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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.

Pigmy Playing Cards

Pigmy Miniature Playing Cards

Pigmy miniature playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue, c.1890. The deck has square corners and plain blue backs. The "Dexter indexes" are interesting in that the suit-signs in the corners bear a number in white upon them; the 2s and 3s have had their pips moved to accomodate this scheme. The corners of the Aces bear the outline of the respective suit, in which is the word ‘ace’. There is no marking of any sort on the Ace of Spades. The suit signs on the courts bear the letters ‘Kg’ on a King, ‘Qn’ on a Queen, and a ‘Kn’ (shorthand for "Knave") on a Jack. The original Dexter indices placed inside the corner pips had several variants: ‘Kn’ or ‘J’ for Jack; two arrangements of Aces, twos and threes; and ‘1’ or ‘ace’ on the Aces. This type of index was introduced in around 1878 and continued until c.1890. There are no jokers in this edition. The cards measure 3 x 4.5 cms.

'Pigmy' miniature playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue, c.1890

Above: 'Pigmy' miniature double-ended playing cards with 'Dexter' indices manufactured by Thomas De la Rue, c.1890. Images courtesy Anthony Lee.

'Pigmy' miniature playing cards by Thomas De la Rue, c.1900

Above: 'Pigmy' miniature playing cards with standard indices manufactured by Thomas De la Rue, c.1900. Image courtesy Peter Hepworth.

See also: De la Rue patience cards exported to Harrods Ltd, Buenos Aires

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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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