Playing cards have a rich and fascinating history, with a wide variety of patterns and designs having been used throughout the centuries. A lot of these early patterns have fallen out of use and are now considered archaic or obsolete. Often only one example is known.
These old, historic patterns are sometimes discovered as stiffener inside old book bindings when these are repaired, or under floorboards in old buildings during restoration. They are sometimes discovered in ancient rubbish tips. They are of great interest to collectors, historians, and enthusiasts alike.
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.
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.
This article was originally published in “The Playing-Card”, the Journal of the International Playing-Card Society (London), Volume XV, No.4, May 1987.
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawkbells and flowers originated sometime during the fifteenth century.
Archaic Spanish-suited playing cards published in Toulouse by Antoine de Logiriera (1495-1518).
Primitive Latin suited pack, dated by paper analysis as early XV century, which makes this one of the earliest known surviving packs of playing cards.
The Dauphiné pattern is an archaic French pattern which was manufactured in the Lyons region from the 17th century.
Cards produced in Rouen during the sixteenth century. It was cards like these which were imported to England and are the ancestors of the modern 'Anglo-American' pattern.
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
Fragment of a sheet of archaic Spanish-suited 'Dragon' playing cards found during restoration of a house in Antwerp built between 1559 and 1574
Playing cards in this style have been discovered in various parts of the world, suggesting that they were exported or carried there by early explorers or merchants.
Some of the oldest cards still in existence come from France. During the 16th and 17th centuries France was the major supplier of playing cards in Europe.
Antique deck of old Bohemian playing cards of the German type manufactured by Georg Kapfler and dated 1611.
These cards may be a typical example of early 'standard' Spanish playing cards, maybe from before Columbus sailed for the 'New World' which were imitated by German engravers who wished to export their wares back to Spain.
Decks are made on two-ply pasteboard which reproduces the tactile quality of antique cards.