History of Danish Playing Cards

Danish ‘Tarok’ cards by Jean Friedrich Mayer

Playing Cards in Denmark
Spillekort i Danmark

The earliest mention of playing-cards in Denmark dates from 1487 when King Hans, who reigned from 1481-1513 and was notorious for his gambling, again and again drew money from the treasury to pay for his losses. Cards were mostly imported from France and Belgium, but the earliest Danish playing card production-monopoly was given in 1673 to Fridrich Jacobsen, therefore probably showing that local production commenced sometime around that time. However, a secondary source reports that Fridrich Jacobsen's cards were so bad that shopkeepers would not sell them! No examples have survived.

An early existing pack of cards known to be printed in Denmark is an Animal Tarok pack which follows Belgian designs, made by the printer Jean Friedrich Mayer, who had been granted a royal licence to print playing-cards from 1752-1783. Mayer also published standard 'Paris' type decks, in the traditional French style, with named court cards.

Above: standard 'Paris' type deck, in the traditional style, printed from woodblocks in black-and-white and then hand-coloured using stencils, with named court cards, produced in Denmark by Jean Friedrich Mayer, 1752. The cards have been cut too close for comfort; possibly they have been trimmed by a previous owner. Image courtesy Hans J. Hinrup.

card by Christoffer Ernst Süsz

Mayer's licence was taken over in 1783 by Christoffer Ernst Süsz, who was joined in 1790 by Kunze, and who also produced Animal Tarok packs, as well as Paris-type packs with single-ended and named courts. Similar packs were produced by Pierre Steinmann (active 1798-1820)→

The game of Gnau consists of forty-two cards and is the Danish version of the old game of Cucu. • See: Keiblinger Gnav→

Left: Jack of Spades by Christoffer Ernst Süsz.
He has a leaping dog and the name 'Hogier'
in accordance with French tradition.

See also:  C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen 1852-85.

The Holmblad Dynasty

The most celebrated Danish cardmakers belonged to the Holmblad family. Jacob Holmblad came from Sweden in about 1766. The production of playing-cards by the Holmblad family started with the granting of a royal licence in 1820 to Jacob Holmblad (1791-1837). To begin with he carried on the European influence already established by his predecessors and published continental-style decks and Animal Tarok decks following Belgian designs. But then he dropped the French names from the court cards and began introducing changes into the designs so that over time original and new patterns emerged with a distinctive Danish flavour.

After his death in 1837, playing-card production was continued by his son Lauritz Peter Holmblad (1815-1890) who rejuvenated some of his father's patterns and commissioned new designs incorporating ideas of his own. It was he who was the real founder and developer of the Holmblad patterns. The royal licence was formally transferred to him in 1841, and  Holmblad became a household name which appears on Danish packs even today. In his diary in 1865 he wrote: “Various improvements were introduced into my production this year... such as a new printing machine, a stereotype press and a polishing machine...”

In around 1850 L. P. Holmblad parted from the tradition of Animal Tarock packs and published newly-designed packs depicting prominent buildings from in and around Copenhagen  (click on images).

Holmblad tarock, c.1850 Holmblad tarock, c.1850 Salomon tarock, c.1906 Salomon tarock, c.1906

After L.P. Holmblad's death in 1892 the Copenhagen factory was closed. Holmblad's successor S. Salomon acquired the rights to use these playing-card designs and continued producing packs under the Holmblad name. Hereafter the Holmblad house patterns were printed as brand names by foreign makers such as Wüst of Germany, Piatnik of Austria, as well as Belgian manufacturers and even Waddingtons of England  see more →

Adolph Wulff of Copenhagen published L'Hombre No.60, Luxuskarte No.75 and Whist No.80 manufactured in Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Aktieselskabet Emil Jensen of København published several decks in the 1930s & 40s including packs made in England: “Luxus Bridgekort” specially designed by Barbara MacDonald and special packs to commemorate King Christian X of Denmark in 1935 and 1937. The principal cardmaker in Denmark today is Handa.

Conjuring cards

Above: special double-ended playing cards for conjuring with comical figures made by Richard Beber, Copenhagen late 19th century.

Above: Bjørn Wiinblad playing cards

Above: Warburg’s Danske playing cards published by Aktieselskabet Emil Jensen, København, 1944

Above: two Jacks from an Animal Tarok deck by Jacob Holmblad, c.1830, following continental designs.

Above: original artwork for a completely new figure for the Jack of Hearts playing the part of Amor with a bow and arrow in his left hand and a heart dangling in his fingertips in his right hand, possibly inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. Image courtesy Hans J. Hinrup.

Above: early Jacob Holmblad deck, c.1820

Above: Jacob Holmblad deck, c.1830

Above: playing cards by L.P. Holmblad c.1840

Above: House pattern, c.1850-80  See also:Majestætiske fingeraftryk” • Holmblads standard pattern

Advertising for cosmetics, unknown publisher, Denmark, about 1960

Above: unknown publisher, Denmark, c.1960. Advertising for cosmetics.

Above: Nationalkortet - Danish Kings & Queens, c.1930

Above: Warburg’s Skandinaviske Bridge Kort, c.1935

Above: early Jacob Holmblad deck, 1820s

Above: artwork for L.P. Holmblad deck, c.1845

Above: historical cards, L.P.Holmblad c.1850

Above: cards by L.P.Holmblad, c.1860

Above: The Game of Four Queens, 1988

Above: King Christian IV Anniversary pack, 1988

Above: Warburg’s L’Hombre Kort, c.1935


Hinrup, Hans J.: The Holmblad Playing Card Patterns, in "The Playing-Card" vol.33 no.4, IPCS London, Apr-June 2005.

Hinrup, Hans J.: interview/article in "Antik & Auktion" Journal, Denmark, January 2010.

Jensen, K. Frank: Royalty on Danish Playing Cards, The Playing-Card vol.32 no.1, IPCS, July-Aug 2003.

Jensen, K. Frank: French suited tarot packs in Denmark and the Jacob Holmblad Animal tarot, in "The Playing-Card" vol.36 no.3, IPCS London, Apr-June 2008.

Images courtesy Hans Jørgen Hinrup, K. Frank Jensen and Rex Pitts.

Last Updated September 04, 2018 at 12:32pm


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