Doyle (1824-1883) and registered in 1893, the game was first issued with either dark green or pale green backs. This is De La Rue's contribution to the 'Happy Families' genre which had become popular following the publication of Jaques' Original Happy Families in c.1850. Richard Doyle also designed “Stop Thief” and “Spin & Old Maid” card games for De la Rue.

Cheery Families printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1893

Above: eight cards from 'Cheery Families' card game printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1893. 52 cards, 13 families of four cards each. The initials R.D. appear on Mr Grub the Gardener's flowerpot, which stand for Richard Doyle (1824-83), the humorous artist, cartoonist and illustrator.

Richard 'Dick Kitcat' Doyle (1824-1883) was uncle to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was a gifted artist and began from an early age to illustrate juvenilia and books for family circulation. He went on to illustrate for Dickens, Thackeray, Ruskin and Punch magazine and became almost a household name. Doyle's cover design for Punch was used until 1954.

Cheery Families printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1893

Above: the box.

Later Editions

In the late 1930s Gibson published a red and black version, renamed “Happy Families”, with blue pattern backs in 24 and 44 card editions. At some time near then Gibsons also published a 52 card edition for Marks and Spencer with the complete set of all the original characters (in the red and black colours) and a jazzy new back design. The same treatment was also applied to the De La Rue Snap cards contemporary with the Cheery Families.

Cheery Families economy edition printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1930s

Above: 52 or 24-card version with rules, renamed “Happy Families”.

Cheery Families economy edition printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1930s

Above: 52-card version.

Cheery Families economy edition printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1930s

Above: Marks & Spencers edition, 52 cards in box.

Cheery Families economy edition printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1930s

Above: an odd 44-card green version of Cheery Families economy edition printed by De La Rue & Co., Ltd, c.1930s.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.

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