The History of Playing Cards
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...
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
What was considered the first mention of playing cards in England is in 1463 when Edward IV banned their importation, so they must have been popular by then.
Fragments of playing cards and 2 dice were unearthed in a 16th century rubbish tip adjacent to a Spanish house in the lower Rimac Valley in Peru, providing evidence of games played by early Spanish settlers.
This pack of cards by Rose & Pentagram is said to be based off Pierre Marechal, Rouen pack from the 1600s, but they are actually copies of drawings by Gurney Benham from his book Playing Cards: Their History and Secrets from 1930.
The centuries-long tradition of English court cards was subject to misinterpretation and in some cases a desire for individuality. Here are some examples of breaks with that tradition.
Brepols started making playing cards in 1826, although he had been in the printing trade since 1800. In 1833 the firm was called Brepols & Dierckx (the former's son-in-law). Biermans (1875-1970) was a relatively late arrival on the Turnhout playing card scene.
There are some interesting packs from Goodall in the last quarter of the 19th century.
On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.
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.
Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.
Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.
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.
A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
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.
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawkbells and flowers originated sometime during the fifteenth century.
The municipal archaeological service in Dordrecht (Netherlands) recently found some antique playing cards under the floorboards inside an old public bar.
The Arms of English Peers playing cards were first published in 1686. Heraldry, or a knowledge of the arms and blazons of royalty was an important part of a respectable education.
Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.
Primitive Latin suited pack, possibly of Swiss or German origin for export to Spain, dated by paper analysis as early XV century, which makes this one of the earliest known surviving packs of playing cards.
Spanish playing cards such as these were used in those parts of France where certain games were enjoyed, such as Aluette.
1st edition of famous Bicycle Playing Cards printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., Cincinnati, 1885.
The Bohemian Pattern, sometimes called the Prager Pattern, has roots in the 16th century.