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Original playing card wood block

Original playing card wood block
Original playing card wood block
Original playing card wood block

Hello, I have recently acquired a wooden printing block for cards. I think it is Italian but know very little about when it might date from etc. I have just printed with it and the impression was good. I’d be hugely grateful for any ideas on date, origin etc. Many thanks, Mark ps I am a sixth generation paper-maker and founder of the Paper Foundation, a charity that aims to support and celebrate paper and associated arts - past, present and future. Playing cards are an obvious area of interest. How and where is playing card history best represented? We would love to build a collection here, combined with making new cards, having card tournaments as part of our planned events programme / paper festival etc.


Simon Wintle's Avatar'

Hi Mark,

thanks for your question and images of your woodblock.

Looking ar the print you made from the block they appear to be double-ended, Italian-suited 'Trappola' cards, likely from Austrian or Austro-Hungarian maker, early 19th century. There is a slightly oriental air in some of the courts. A complete set would have contained 36 cards in total which would have required two more blocks of the same size. They would have been hand-coloured using brush and stencils.

You could make stencils to colour your print by printing the outlines onto stencil card, and then cutting out the areas for each colour on separate stencils. A little bit of research would uncover what pigments they used for the colouring, glue for pasting several layers into pasteboard, etc. so then you'd be learning how to make playing cards.

I made my own set of woodblocks many years ago, and printed some replica antique cards. Getting the correct paper was not easy, fortunately someone helped. Later I used Conqueror laid paper to make small editions at home. As you know, the history of paper goes back to China in 105 AD, followed by printing and playing cards. We have our page about that here.

I expect that paper-making has it's own technical vocabulary with fascinating etymologies. And you must surely be the paper magician who turns trees into tales and ideas into sheets of possibility!

Best wishes

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