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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.

F. d’Alphonse Arnoult

Finely engraved deck by F. d’Alphonse Arnoult (Paris), c.1860. 52 cards.

Finely engraved deck by F. d’Alphonse Arnoult (Paris), c.1860.

Cards by F. d’Alphonse Arnoult, c.1860 Cards by F. d’Alphonse Arnoult, c.1860

Above: cards from a finely engraved deck with scenic aces by F. d’Alphonse Arnoult (Paris), c.1860. 52 cards.


Cards at Dieppe (Punch Magazine, August 8 1857)

Above: satirical engraving published in "Punch" magazine, August 8th 1857, depicting four card players outside a cafe in Dieppe. Courtesy Matt Probert.

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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.

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Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.

J. W. Spear and Sons

J. W. Spear and Sons

Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany

RCI Playing Cards

RCI Playing Cards

RCI Playing Cards, a 20th century playing-card maker of Minneapolis, 1969-1985.

Illustrated Playing Cards, c.1740

Illustrated Playing Cards, c.1740

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

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

French suited German engraved cards c1610 to 1650,

Forrest Cards, c.1750s

Forrest Cards, c.1750s

Hand-coloured Forrest Cards produced for “Young Gentlemen & Ladys who are Lovers of Ingenuity”, c.1750s.

Delightful Cards, c.1723

Delightful Cards, c.1723

Delightful Cards, containing variety of entertainment for young Ladies and Gentlemen c.1723.

Baraja “Neoclásica”, Madrid, 1810

Baraja “Neoclásica”, Madrid, 1810

Baraja “Neoclásica” engraved by José Martínez de Castro, first published by Clemente Roxas, Madrid, 1810.

Baraja Mitológica

Baraja Mitológica

“Baraja Mitológica” was first published in Madrid in c.1815 by Josef Monjardín from engravings by José Martínez de Castro.

58: Woolley & Co.

58: Woolley & Co.

The firm of Thomas Woolley lasted for many years from 1836-1904 in several different guises.

Master of the Playing Cards

Master of the Playing Cards

Animal suited playing cards engraved by the Master of the Playing Cards, Germany, c.1455

Bubble Cards, 1720

Bubble Cards, 1720

Bubble Cards - known as “All the Bubbles”, c.1720.

Unknown Maker

Unknown Maker

Early German deck by unknown maker, c.1825

Joseph Losch

Joseph Losch

French-suited pack with full-length courts by Joseph Losch, c.1800.

Parker Brothers

Parker Brothers

Parker Brothers, Salem, Mass., USA.

48: Ferdinand Piatnik & Sons

48: Ferdinand Piatnik & Sons

Ferd. Piatnik produced a very large range of cards with many different standard and non-standard patterns. This is a survey of his standard English output.

C.L. Wüst, 1811 - 1927

C.L. Wüst, 1811 - 1927

SPIELKARTENFABRIEK VON C.L. WÜST, 1811 - 1927. A short history of the Wüst factory by Martin Shaw & Paul Symons.

Empire Card Company: Star Playing Cards

Empire Card Company: Star Playing Cards

The “Star” special pack of playing cards manufactured by Thomas De la Rue under their Empire Card Co subsidiary, c.1910.

Hudson Industries

Hudson Industries

Hudson Industries Pty Ltd of Carlton in Victoria was first registered as a printing company in 1920. In the 1940s they registered their own distinctive ace of spades and joker.

John Sands

John Sands

John Sands had incorporated the earlier playing card manufacturing businesses of Hudson Industries Pty Ltd and Valentine Publishing Co.

The Valentine Group

The Valentine Group

The Valentine Group, Australia.

Goodall c.1845-60

Goodall c.1845-60

Goodall’s earliest cards were traditional in appearance but in around 1845 ‘modernised’ courts were designed

British Playing Cards

British Playing Cards

British Playing Cards Ltd was the predecessor of Universal P.C.Co. and involved Alf Cooke of Leeds and Bemrose of Birmingham, and maybe one or two other printing firms.

36: Minor Makers of the 19th Century

36: Minor Makers of the 19th Century

In 19th century England there were a number of makers who produced cards in relatively small quantities.

31: The Not-So-Minor Cardmakers of the 19th Century - Part 2

31: The Not-So-Minor Cardmakers of the 19th Century - Part 2

This page continues the presentation of examples of the major English cardmakers of the 19th century.

29: James English

29: James English

An overview of the courts and aces of spades produced by James English.

Standard Playing Card Co.

Standard Playing Card Co.

Standard Playing Card Co. started producing playing cards in c.1890 but was in business for only about four years before United States Playing Card Company acquired it in 1894.

American Bank Note Company

American Bank Note Company

The American Bank Note Company was a long-established firm producing national currency, finely engraved stock certificates and other security printing, including postage stamps. They also entered the playing card market c.1908-1914.

J.L. & J. Turnbull

J.L. & J. Turnbull

An ‘Old Frizzle’ Ace of Spades was assigned to them in 1833. In 1853 James L. & J. Turnbull were listed as ‘Makers of Playing Cards, Pasteboard, Paper Glossers and Pressers and Drawing Board Makers.

I.M.F. Engraved Cards

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.

Russell Playing Card Co.

Russell Playing Card Co.

Willis W. Russell started a modest playing card business in Milltown, a small town in northern New Jersey, in 1905.

Thomas Wheeler

Thomas Wheeler

Thomas Wheeler appears in directories at 2 Richbell St (1799), 8 Middle Row, Holborn (1801), 118 Holborn Hill (1802-07) and 127 Holborn Hill (1807-21).

Ormond Printing Co. Ltd

Ormond Printing Co. Ltd

During the 1930s The Ormond Printing Co. Ltd produced playing cards for the Irish market with a distinctive ace of spades, joker and court cards. In 1935 the firm was acquired as a manufacturing facility for Waddington’s cards in Eire.

5: De La Rue

5: De La Rue

In December 1831 Thomas de la Rue was granted his patent for printing playing cards by letterpress.

Irish Playing Card Mfg Co

Irish Playing Card Mfg Co

Irish Playing Card Manufacturing Company.

Igor Domicelj, Buenos Aires, c.1945-55

Igor Domicelj, Buenos Aires, c.1945-55

Igor Domicelj commenced producing playing cards in c.1945. By the early 1950s the range had grown to include Naipes La Estrella, Barcelonesa, Chinita, La Española, Fantasio, Cartas Gitanas, Naipes Tipo Húngaro and a Jewish Quartet game.

G. Berger, Buenos Aires, c.1935-50

G. Berger, Buenos Aires, c.1935-50

Berger also produced a Hungarian-type "Seasons" pack with the brand name "La Estrella" and a six-pointed star logo, which was subsequently used by Domicelj and Vigor, suggesting some sort of business succession.

Van Genechten

Van Genechten

A. Van Genechten ran a flourishing business, supplying various kinds of cards both inside the country and abroad including England, Spain, France, Denmark, South-East Asia, China and Japan.

Cappellano S.A. c.1920-c.1985

Cappellano S.A. c.1920-c.1985

Originally known as Cappellano Hnos in the 1920s, and undergoing several changes of name and address, the company produced catalan style packs with the brand names "Naipes Triunfo" and "Torcacita" as well as an Anglo-American style pack titled "VELCAP".

Master of the Banderoles

Master of the Banderoles

Playing Cards by the Master of the Banderoles, one of the earliest professional printmakers, c.1470.