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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.

Jeu “Gerente”

Jeu “Gerente” - published by Moncar in 1983 in the “Cartes de Fantasie” series.

Jeu “Gerente” based on anonymous 15th & 16th century woodcut images which had been used previously by Alfred Gerente (1821-1868) as inspiration for stained glass windows. The images were published in 1983 as a deck of playing cards. See more details on the Info card

Jeu “Gerente” published in 1983 Jeu “Gerente” published in 1983 Jeu “Gerente” published in 1983

Above: Jeu “Gerente” - published in 1983 by Moncar in the “Cartes de Fantasie” series, printed by B.P. Grimaud. 52 cards + 2 jokers + info card in box. Square cornered cards 88mm x 62mm. The back design shows the labyrinth from Amiens cathedral, which symbolises the initiatory path.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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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.

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Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern

“Deck with French suits”

“Deck with French suits”

A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.

Jeu “Gerente”

Jeu “Gerente”

Jeu “Gerente” - published by Moncar in 1983 in the “Cartes de Fantasie” series.

Middle Ages

Middle Ages

Middle Ages by Germano & Cª, (Litografia Maia),

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.

Romance Español

Romance Español

“Romance Español” designed by Carlos Sáenz de Tejada and published by Heraclio Fournier in various editions since 1951.

Europe

Europe

“Europe” designed by Teodoro N. Miciano and printed by Heraclio Fournier in 1962, portraying XIV century European fashions.

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

I. Schenck, Nuremberg

I. Schenck, Nuremberg

I. Schenck, Nuremberg, late XVIIIth century

La Baraja

La Baraja

Anonymous “La Baraja” Spanish deck, c.2005.

Hidden meanings in painting by Jheronimus Bosch

Hidden meanings in painting by Jheronimus Bosch

Medieval View of Gambling in the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Jheronimus Bosch

Stuttgart pack, c.1430

Stuttgart pack, c.1430

The luxury, hand-painted Stuttgart Cards (Stuttgarter Kartenspiel) dated c.1430, with suits of ducks, falcons, stags and hounds.

Jeu de Bataille

Jeu de Bataille

“Jeu de Bataille” card game published by Éditions Willeb, Paris. The court cards represent characters from different nationalities or ethnic groups who are presumably engaged in battle

Flemish Hunting Deck

Flemish Hunting Deck

Set of medieval playing cards with King, Queen, Knave and numeral cards from one to ten in each of four suits which refer to the activity of hunting, as practiced by the nobility.

Four Centuries

Four Centuries

“Four Centuries” playing cards by Esselte Öbergs with court cards depicted as caricatures from different historical periods.

Xilografías de Mallorca

Xilografías de Mallorca

Spanish National pattern re-printed from original woodblocks which are preserved in the monastery at Valdemosa, Mallorca, c.1960.

British Museum Playing Cards

British Museum Playing Cards

Unique pack of playing cards created for the British Museum with illustrations by Frances Button.

Hans Sebald Beham

Hans Sebald Beham

Playing cards designed by Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550).

Battle of Grunwald

Battle of Grunwald

Medieval style playing cards commemorating the Battle of Grunwald (1410), designed and published by Studio Wena, 2011

Daveluy

Daveluy

Daveluy produced card games between c.1840 and 1890. Many of his playing cards have historical connotations and show figures with a landscape background.

Première Croisade

Première Croisade

‘Première Croisade’ with single-ended courts by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1850.

Moyen-Age by Daveluy

Moyen-Age by Daveluy

Cartes Moyen-Age by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1875.

Jeu Moyen Age

Jeu Moyen Age

Quénioux believed that aesthetic feelings are the highest values: “C’est précisément cet amour de l’artisan pour le travail qu’il accomplit, la satisfaction intime qu’il en éprouve, qui ont donné naissance à tous les arts et qui ont fait dire que l’art est la joie dans le travail”.

Baraja Edad Media

Baraja Edad Media

Baraja Edad Media, fantasy Spanish-suited medieval playing cards published Mas-Reynals, Barcelona, 1993. Designed by M. Malé and illustrated by V. Maza.

Master of the Banderoles

Master of the Banderoles

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

Master PW Circular Cards

Master PW Circular Cards

Master PW Circular Playing Cards: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares... everyday objects evoking life and fertility.

Reynolds c.1830

Reynolds c.1830

Woodblock and stencil playing cards, produced by Reynolds & Sons c.1830-1850.

Early Anglo-French Cards

Early Anglo-French Cards

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.

The History of Playing Cards

The History of Playing Cards

Playing Cards have been around in Europe since the 1370s. Some early packs were hand painted works of art which were expensive and affordable only by the wealthy. But as demand increased cheaper methods of production were discovered so that playing cards became available for everyone...

Phelippe Ayet, c.1574

Phelippe Ayet, c.1574

Archaic, late medieval Spanish-suited playing cards printed by Phelippe Ayet, c.1574.

Hunting Depicted on Playing Cards

Hunting Depicted on Playing Cards

In the Middle Ages hunting was an integral part of life.

Hofamterspiel, c.1460

Hofamterspiel, c.1460

Hofamterspiel, c.1460

The Princely Hunting pack, c.1440

The Princely Hunting pack, c.1440

The Princely Hunting Pack, c.1440/45, is attributed to Konrad Witz and his workshop in Basle.

Early German Engraved Playing-cards

Early German Engraved Playing-cards

During the second half of the fifteenth century, with printing technology commercially established and playing cards already a mass-produced commodity, a succession of masterly German engravers practised their art and decorative playing cards reached a zenith.

Russian Standard Playing Cards

Russian Standard Playing Cards

Cards from a Russian standard woodblock and stencil pack of circa 1820.

Hewson Replica Pack

Hewson Replica Pack

Hand-made replica 17th century English playing cards, based on museum originals.

Regarding the designs of playing cards

Regarding the designs of playing cards

The quality of playing card designs often deteriorates with time…

Woodblock and Stencil Playing Cards

Woodblock and Stencil Playing Cards

Around 1987 I decided to make a pack of playing cards from woodblocks and coloured with stencils. I imagined I was carrying out my 'apprenticeship'.