a brief history of De la Rue’s playing-cards
Thomas de la Rue (24 March 1793 – 7 June 1866) was born in a small hamlet in Guernsey called Le Bourg in 1793, the seventh child (of nine) of Eleazar and Rachel de la Rue. At the age of ten he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law Joseph Antoine Chevalier, a master printer in St Peter Port who produced the Gazette de l'Île de Guernsey, the first printed newspaper on the island. During this period Thomas gained a thorough knowledge of printing. In 1818 he moved to London with his family and set up shop initially as a straw hat manufacturer, but he soon diversified into bookbinding and the embossing of leather, and then into paper manufacture. By around 1828 his interests had moved to playing cards and he began to put everything he had learnt into practice. De la Rue introduced letter-press printing and certain other improvements into playing card production and was granted a patent in 1831. He produced his first playing cards in 1832 and over the years came to be recognised as the inventor of the modern English playing card.
Up til this time playing cards had been printed from woodblocks and hand-coloured using stencils. De la Rue's improvements included quicker drying coloured inks, improved glazing technology and the use of enamelled paper. Learn more →. An article in Bradshaw's in April 1842 reported that The whole of Messrs De la Rue's establishment is carried out in a manner perfectly unique. Steam power wherever practicable is applied to the various departments of the business. Between 1856 and 1868 the De la Rue output of playing cards rose from 93,060 packs in 1856 to 265,048 packs in 1868.
In 1844 Thomas de la Rue employed the graphic designer Owen Jones who in the ensuing 20 years produced 173 outstanding back designs for De la Rue ranging from fruit-and-flower themes to Chinese and Arabesque. Owen Jones also designed playing card backs for Lawrence & Cohen (USA) and his designs were imitated by other manufacturers. From 1840 until 1856 playing cards remained the firm's chief money maker and this provided a financial basis for any new fields of activity that De la Rue wished to enter. In any publicity material playing cards, their most lucrative product, received pride of place, and in 1853 Charles Dickens extolled the firm's excellence in an article called A Pack of Cards¹ which included a history of playing cards and De la Rue's part in it. Thomas de la Rue became known as the father of the English playing card.
Right: during the period c.1870-1890 indices were being introduced on playing cards. Packs are sometimes found with hand-written indices where players have improvised in interesting ways.
Besides manufacturing playing cards and card games, the firm also printed railway tickets and visiting cards for which he used his enamelled playing-card paper. De la Rue’s card games were of the highest quality and tended to be expensive. De La Rue became the principal printer of fiscal, inland revenue and postage stamps and banknotes for the UK and colonies, and over the years the best engravers and miniature designers worked for De La Rue.
In the 19th century, England was the principal exporter of playing cards to Russia and the name of De La Rue figures prominently in this connection. In 1842 Thomas De La Rue's youngest brother Paul was appointed superintendent of the Russian royal playing card monopoly and the Russian establishment became an important customer of De la Rue, and was the firm's first overseas trade... learn more →. American and Belgian court card designs have been influenced by De la Rue, and for example, Lawrence & Cohen also enjoyed the services of Owen Jones, one of De la Rue's graphic designers. De la Rue opened a New York office and a Parisian office and during the period 1867-70 De la Rue published two non-standard packs specially designed for the French market →. See also: “International Playing Cards”, 1874. De La Rue also manufactured packs for Denmark and Iran during the 1930s.
In 1921 Charles Goodall & Co. were absorbed by De La Rue. Playing cards had become more popular during World War I and there was now a great demand. The Goodall plant in Camden Town became a subsidiary of De la Rue and their well-known brand names were maintained by De la Rue. However, the duplication of efforts was a drain on profits and this was a disappointment to shareholders. At the same time the General Strike and the depression exacerbated the Company’s condition. During the early 1930s De la Rue helped out by making cards for Waddingtons during the Wills gift scheme, where miniature cards were tucked into every packet of ten Goldflake or Capstan cigarettes which could be exchanged for full-sized packs, and the firm's playing card profits began to pick up. See also: Mardon Son & Hall →
In late 1940 the old De La Rue printing works at Bunhill Row in London was destroyed by air raids. So from 1941 onwards the printing of De La Rue’s playing cards was undertaken by Waddington’s in Leeds. During this period of close cooperation, packs of cards were produced containing components of both companies. For example, a standard De la Rue brand pack with a De la Rue ace of spades and joker might also contain Waddington’s courts, and so on. The two companies joined forces and became The Amalgamated Playing Card Co on a 50-50 basis, but in 1971 De La Rue sold out to Waddington's, who then became Britain's leading playing card manufacturer. See When Three Brands Merge►
De La Rue's Cheery Families designed by Richard Doyle
The aura of domesticity which surrounded Queen Victoria and her Consort spread down the social scale, and card playing was one of the pleasures which could be shared within the large Victorian family circle. In the peaceful days before radio and television, card games were the unrivalled way of passing the time. Learn more →
The company that started life producing straw hats and playing cards almost two centuries ago has become a world leader in high security printing and payment systems technology. Thomas De La Rue International Ltd specialised in the manufacture of banknotes and other security documents, printing, currency counting machinery and money dispensers. It also has interests in the design and sale of banknote printing machinery. Click here to visit De La Rue's Corporate History website.
On Monday, 30th November, 1970, the entire De La Rue collection of playing cards was sold at auction by Sotheby's for £12,000 to the Fournier collection, Spain.
Luxury packs of cards have been produced since the 15th century, a trend that is very popular among collectors today.
Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany
Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.
RCI Playing Cards, a 20th century playing-card maker of Minneapolis, 1969-1985.
The firm of Thomas Woolley lasted for many years from 1836-1904 in several different guises.
Parker Brothers, Salem, Mass., USA.
Ferd. Piatnik produced a very large range of cards with many different standard and non-standard patterns. This is a survey of his standard English output.
SPIELKARTENFABRIEK VON C.L. WÜST, 1811 - 1927. A short history of the Wüst factory by Martin Shaw & Paul Symons.
Matt Hessler’s “Enhanced” four-colour playing cards, 2015.
The “Star” special pack of playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue under their Empire Card Co subsidiary, c.1910.
Hudson Industries Pty Ltd of Carlton in Victoria was first registered as a printing company in 1920. In the 1940s they registered their own distinctive ace of spades and joker.
John Sands had incorporated the earlier playing card manufacturing businesses of Hudson Industries Pty Ltd and Valentine Publishing Co.
The Valentine Group, Australia.
Goodall’s earliest cards were traditional in appearance but in around 1845 ‘modernised’ courts were designed
British Playing Cards Ltd was the predecessor of Universal P.C.Co. and involved Alf Cooke of Leeds and Bemrose of Birmingham, and maybe one or two other printing firms.
In 19th century England there were a number of makers who produced cards in relatively small quantities.
The emphasis throughout my collecting has been on the design of the courts cards, and it should be pointed out that there have been some functional changes to cards, which have affected the traditional designs, especially in the 19th century.
This page continues the presentation of examples of the major English cardmakers of the 19th century.
An overview of the courts and aces of spades produced by James English.
Standard Playing Card Co. started producing playing cards in c.1890 but was in business for only about four years before United States Playing Card Company acquired it in 1894.
The American Bank Note Company was a long-established firm producing national currency, finely engraved stock certificates and other security printing, including postage stamps. They also entered the playing card market c.1908-1914.
An ‘Old Frizzle’ Ace of Spades was assigned to them in 1833. In 1853 James L. & J. Turnbull were listed as ‘Makers of Playing Cards, Pasteboard, Paper Glossers and Pressers and Drawing Board Makers.
Dougherty first secured a patent for “Triplicates” in 1876, a novel type of indices with a miniature card in the top left-hand corner (and bottom right).
Dougherty was at the forefront of innovation, adding Best Bowers and then Jokers, rounded corners and various types of indices, or indicators, to his cards.
Willis W. Russell started a modest playing card business in Milltown, a small town in northern New Jersey, in 1905.
Thomas Wheeler appears in directories at 2 Richbell St (1799), 8 Middle Row, Holborn (1801), 118 Holborn Hill (1802-07) and 127 Holborn Hill (1807-21).
During the 1930s The Ormond Printing Co. Ltd produced playing cards for the Irish market with a distinctive ace of spades, joker and court cards. In 1935 the firm was acquired as a manufacturing facility for Waddington’s cards in Eire.
In December 1831 Thomas de la Rue was granted his patent for printing playing cards by letterpress.
Irish Playing Card Manufacturing Company.
Igor Domicelj commenced producing playing cards in c.1945. By the early 1950s the range had grown to include Naipes La Estrella, Barcelonesa, Chinita, La Española, Fantasio, Cartas Gitanas, Naipes Tipo Húngaro and a Jewish Quartet game.
Berger also produced a Hungarian-type "Seasons" pack with the brand name "La Estrella" and a six-pointed star logo, which was subsequently used by Domicelj and Vigor, suggesting some sort of business succession.
A. Van Genechten ran a flourishing business, supplying various kinds of cards both inside the country and abroad including England, Spain, France, Denmark, South-East Asia, China and Japan.
Originally known as Cappellano Hnos in the 1920s, and undergoing several changes of name and address, the company produced catalan style packs with the brand names "Naipes Triunfo" and "Torcacita" as well as an Anglo-American style pack titled "VELCAP".
Brown & Bigelow of St Paul, Minnesota, was a leading producer of playing cards in the U.S. from the late 1920s - 1980s.
Thai Playing Cards Manufacturing Factory
SOIMCA - Sociedade Impressora Caxiense - is an important playing card manufacturer in Brazil. It was established by Nelson Soares in Caxias do Sul, in the south of Brazil, by 1955.
Rotxotxo Workshop Inventories, Barcelona, 1660-1800.
Amos Whitney Factory Inventory. What it was like inside an 18th century playing card factory...
The unprinted backs of playing cards have led people to use them for secondary purposes such as memorandum slips, bibliographic index cards, for declarations of love, rendezvous notes, emergency money, visiting cards and so on.
Colour lithography was invented in 1798 by a Bavarian actor and playwright named Alois Senefelder (1771-1834). It is based on the principle that oil and water do not mix.