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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.

Boisse English pattern

Boisse English pattern, c.1870 based on designs by De La Rue.

E. Boisse English pattern, c.1870

Above: uncut sheet of standard English pattern full-figure courts, ornate blue outlines, printed by E. Boisse, Bordeaux, c.1870. There had been a trend of ornamented court cards since the 1840s when De La Rue's letterpress printing technology facilitated a move away from woodblocks.

Right: De La Rue's designs used between c.1840-65 with more fancy patterning on the clothes, also with blue outlines. These became the basis for all De La Rue's later double-ended courts and comparison with the example by Boisse shown above reveals a close similarity.