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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.

Gnav

cards from an early 'Gnav' game made by C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen c.1860

Gnav cards were used in Denmark and Norway. It is not known exactly when the game first appeared. The earliest known Gnav-pack printed in Denmark is by Jacob Holmblad (1820-1837). Others are known by C. Steen and C. L. Keiblinger. Originally Gnav is believed to have been a gambling game but during the 19th century it changed into a children’s game played at Christmas. The game did not maintain popular appeal in Denmark after the 1920s.

Keiblinger Gnav

Gnav game made by C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen c.1860

Above: hand-coloured cards from an early 'Gnav' game with reversible figures, made by C.L.Keiblinger, Copenhagen c.1860. Image courtesy Hans J. Hinrup.

A Gnav deck consists of two of each of the following cards: the Cuckoo, the Horseman, the Cat, the Horse, the House, figure cards from 1-10 (or 1-12), the Garland (or zero), the Flowerpot, the Owl and the Fool. The Cuckoo is the highest card and the Owl the lowest.

Kort Gnavspil, C. Steen, c.1825-40

The box states "med nye figurer" (with new pictures/figures). Instead of the usual house card, where the manufacturer often shows their factory, Steen has used a well-known castle north of Copenhagen, the "Eremitage-slottet", a royal hunting castle. See the Box

Gnav game published by C. Steen c.1825-40

Above: very nice hand-coloured 'Gnav' game published by C. Steen, a prominent publisher and bookseller, whose address is given as 'on the corner of Pilestraede and Svaertegade', c.1825-40. Image courtesy Stephen Bohrer, extra research by Hans Jørgen Hinrup and Per Kristian Guntvedt.

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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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