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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.

Papyrus playing cards

Egyptian ‘Papyrus’ playing cards with beautiful illustrations against a papyrus background.

Egyptian ‘Papyrus’ souvenir playing cards with ancient Egyptian art set against a papyrus background. The same images are repeated in each suit. Behind the lavishness of Egyptian mythology and its many gods there was a strong belief in the harmony of nature.

Egyptian ‘Papyrus’ playing cards Egyptian ‘Papyrus’ playing cards

Above: Egyptian ‘Papyrus’ playing cards. 52 cards + 2 jokers.

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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.

Recommended

Irish Legendary

Irish Legendary

Irish Legendary deck featuring figures in the Legends of Ireland, designed by Rachel Arbuckle, 1990.

Polska

Polska

Polska with artwork by Katarzyna Tomala & Krzysztof Korzeniak, 2011.

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

Ethiopian

Ethiopian

Ethiopian playing cards designed for the Ethiopian Tourist Organization by Afewerk Teklé.

Sapra Studio Original

Sapra Studio Original

Sapra Studio Original playing cards featuring wild animals of S Africa, 1999.

Brazil Pictorial Aces

Brazil Pictorial Aces

Genoese pattern with Pictorial Aces for Brazil by Brepols, Turnhout, c.1920.

El Al Airlines

El Al Airlines

El Al Airlines deck designed by Jean David, Israel, c.1970.

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique by Mesmaekers, 1934.

Maya Deck

Maya Deck

The Maya Deck produced by Stancraft for Hoyle, 1976.

Neerlands Glorie

Neerlands Glorie

Neerlands Glorie Kwartetspel published by Hausemann & Hötte N.V, Amsterdam, 1945.

French Revolution

French Revolution

Bicentenaire de la Révolution Française 1789–1989 created by Christian Offroy.

Tonalamatl

Tonalamatl

Baraja Tonalamatl Mexican Aztec playing cards based on the prehispanic Codex Borgia manuscript.

Souvenir from Zakynthos

Souvenir from Zakynthos

Souvenir from Zakynthos by Euro Card.

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway

Souvenir of Norway deck.

Naipes Cardón

Naipes Cardón

Naipes Cardón designed by Mario Luis Rivero depicting traditional Argentine culture and identity, 2002.

Deutsche Geschichte

Deutsche Geschichte

German History Quartet published by Otto Maier Verlag Ravensburg, c.1930-35.

Views of New Zealand

Views of New Zealand

Views of New Zealand published by G.B.Scott Souvenirs, Auckland, c.1960.

New Zealand Souvenir

New Zealand Souvenir

Souvenir from New Zealand by Croxley (John Dickinson) c.1950.

Ocean to Ocean Canada Souvenir

Ocean to Ocean Canada Souvenir

“Ocean to Ocean” Canadian Pictorial Souvenir pack by Chas Goodall & Son Ltd, c.1912.

Ocean to Ocean Souvenir of Canada, c.1905

Ocean to Ocean Souvenir of Canada, c.1905

Ocean to Ocean Souvenir of Canada by Chas Goodall & Son Ltd, c.1905.

Roman Empire

Roman Empire

Roman Empire playing cards designed by G. Wyatt for Green Board Game Co Ltd., 2011.

Red Sea

Red Sea

Red Sea fish identification cards published in several languages by Horus of Egypt, 2005.

Folklore No.169

Folklore No.169

Austrian Folklore deck first published by Piatnik in 1934.

Baraja Turística de España

Baraja Turística de España

Baraja Turística de España by Heraclio Fournier, 1966.

Discover Romania

Discover Romania

Discover Romania souvenir published by Editura Foton, 2010.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Gold plated souvenir playing cards from the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel in Dubai.

Romania Unique Places

Romania Unique Places

Romania Unique Places souvenir playing cards by Age Art.

Erlenmeyer City Sights

Erlenmeyer City Sights

Erlenmeyer City Sights hand-illustrated playing cards by Stephanie Gray, 2015.

Greek Mythology

Greek Mythology

Greek Mythology playing cards published by Michalis Toubis S.A., 1995.

Columbian Exposition Souvenir

Columbian Exposition Souvenir

Columbian Exposition Souvenir playing cards, G.W. Clark, Chicago, 1893.

Lakeland

Lakeland

Lakeland playing cards by Stuart Lawrence depicting famous characters & views of England’s Lake District, c.1988.

Venezuela Baraja Turística

Venezuela Baraja Turística

Venezuela Souvenir deck by Heraclio Fournier, c.1980s.

Far East

Far East

Far East playing cards with designs by Isabel Ibáñez de Sendadiano, c.1980.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Souvenir playing cards from the culturally diverse southwestern Pacific island of Papua New Guinea.

Mongolian Mask Dancing

Mongolian Mask Dancing

Mongolian Religious Mask Dancing playing cards, c.2010

Provinces de France

Provinces de France

Jeu des Provinces de France published by Éditions Dusserre, 1979.

Nepal Souvenir

Nepal Souvenir

Souvenir from Nepal marketed by Himalayan Map House

Sorrento Napoletane

Sorrento Napoletane

Souvenir of Sorrento by Carte Da Gioco Muoio, Naples, c.2010

Trinidad Carnival Playing Cards

Trinidad Carnival Playing Cards

“Allfours Carnival Playing Cards” designed by Gabby Woodham, Trinidad, 1995

Story Magazine

Story Magazine

Dutch singers, TV and theatre artist playing cards for “Story” magazine, 1978.