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Published January 22, 2010 Updated December 23, 2021

French Playing Cards

Some of the oldest cards still in existence come from France.

France Grimaud Paris Pattern Pattern
Fragment of an uncut sheet showing four cards, mid-fifteenth century

Above: fragment of uncut sheet containing red knaves, mid-XV century.

Cards by Jean de Dale, c.1500

Above: cards by Jean de Dale, c.1500.

Four cards by Jean Personne, c.1495

Above: cards by Jean Personne with inscriptions such as "Paris", "Melusine", "Conte de Chalou" and the maker's name "Jhan Personne" on a scroll.

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.

Spanish-suited pack by Benoist Laius, Montpellier, c.1712

Above: Spanish-suited pack by Benoist Laius, c.1712

Charles Cheminade Marseille Tarot, early 18th century

Above: Marseille tarot by Charles Cheminade

Cards from the 'Provence' pattern

Above: the Provence pattern

Above: Lyons pattern, c.1780

Above: Paris pattern

See also: The Dauphiné pattern   The Genoese pattern.

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.

Cards by Bouvier

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

French Revolutionary figures on the court cards, end of 18th century

Above: Revolutionary figures on the court cards, end of 18th century. Stencil-coloured woodcuts, French suit signs. Images courtesy Dan Dragojevich. See also: French Revolutionary anti-Royalist playing cards, subtitled “Jeu des Philosophes de l’An II”, first published by the printer Gayant in Paris, 1793.

  • Nouvelles Cartes de la République Française

    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).

    Nouvelles Cartes de la République Française

    Above: Nouvelles Cartes de la République Française printed by U. Jaume et J.D. Dugourc.

Le Petit Cartomancien

Above: three cards and wrapper from "Le Petit Cartomancien" manufactured by B.P. Grimaud, Paris. The miniature playing cards in the top corners depict full-length 'Paris' type courts, whilst the rest of the cards contain divinatory interpretations and images of different personalities.   See more →

Cards by F. d'Alphonse Arnoult, c.1860 title=

Above: cards from a finely engraved deck by F. d'Alphonse Arnoult (Paris), c.1860. 52 cards.   more →.

See also: Pierre MarechalRichard BouvierBenoist LaiusThe Dauphiné patternThe Lyons patternGayant, 1793Cartes Comiques du Colonel AtthalinCartes Recréatives, 1819The Paris patternThe Genoese patternSpanish-suited cards by B. P. GrimaudCards for Algeria by B.P. GrimaudJeu Louis XVMauclair Dacier Sept Familles, c.1890O. Gibert, Paris, c.1850Translucent Playing CardsThe 'Parisian' Spanish patternFrench Catalan patternCartes EspagnolesÉpinal TarotCartes Questions-DevinettesBoisse English pattern, c.1870Grand Jeu Mlle Le NormandDieudonné & Cie, AluetteLe Jeu de MarseillePhilibertDusserreOrient-ExpressJeu Moyen AgeFrench tarotChamboramaGeneviève LirolaJeux L.G.L., ParisLivre du DestinSalvador DalíCassandre for HermèsLegendary Harley-DavidsonMasonic Playing CardsS.S. FranceMarché 7 Familles


By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.

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2000 Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

Disney characters deck from Euro Disney, Marne la Vallée, France, c.2000.

2010 Revolutionary playing cards

Revolutionary playing cards

Revolutionary playing cards with decapitated courts published by ATYPYK, Paris, 2010.

1850 Miniature French fashion playing cards

Miniature French fashion playing cards

Tiny 19th.century ‘Cartes Mignonnes’ playing cards depicting the fashions of the period

2019 Marie and Laurent’s Wedding

Marie and Laurent’s Wedding

Wedding invitation and thank you card in the form of playing cards. France, 2019.

1960 Vivacidol


Advertising pack for Vivacidol pharmaceutical product, France, c.1960s.

1979 Tennis de Table 52e Championnats de France

Tennis de Table 52e Championnats de France

Table tennis players in action published by La Ducale, an imprint of Grimaud, France, 1979.

Jeu de Tarot Pocket Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Jeu de Tarot Pocket Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Tarot game pack with fantasy sci-fi artwork on the trumps published by Pocket SF, France.

Jeu de 54 cartes

Jeu de 54 cartes

Jeu de 54 cartes, completely anonymous, designed to resemble locally produced French packs.

1850 Alphonse Arnoult Spanish-suited pack

Alphonse Arnoult Spanish-suited pack

Luxurious Spanish-suited pack made by Alphonse Arnoult, Paris, France, c.1850.

2000 Martinique


Original designs from the French overseas department of Martinique by local artist Martine Porry.

2016 Cartes Illustrées

Cartes Illustrées

Standard French designs adapted for children. Made by France Cartes for La Grande Récré, c.2016.

Beaujolais je t’aime …

Beaujolais je t’aime …

Pack promoting Beaujolais wine published by Editions du Nuton, France.

2000 Ergomia


Complete re-design of traditional pack into what the publishers considered to be ergonomically efficient.



Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.

A. Camoin & Cie

A. Camoin & Cie

This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.

Bone Playing Cards

Bone Playing Cards

My late mother found these miniature cards in a skip around 50 years ago.

1879 La Sibylle des Salons

La Sibylle des Salons

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



Eurotrotter by La Ducale, c.1980s.

Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien

Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien

‘Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien’ family card game by Dondorf.

1981 El Gato con Botas

El Gato con Botas

Puss in Boots card game manufactured by H. Fournier, 1981.

Bass & Bass Jeu des Familles

Bass & Bass Jeu des Familles

Bass & Bass ‘Jeu des Familles’ made by Franz-Josef Holler, Münich, 1989.

1500 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

Jeu de Quaternes ‘Rizá’

Jeu de Quaternes ‘Rizá’

Jeu de Quaternes ‘Rizá’

“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.

1868 Le Destin Antique

Le Destin Antique

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

1983 Eroticartes


Eroticartes with drawings by Pino Zac, 1983.

La Belle au bois dormant

La Belle au bois dormant

Sleeping Beauty card game published in France, c.1980s.

Benedicte Morand-Bail

Benedicte Morand-Bail

Benedicte Morand-Bail’s striking and colourful abstract poker deck with French named courts



Kaffeehaus-Pikett featuring the old Viennese Large Crown pattern, made by ASS.

1970 Bretagne


Bretagne (Brittany) playing cards, Grimaud, c.1970.

1983 Jeu “Gerente”

Jeu “Gerente”

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

1989 French Revolution

French Revolution

Bicentenaire de la Révolution Française 1789–1989 created by Christian Offroy.

Jeu du Moulin

Jeu du Moulin

Jeu du Moulin by Watilliaux, Paris.

1971 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.

1698 Le Jeu de la Guerre

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.

1900 La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras, published by Jeux et Jouets Français. Paris, early 1900s.

Parisian style Spanish deck by Grimaud

Parisian style Spanish deck by Grimaud

Parisian style Spanish deck by Grimaud for export to Uruguay.

1960 Jeu des 7 Familles

Jeu des 7 Familles

Jeu des 7 Familles © K.F.S. Opera Mundi c.1960.

1900 Chocolat du Planteur

Chocolat du Planteur

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