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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.

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers

Extraordinary ‘Actors and Opera Singers’ deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865

This extraordinary ‘Parisian Actors and Opera Singers’ deck was printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, in around 1865. The photographs were taken by the famous French lithographer and photographer Adolphe Bilordeaux (1807-1872) who pioneered the use of salt print technique on waxed paper. Gouache was added to the cards to highlight the suit symbols as colour photography was not then possible. A similar set can also be seen on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website here

Stanislas-Désiré Avril produced a series of fashionable costume packs, including designs inherited from O. Gibert and other Parisian card makers, and was active 1862-1868.

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865 Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865 Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865 Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865

Above: Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865. From the collection of Nick Thomas.

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865

The numerical cards are not photographic images but were printed the traditional way.

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865

The figures on the cards are fairly easily traceable and have been identified in Klaus-Jürgen Schultz (2011).

  • See: Klaus-Jürgen Schultz (2011)

    Page 246 from: Schultz, Klaus-Jürgen, Schauspiel Literatur Malerei Musik auf Spielkarten, Hamburg 2011. Catalogue number 41 [vol. 2].

    Description by Klaus-Jürgen Schultz, 2011
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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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