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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.

Swastika designs

Swastika design playing cards by De La Rue, c.1925.

A swastika often appeared on greeting cards, birthday cards and even playing cards in the years before it became associated with the German Nazi party during the 1930s and acquired sinister connotations. Until then it was seen as symbolising good luck or anything auspicious. It has been found on artefacts since before Neolithic times.

Swastika design playing cards by De La Rue, c.1925Swastika design playing cards by De La Rue, c.1925 Swastika design playing-cards by De La Rue, c.1925 Swastika design playing-cards by Chas Goodall & Sons, c.1925

Above: Swastika design playing cards manufactured by De La Rue & Co., mid-to-late 1920s, featuring the earlier version of the De La Rue Joker as a double-ended jester with a bauble. The swastika is/was a good luck symbol and it appears facing either direction. Packs with swastikas are also known to have been made for Kendal Milne, an up-market department store in Manchester. Several fortune-telling packs have a swastika on them somewhere - including the Subject card of the Goodall Rameses pack. Thanks to Ken Lodge for comments. Images courtesy David Manners and Robert Cooper.

Right: boxed set of playing cards with swastika designs on the reverse manufactured by Chas Goodall & Sons around the same period. Image courtesy Sandra Ekelund.

Below: the inside of the lid of a dual-deck of cards produced by Thomas De La Rue (with extra Goodall ace of spades) with a swastika design, c.1934. The box is unbranded, gilt edged cards. Images courtesy Matt Probert.

inside of the lid of a box produced by Thomas De La Rue with a swastika design, c.1934 Thomas De La Rue (with extra Goodall ace of spades), c.1934
Score cards by Chas Goodall & Sons, c.1925

Above: from the collection of Tony Hall.

Diana Vernon on a white horse, 1930s

Above: Diana Vernon on a white horse, 1930s. Courtesy David Watson.

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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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Swastika designs

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Swastika design playing cards by De La Rue, c.1925.

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The History of Playing Cards

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Playing Cards and Religion

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Early engravers and print makers made devotional images for pilgrims and people who could not afford paintings or books. Many of these craftsmen turned their hand to manufacturing playing cards to earn extra income. Stock images from the repertoire of devotional imagery might also de adapted to serve as playing card symbols.