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Published September 21, 2015 Updated October 30, 2022

Empire Card Company: Star Playing Cards

The “Star” special pack of playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue under their Empire Card Co subsidiary, c.1910.

1910 United Kingdom De la Rue Empire Card Company Star Add to Collection

The “Star” special pack of playing cards was manufactured by Thomas De la Rue under their Empire Card Co subsidiary (active c.1888-1915) for selling cheaper grade cards (red/black courts) to keep competitors out of the market. It has the standard DLR joker and the ace of spades is nicknamed the “Doily” because it resembles an ornamental mat. Sometimes the ace has the subtitle “The Empire Card Co., London.” Patience size packs are also found and, occasionally, packs with ‘Pneumatic’ finish.

The box advertises the “index pips” and “round corners” which at that time were a selling proposition to persuade customers to switch brand.

Empire Card Company: Star Playing Cards, c.1910 Empire Card Company: Star Playing Cards, c.1910

Above: the “Star” special pack of playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue under their Empire Card Co subsidiary, c.1910. The cards have standard De la Rue courts in black/red only with a decorative Art Nouveau back design. Images courtesy Matt Probert.


More examples of playing cards by the Empire Card Co., the subsidiary of Thomas de la Rue & Co (active c.1888-1915). It's not clear whether the doily ace predated the Empire Card Co.

Empire Card Company boxes

Above: various examples of playing cards and boxes by “The Empire Card Co., London”. It is interesting to note that each box promotes a particular feature, such as "Highly Finished", "In Neat Slide Box" or "Warranted London Made". Images courtesy Ken Lodge.


Patience playing cards with doilly ace of spades for Harrods, Buenos Aires Ltd, c.1920

Above: Patience playing cards with doilly ace of spades for Harrods, Buenos Aires Ltd, with Argentinean 'Impuestos Internos' (Mercury) tax stamp on both Aces of Hearts, 1 Peso tax band overprinted "Precio Venta hasta $3.00". Reverse: red or blue & white. C.1920.

Playing cards printed by De la Rue for the Wills gift scheme, 1933-34

Above: playing cards printed by De la Rue with an anonymous ace of spades for the Wills gift scheme, 1933-34. Image courtesy Ken Lodge.

The Empire Card Co. was revived intermittently during the 1930s and 1950s by both De la Rue and Waddingtons. This appears to have been for the purpose of selling otherwise anonymous packs, or else lower grade cards.

De la Rue “Favourite” brand, c.1930, in printed Empire wrapper

Above: De la Rue “Favourite” brand in printed Empire Card Co tax wrapper, c.1930. (click to zoom).

pack by Waddingtons with unusual joker and stamped “The Empire Card Co London” on the tax wrapper, c.1955

Above: pack by Waddingtons stamped “The Empire Card Co London” on the tax wrapper, c.1955 (click to zoom).

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By Matt Probert

Member since March 02, 2012

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.


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