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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.

De la Rue’s 125th anniversary

In around 1955 De la Rue introduced a new coloured joker and a series of aces of spades with a silhouette of Thomas de La Rue which coincided with their 125th anniversary

De la Rue’s Silhouette Aces of Spades and Coloured Jokers

In around 1955 De la Rue introduced a new coloured joker and a series of aces of spades containing a silhouette of Thomas de la Rue. This coincided with the 125th anniversary of the granting to Thomas de la Rue of a Royal Letters Patent by King William IV for the printing of playing cards by the typographical process in 1857. The silhouette aces of spades first appeared in c.1957 and underwent several changes in lettering and design, in particular when the three pence duty was dropped in 1960, but also including a white collar in some versions. The coloured joker is first known in July 1955 but was subsequently replaced by a harlequin joker in 1961.

De la Rue’s standard ace of spades with the new coloured joker, c.1955

Above: De la Rue’s standard ace of spades with the new coloured joker instead of the earlier black and white version, c.1955.
See also: New Zealand Shipping Company, c.1955Royal Snowdrift Oil, c.1955

Above: Advertising deck with special ace of spades based on the conventional design, produced for Arthur Lee and Sons Ltd of Sheffield by Thomas De la Rue around 1958. The deck contains two colured jokers and a security stamp bearing Thomas De la Rue’s silhouette.

Black & White Cigarettes, c.1957

Above: De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with three pence duty and the new coloured joker for Black & White Cigarettes, c.1957.
See also: Ben Line Shipping3M Company3M Company with special jokerBritish Road ServicesAmerican Express

Federation playing cards with export version of De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades

Above: export version of De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with the coloured joker, 1957-60.

British Gas Council, c.1962

Above: De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with the three pence duty removed and the harlequin joker for the British Gas Council, c.1962.
See also: R.M.S. Windsor CastlePneumatic playing cards, c.1960-65Society playing cards, c.1965Steels Garages, c.1966

Erskine Motors (Gosport), c.1962

Above: De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with the three pence duty removed and the harlequin joker for Erskine Motors (Gosport), with security stamp bearing Thomas De la Rue’s silhouette, c.1962.

Advertising deck for Senior Service by De La Rue, c.1965

Above: advertising deck for Senior Service cigarettes with De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with a white collar, c.1965.

De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with a white collar, c.1965-69

Above: De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with a white collar, c.1965-69.  See also: Henderson Derrick Cranes

De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with a white collar, c.1965-69

Above: De la Rue’s silhouette ace of spades with a white collar, c.1965-69. Tha ace gives the address as ‘London’, whereas the quality control slip gives the address in Leeds.

In 1969 De La Rue sold out to Waddington's, who then became Britain's leading playing card manufacturer.

‘Wheel’ Playing Cards

Wide sized ‘Wheel’ aces were probably made for export. They are found with or without the name printed at the foot. Also used by Waddingtons in ‘Zodiac Club Playing Cards’ for Pepys with Goodall courts, after Alf Cooke had been bought out, with ‘Wheel’ backs, c.1972.

Above: various De la Rue aces of spades, including the ‘Wheel’, with versions of the joker, 1950s-1970. Top: DLR Wheel printed by Waddington, c.1965. Middle row: DLR Wheel, same box as above, with Goodall & Son ace and bridge courts on wide cards, c.1956 or later. Bottom: DLR Wheel AS with letterpress bridge courts on wide cards; APCC on gold box seal, c.1968. Images courtesy Ken Lodge.

NOTES

The occasion of the 125th anniversary of the granting to Thomas de la Rue of a Royal Letters Patent by King William IV (1832) was also celebrated by the first ever International Conference of playing card manufacturers in London in October, 1957, along with an International Exhibition of Playing Cards, an International Bridge Tournament and the printing of a specially designed pack of playing cards by Jean Picart le Doux

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REFERENCES

De la Rue and Co. Ltd, Thomas: International Playing Card Conference and Exhibition, conference agenda and delegates’ information pack including transcripts of papers, De la Rue & Co., London, 1957

Lodge, Ken: The Standard English Pattern (second revised and enlarged edition), Bungay, Suffolk, 2010   [excerpts on www.plainbacks.com]

Thanks to Matt Probert for images and Ken Lodge for additional research.

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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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