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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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History

144 Articles

Playing Cards have been around in Europe since the 1370s. Some early packs were hand painted works of art which were expensive and affordable only by the wealthy. But as demand increased cheaper methods of production were discovered so that playing cards became available for everyone...

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

Dutch costume playing cards

72: The Ace of Spades

In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.

72: The Ace of Spades

Dubois

Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.

Dubois

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

A. Camoin & Cie

This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.

A. Camoin & Cie

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

Toledo, 1584

Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.

Toledo, 1584

Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern

Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

“Deck with French suits”

A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.

“Deck with French suits”

Heraldic playing cards

Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.

Heraldic playing cards

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.

Le Jeu de la Guerre

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

Tyrolean Playing Cards

Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.

Tyrolean Playing Cards

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

Prisoners of War

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

Prisoners of War

64: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 2

A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.

64: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 2

63: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 1

A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.

63: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 1

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Notgeld - Emergen¢y Money

Notgeld - Emergency Money - was in rare cases issued on playing cards.

Notgeld - Emergen¢y Money

60: Some less common Goodall packs, 1875-95

There are some interesting packs from Goodall in the last quarter of the 19th century.

60: Some less common Goodall packs, 1875-95

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Primiera Bolognese

Primiera Bolognese by Modiano, c.1975

Primiera Bolognese

Johannes Müller c.1840

Facsimile edition of Swiss suited deck first published by Johannes Müller in c.1840.

Johannes Müller c.1840

Pedro Varangot, 1786

Archaic Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly by Pedro Varangot in 1786.

Pedro Varangot, 1786

Navarra Pattern, 1682

Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly in 1682.

Navarra Pattern, 1682

Hermanos Solesi

“Money Bag” pattern by Hermanos Solesi, late 18th c.

Hermanos Solesi

Illustrated Playing Cards, c.1740

Illustrated playing cards featuring comical engravings and rhymes about saints, c.1740.

Illustrated Playing Cards, c.1740

Navarra Pattern, 1793

Navarra pattern by an unknown cardmaker with initials I. I., 1793.

Navarra Pattern, 1793

Geographical Playing Cards, c.1682

Geographical playing cards sold by Henry Brome, second edition, c.1682.

Geographical Playing Cards, c.1682

Jeu de la Géographie

“Jeu de Géographie” educational playing cards etched by Stefano Della Bella (1610-1664) and published by Henry le Gras, c.1644.

Jeu de la Géographie

Rois de France

Cartes des Rois de France (1644) facsimile edition by Edizioni del Solleone, 1986.

Rois de France

Qajar Dynasty playing cards

Qajar Dynasty playing cards, Iran, 19th century.

Qajar Dynasty playing cards

Dames de France

“Dames de France” published by J-M Simon based on originals by Armand Gustave Houbigant, Paris, c.1817

Dames de France

Progressive Whist Cards

There are references to “progressive whist” or “whist drives” during the 19th and early years of the 20th century but this form of the game came into its own during the 1920s and 30s.

Progressive Whist Cards

Perspectives on Tarot

Tarot, originally a 15th century card game from Italy, has evolved into a form of personal mysticism and spirituality.

Perspectives on Tarot