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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.

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Germany

238 Articles

Card-playing rapidly became popular in medieval Bavaria and German printers were quick to supply the goods.

German playing cards

Card-playing rapidly became popular in medieval Bavaria and German printers were quick to supply the goods.

German playing cards

Bavarian Military Cards

The King of Acorns is supposed to represent Prince Otto; the King of Leaves is Maximilian II; the King of Bells is Ludwig II; the King of Hearts is Ludwig I wearing a general's uniform. The court cards are all male, but some of the numeral cards depict women.

Bavarian Military Cards

American Skat

These decks were produced in various grades for the German immigrant population and feature the German eagle and the German and American flags intertwined. There were two versions: one with German faces and one with American faces.

American Skat

I.M.F. Engraved Cards

Playing cards had been made as precious objects for wealthy clients since the late 14th century. They were made to look at, admire and to keep in curiosity cabinets, or perhaps to entertain ladies or educate children rather than to play with.

I.M.F. Engraved Cards

Walter Scharff

Walter Scharff was of Jewish descent. After some early experiences working in a cardboard factory and printing business cards, Walter Scharff established a playing card factory in 1923 and published a small but elegant range of German, Swiss and French-suited decks. There was a lot of competition in the playing card industry in those days, and in 1931 his business was taken over by V.A.S.S.

Walter Scharff

Liebig Beef Extract

The first cards, or “chromos”, were published in 1872 and during the next 100 years almost 2,000 series were issued as a form of advertisement, but also educational as they cover almost every field of knowledge.

Liebig Beef Extract

Hauptstadte Spiel

Each Ace shows views of two European capital cities.

Hauptstadte Spiel

Fynste Java Speelkaarten

Dondorf's "Fynste Java Speelkaarten No.17" was published to commemorate the second marriage of King William III with Princess Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont, on January 7, 1879.

Fynste Java Speelkaarten

Osram Advertising Playing Cards

The court cards feature double-ended light-bulb people (the Kings are repeated in each suit) and the numeral cards have vignettes at each end illustrating how Osram light bulbs lighten the darkness.

Osram Advertising Playing Cards

Wahrsage-Karten

In this version an explanatory verse is printed at the top of each card.

Wahrsage-Karten

Der Feinen Welt

Lattmann's 'Die Spielkarte Der Feinen Welt' published in 1923.

Der Feinen Welt

F.A. Lattmann

After the family printing business had been handed down for several generations, in 1794 Ernst Wilhelm Gottlieb Kircher founded a playing card factory in Goslar am Harz

F.A. Lattmann

Bosco by A.S.S. for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru

‘Bosco’ Playing Cards manufactured by A.S.S. for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru, 1930s.

Bosco by A.S.S. for the Estanco de Naipes del Peru

Whist No.178 ‘Stuart Zeit’

Although not historically accurate this example is subtitled “Stuart period”, with rich costumes creating associations with an imaginary period sometime before the French Revolution.

Whist No.178 ‘Stuart Zeit’

L'Hombre No.60

Dondorf's “L'Hombre No.60” was manufactured for the Danish firm Adolph Wulff of Copenhagen between c.1910-1930.

L'Hombre No.60

Wüst Oval Patience

C. L. Wüst Oval Patience Karten No. 240, beautifully printed by chromolithography, c.1910.

Wüst Oval Patience

Einköpfige Deutsche Spielkarte No.303

Dondorf's ‘Einköpfige Deutsche Spielkarte No.303’ (‘Single-ended German Playing Cards’) were produced during the period 1900-1930.

Einköpfige Deutsche Spielkarte No.303

Mittelalter No.150

These designs imitating late medieval costumes were published by B. Dondorf in Germany in various editions between 1889-1933 as Mittelalter No.150, 151 and 135.

Mittelalter No.150

Cartes Comiques, 1870-1888

“Cartes Comiques”, published by B. Dondorf, printed by chromolithography, c.1870-1888.

Cartes Comiques, 1870-1888

B. Dondorf GmbH: Neue Klubkarte No.422

The designs are a meld between the standard international pattern and German-style French-suited cards. Elements from various other standard patterns can be detected.

B. Dondorf GmbH: Neue Klubkarte No.422

Deutsches Luxusbild

The court cards in this well designed double-ended pack are realistically dressed in 16th century costumes with German suit symbols. The Kings and high ranking personnel are strict and austere.

Deutsches Luxusbild

Gaigel-Karten

The Valets in this deck appear in costumes of the Biedermeier period, portraying sentimental and pious poses in keeping with the iconography of traditional German playing card patterns.

Gaigel-Karten

Club Karte

There have been many variations in the design of “Club Karte” including the introduction of borders, corner indices and rounded corners, and variations in the inscriptions on the Aces over the years.

Club Karte

Original Skatgeld der Stadt Altenburg

“Original Skatgeld der Stadt Altenburg” featuring the emergency money of 1921 designed by Otto Pech

Original Skatgeld der Stadt Altenburg

Rhineland Pattern

This pack was probably the culmination of a mixture of designs from 19th century Germany which emerged as one of Dondorf's more popular house patterns by around 1900.

Rhineland Pattern

Luxuskarte No.75

Stylistically, the deck fits easily into the Dondorf “luxury card” group. The deck has been produced for the Danish firm Adolph Wulff of Copenhagen, also for F. Tilgmann in Helsinki, and a Swedish version by Öberg & Son, Stockholm.

Luxuskarte No.75

Saks-Werbespiel

Promotional playing cards printed by Dondorf for Saks & Company, New York, late 1920s.

Saks-Werbespiel

10: Playing Cards in Germany

The playing card manufacturers of Germany from 1900 until 1939 provide a complicated set of relationships that deserve closer investigation. Here are some of the standard English designs to be found.

10: Playing Cards in Germany

Kinder-Karte

First published in c.1870, children are presented in these miniature Patience cards disguised as Kings, Queens and Jacks. The Kings' crowns are slightly over-sized for their heads and the children are wearing false beards.

Kinder-Karte

Vier-Erdteile c.1870

Dondorf's Luxus-Spielkarte “Vier-Erdteile” (“Four Continents”) was first published in c.1870 and has been re-published in several editions, variations and formats since then.

Vier-Erdteile c.1870

Dondorf Tarot Court Cards

Dondorf Tarot Court Cards.

Dondorf Tarot Court Cards

Dondorf Tarot Aces

The four suits are associated with four countries: Clubs = Germany, Diamonds = UK, Spades = Russia and Hearts = France.

Dondorf Tarot Aces

Dondorf Tarot

Dondorf's “Microscopique Tarock“ was first published in c.1870. The scenes portrayed at each end of the trump cards are marvels of miniature graphic artwork and printing.

Dondorf Tarot

Carreras Fortune Telling Cards

Carreras Fortune Telling Cards, 1926

Carreras Fortune Telling Cards

Cartes Lenormand

“Cartes Lenormand” published by H. P. Gibson & Sons Ltd, London, printed in Germany by B. Dondorf, 1920s.

Cartes Lenormand

Shakespeare Playing Cards

Shakespeare Playing Cards pack published in the 1890s with original paintings are by John H. Bacon.

Shakespeare Playing Cards

Bourgeois Tarot

Bourgeois Tarot by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken.

Bourgeois Tarot

Prussian Pattern

Derived from Jagdkarten or Hunting cards with patriotic overtones and rural scenes as vignettes on the numeral cards, the Prussian pattern emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Prussian Pattern

Brazil Scenic Aces

C. L. Wüst Scenic Aces for Brazil.

Brazil Scenic Aces

Master PW Circular Cards

Master PW Circular Playing Cards: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares... everyday objects evoking life and fertility.

Master PW Circular Cards

Lenormand Cartomancy

Mlle Lenormand Cartomancy deck made by Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkartenfabriken, Stralsund, c.1890.

Lenormand Cartomancy

Anti-Napoleon

Deck from the liberation war against Napoleon, unknown maker, c.1815.

Anti-Napoleon