Louis Marie Baptiste Atthalin’s marvellous set of transformation cards, known in France as “cartes comiques”, was first published in c.1817. The court cards are titled and depict persons from classical literature and history in a scene relating to their life, whereas the numeral cards are untitled and portray a variety of contemporary scenes or imaginary cartoons in extraordinary detail (bearing in mind the constrained size of a playing card) and which transform the humble playing card into fine art.
The scenes on the numeral cards include: soldiers, musical gatherings, farm workers, street performers, nursery scene, sailors' sleeping berth, dancers, boxers, doctor's patients, a caged bear, pipe-smoking arabs, a sedan chair, an alchemist and various allegorical scenes.
Besides being an accomplished artist, watercolourist and lithographer, Baron Louis Atthalin was a French Army officer who received numerous awards and distinctions during his military career, reaching the rank of Lieutenant General. In addition, Atthalin was a Knight in the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis, a Grand Cross in the Royal and Military Order of Saint Ferdinand, and awarded the Order of Glory. In 1848 he retired to Alsace and devoted the rest of his life to watercolour painting.
The cards shown here are from a reproduction of an original deck in the National Playing Card Museun, Turnhout (Belgium) published in 1996. Original cards can also be viewed on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France website►
The Court Cards
The court cards, as is often the case with standard French cards, are titled and represent persons from classical literature and history. But in Louis Atthalin's version they appear in a scene relating to their life history.
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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.
His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.
Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.
Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.
His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.
‘Aphorisms on the Kiss’ published by C. A. Solbrig, Leipzig, 1808.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
Bosch Puzzle Playing Cards by Sunish Chabba, 2020.
Spyscape espionage, surveillance and cryptography themed playing cards, 2018.
‘Vargas Girls’ paintings by Alberto Vargas in a deck of cards published by Creative Playing Card Co Missouri.
Classic 1940s Pulp Pin-Up covers on playing cards from China, c.2010.
The Bristol Pack, an exhibition of playing cards designed by Bristol artists, 2005.
Eroticartes with drawings by Pino Zac, 1983.
The Curator Deck with designs by Emmanuel José with suit symbols cleverly transformed into artistic designs.
‘Einhorn’ designed by Richard König, c.1986.
Fairy Snap by Norvic Mill, c.1920s.
Schwarzer Peter the Forest and its People, illustrated by Liesel Lauterborn, 1955.
National Gallery (Dutch School) published by J. Jaques & Son, c.1895.
Bathing Beauties throughout the ages, published in Hungary, 1967.
Bicycle Steampunk playing cards with Gothic artwork by Anne Stokes, 2015.
World of Harry Potter playing cards produced by Winning Moves under Waddingtons Number 1 brand, 2019.
Final Fantasy VII is a role-playing video game.
Vanity Fair No.41 Playing Cards by the United States Playing Card Co, 1895. All the number cards have been imaginatively transformed.
Bicycle Knights playing cards designed by Sam Hayles in 2018.
Bicycle Cybertech playing cards inspired by cyberpunk genre, illustrated by Jamie Meza, 2019.
Age of Dragons by Anne Stokes, 2017.
Anne Stokes Collection playing cards, 2010.
The Deck of Cards by Andrew Jones Art, 1979.
A Motley Pack - transformation playing cards & ‘On The Cards’ book facsimile published by Sunish Chabba, 2019.
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, 2005.
Lego Batman Movie playing cards, 2017
Naipes "Minifusor" tipo Español published by Difusora S.A., c.1980.
Star Kings playing cards inspired by space opera, 2017.
Harry Potter Hogwarts playing cards, c.2016.
“Cosmopolitan” № 2121 playing cards designed by Russian artist Valeri Mishin, 1996
Wizard of Oz card game published by Pepys, 1940,
Palladin Parlour & Playing Cards by Laura Sutherland, published by Palladin Paperworks, Santa Cruz CA., 1983.
Transformation proofs from the John Nixon Scrapbook.
Transformation playing cards by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1876.
“Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg” or “Coach Ride to Devil’s Castle” by Michael Palm and Lukas Zach, published by Adlung-Spiele in 2006.
“Romance Español” designed by Carlos Sáenz de Tejada and published by Heraclio Fournier in various editions since 1951.
“Antike Götter” - facsimile of antique playing cards originally manufactured by C. A. Müller, Berlin, 1830.
“Little Demons” playing cards illustrated by Wayne Anderson, c.1970
Lara Croft Tomb Raider 20 Years Commemorative Deck, 2016.
Dragon Fight card game by Playmobil ®, 2014.