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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.

Playtex

Playtex - le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971.

Playtex “le jeu de la beauté et du destin”, illustrated by James Hodges, produced by Grimaud, 1971. The game also doubles as a cartomantic oracle deck, with interpretations for each card

Playtex, le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971 Playtex, le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971 Playtex, le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971 Playtex, le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971 Playtex, le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971
Playtex, le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971

Above: Playtex - le jeu de la beauté et du destin, illustrated by James Hodges, Grimaud, 1971. 36 cards + divinatory interpretations sheet in box.

James Hodges also illustrated the Boulogne-sur-Mer Chamber of Commerce & Industry playing cards

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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.

Recommended

Fortune-Telling Cards

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Comic Fortune-Telling Cards published by Reynolds & Sons, c.1850.

Cartomancy and Divination Cards

Cartomancy and Divination Cards

Playing cards are used for fortune-telling, predicting the future or even as a psychological adjunct to folk medicine and therapy.

IBM Linux One

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IBM Linux One playing cards, c.2018.

Lion Coffee

Lion Coffee

Lion Coffee Mother Goose card game, late 19th C.

Fortune Telling

Fortune Telling

Fortune Telling cards by Whitman Publishing Co., 1940.

La Sibylle des Salons

La Sibylle des Salons

La Sibylle des Salons facsimile of 19th century deck published by J M Simon, 1979.

Gas Warm Homes

Gas Warm Homes

Gas Warm Homes Happy Families game published by British Gas, c.1980.

Havermout Kwartetspel

Havermout Kwartetspel

“H-O Kwartetspel” children’s card game promoting quick cooking oatmeal (instant porridge), 1930s.

Werbung die Sticht

Werbung die Sticht

“Werbung die Sticht” deck with artwork by Fritz Bünzli to promote advertising on playing cards by AG Müller 1982.

Le Destin Antique

Le Destin Antique

Le Jeu du Destin Antique, originally published by Grimaud in XIX c., republished many times since...

Periquito y Tontín Dominoes

Periquito y Tontín Dominoes

Periquito y Tontín Dominoes, featuring Feliz and Bonzo, 1920s.

Dundas & Wilson Deal Winners

Dundas & Wilson Deal Winners

“Deal Winners” promotional pack for Dundas & Wilson law firm.

Happy Gas Families

Happy Gas Families

Happy Gas Families published by British Gas, c.1985.

My Goodness my Guinness

My Goodness my Guinness

Gilroy Special Edition Playing Cards to commemorate the centenary of the birth of John Gilroy, 1989.

Hamm’s Beer

Hamm’s Beer

Hamm’s Beer promotion deck with bear cartoons by Frank M. Antoncich 1968.

Nationale-Nederlanden

Nationale-Nederlanden

Nationale-Nederlanden insurance company, 1984.

Investors Overseas Services

Investors Overseas Services

Investors Overseas Services, Ltd. (IOS) by A. G. Müller (Schaffhausen), c.1969.

Gibbs Happy Families

Gibbs Happy Families

Gibbs Happy Families card game promotion, both full sized and miniature versions, c.1946.

Electric Snap

Electric Snap

Electric Snap by the South Wales Electricity Board, 1950s.

Playtex

Playtex

Playtex - le jeu de la beauté et du destin, Grimaud, 1971.

Jeu de Memoire

Jeu de Memoire

Jeu de Memoire card game promoting Véritable Chaumes cheese from the village of St Antoines in south west France.

Lever Brothers miniatures

Lever Brothers miniatures

Two miniature card games promoting Vim Scouring Powder and Sunshine Soap, 1930s.

Deutsche Nutzpflanzen

Deutsche Nutzpflanzen

Deutsche Nutzpflanzen - Quartett game promoting Kali brand crop fertilizer, 1938.

Cow & Gate ‘Snap’

Cow & Gate ‘Snap’

Cow & Gate ‘Snap’ featuring Cow & Gate Baby Milk Food, 1935.

Blue Brand Snap Up

Blue Brand Snap Up

Blue Brand Snap Up published by Van den Berghs probably late 1920s.

Mr Bok

Mr Bok

The Merry Game of Mr Bok and his Happy Families, promoting Bok furniture polish, 1930s.

Parkinson’s Happy Families

Parkinson’s Happy Families

Parkinson’s Happy Families published by Parkinson’s of Doncaster, confectioners established in the early nineteenth century.

Qantas

Qantas

Qantas Airways Limited is the flag carrier of Australia and is the world's third-oldest airline still in operation, having been founded in November 1920.

Capilettor

Capilettor

Capilettor cartoon playing cards published by VASS, Leinfelden, 1978.

Cefacidal

Cefacidal

“Cefacidal” / Mead Johnson medical humour advertising playing cards, c.1975.

Cigar Bands

Cigar Bands

A collection of 24 cigar bands with miniature playing cards.

Carousel Playing Cards

Carousel Playing Cards

Carousel Playing Cards commissioned by Tesco stores, 2019.

Chocolat du Planteur

Chocolat du Planteur

Chocolat du Planteur cards (reproduction) by French artist Louis Bourgeois-Borgex, c.1900.

El Oráculo de la Bruja

El Oráculo de la Bruja

“El Oráculo de la Bruja” fortune-telling cards, 2003.

Adverto

Adverto

Adverto card game published by Adverto Publishing Company of Stratford, London, c.1910.

Alphabetti Spaghetti

Alphabetti Spaghetti

Alphabetti Spaghetti Happy Families game for Crosse & Blackwell c.1978.

Piwiarnia Pub in Warsaw

Piwiarnia Pub in Warsaw

Advertising Deck for the Piwiarnia Pub in Warsaw.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! promotional playing cards, 1997.

Hendrick’s Gin

Hendrick’s Gin

Nice advertising deck for Hendrick’s Gin, c.2015.

67: Adverts and related material after 1900

67: Adverts and related material after 1900

The final page of material relating to playing cards from British periodicals.