Card playing was introduced into France at an early date. The game of Tarot was also brought from Italy into France. During the 16th and 17th centuries France was the major supplier of playing cards in Europe.
Some of the oldest cards still in existence come largely from Lyons, a city in which the craft of cardmaking flourished from an early date and which became an important centre of French card-making. It seems that the provinces bordering on Italy and Germany were the first to produce playing cards. Indeed, an ordinance from Paris, 1377, forbade card games on workdays. Another ordinance from the city of Lille, dated 1382, when Lille belonged to France, forbade various games including dice and quartes (an early word for cards). There is also the well-known account of a certain Jacquemin Grigonneur who in 1392 was paid 56 sols Parisis for three packs of gilded cards, painted with divers colours and several devices, to be carried to the king for his amusement. No-one knows what sort of cards these were.
Much of the early history of cards in France is to do with standard designs and their spread, coupled with a keen sense of economic advantage. Having invented the French suit system (piques, coeurs, carreaux & trefles), which required only black and red, French manufacturers were able to introduce economies of labour which gave their products a competitive advantage. Jean de Dale (active 1485-1515), Jean Personne (1493-1497), Antoine de Logiriera (Toulouse, 1495-1518), Martial Gué (Limoges, c.1538) and Pierre Marechal. Several examples of cards by Jean Personne survive (see below right) in museums and libraries.
French regional patterns, primarily originating in Paris, Lyons or Rouen, spread across Europe in all directions and many of their descendants survive today. See the origin of the “Suicide King”►
At an early period French card makers introduced the practice of giving the names of heroes from literature or epics of chivalry to the court cards: Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, David, Rachel, Argine, Judith, Pallas, Hector, Lahire, Lancelot and Hogier. In each case a romantic story or legend is associated with the person named on the card.
Some early French cards have Latin/Spanish suit symbols, as do some early German cards, and the queens are replaced by cavaliers. They were used for playing games such as Aluette. Spanish-suited cards reached many different places, having spread along trade routes of the time. The only survivors among Spanish-suited cards in France today are Aluette cards (primarily of Brittany) and the French Catalan pattern of the Eastern Pyrenées.
By the fifteenth century French suit symbols - hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades - had crossed to England. During the sixteenth century Rouen and Lyons became centres for the exportation of French playing cards, and cards were imported to the British Isles from Rouen and to the Netherlands and Germany. From England, of course, they spread to America and have become ubiquitous throughout the world.
Playing cards soon attracted the attention of tax authorities in France. As early as 1613, Louis XIII decreed that cardmakers should place their name on the knave of clubs. In 1701 a further law was passed laying down fixed designs for the cards from each of the nine regions, so that stereotyped figures (portraits) from each region were produced which could be identified by the authorities. Some individual court designs reoccur in different regional or even foreign (exported) patterns, sometimes reversed or with a different suit symbol.
Tarot cards had arrived in France from Italy in the first half of the 16th century, with Italian suit symbols, introducing the idea of trumps. Subsequently, French-suited tarots were also produced. There appear to have been three standard tarot types in France: "Tarot de Marseille", "Tarot de Besancon" and "Belgian Tarot" but today most tarot games are played in France with the "Bourgeois Tarot". The esoteric tarot was also developed in France during the 18th and 19th centuries.
During the seventeenth century a number of attractive non-standard cards were issued, including educational and quartet games, heraldic or armorial cards and geographical cards. These have been followed more recently by important editions of cartomancy cards, several types of tarot cards and elaborately engraved costume cards.
The backs of playing cards used to be plain, without any printed patterns. As an economy measure, incomplete packs would not be thrown away. Instead the plain backs were often re-used as notelets, invitations, calling cards, library cards, bookmarkers, and so on more →
At the time of the Revolution and the first Empire packs were published, artistically designed by David, Gatteaux and others, which harmonised with the new ideas. These enjoyed only a brief popularity and the old type soon reappeared. See: Jeu de l'an 2→
The kings, queens and jacks are replaced with Geniality, Liberty and Equality, above which there is only the Law (the true sovereign of free people).
Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
Kaffeehaus-Pikett featuring the old Viennese Large Crown pattern, made by ASS.
A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.
On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).
Modern English court style by Games & Print Services Limited, c.1997.
Dal Negro Bridge set featuring old Vienna pattern courts.
“Carte Romane” designed by Giorgio Pessione, 1973, celebrating the history of Rome.
Sarde pattern published by Modiano, c.1975, based on early XIX century Spanish model.
The Triestine pattern is derived from the Venetian (Trevisane) pattern but with its own characteristics.
Primiera Bolognese by Modiano, c.1975
Bergamasche Pattern by Modiano, 1970s.
Navarra Pattern by Jonas Fouquet, c.1720 and c.1820.
Navarra pattern produced for the Pamplona General Hospital Monopoly in 1682.
“Money Bag” pattern by Hermanos Solesi, late 18th c.
“Dvouhlavé Hrací Karty” (Czech Seasons playing cards) made by Obchodní Tiskárny, c.1980.
AGMüller standard English pattern for the Royal Jordanian Airline, 1980s
Antique deck of old Bohemian playing cards of the German type manufactured by Georg Kapfler and dated 1611.
Genoese pattern from Italy.
I. Schenck, Nuremberg, late XVIIIth century
Modern Swiss-German Pattern by AGMüller, c.2000.
One end Berlin pattern the other standard English pattern
Salzburger pattern by Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne, Vienna
“Cartes Françaises” and Genoese pattern by Brepols.
Brepols Dutch Pattern for Van Perlstein distillery, c.1960.
Rhineland pattern by KZWP.
The North German pattern appeared in the mid-19th century, derived from the French ‘Paris’ pattern,
Bavarian single-ended pattern by Vereinigte Altenburg-Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken A-G., c.1937
19th century Portuguese pattern, re-printed from original woodblocks.
Uncut sheet of playing cards of the Old Bavarian pattern by Michael Schatzberger, Passau, 1780
‘Monic’ brand playing cards, c.1930s
The German Saxon Pattern or “Schwerdter Karte”.
The Bohemian Pattern, sometimes called the Prager Pattern, has roots in the 16th century.
The 'Provence' pattern contains figures which go back to the fifteenth century.
Single-figure provincial Paris pattern cards with traditional names on the courts manufactured in Copenhagen by P. Steinmann, c.1820.
Standard woodblock and stencil deck produced by Jacob Holmblad with double-ended court cards in the tradition of the French ‘Paris’ pattern. The A♥ features a red over-stamp referring to Jacob Holmblad's royal license to print playing-cards which had been granted in 1820.
L. P. Holmblad's house pattern used from c.1840. The K♠ carries a harp as in the traditional French-type cards; but the J♠ is sleeping with his arms folded and his shield resting behind him.