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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.

Tarot des Pompiers de Paris

Tarot des Pompiers de Paris, a French Fire Brigade tribute tarot deck

A French Fire Brigade tribute tarot deck, thanks to Charly Ripa and Raoul Viger

La brigade de sapeurs-pompiers de Paris

Tarot des Pompiers de Paris manufactured by Éditions Dusserre Tarot des Pompiers de Paris manufactured by Éditions Dusserre

Above: Tarot des Pompiers de Paris manufactured by Éditions Dusserre. 78 cards + two extra cards in box. The four court cards: Jack (Valet), Knight (Chevalier or Cavalier), Queen (Dame) and King (Roi).

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By Matt Probert

Member since March 02, 2012

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I have adored playing cards since before I was seven years old, and was brought up on packs of Waddington's No 1. As a child I was fascinated by the pictures of the court cards.

Over the next fifty years I was seduced by the artwork in Piatnik's packs and became a collector of playing cards.

Seeking more information about various unidentified packs I discovered the World of Playing Cards website and became an enthusiastic contributor researching and documenting different packs of cards.

I describe my self as a playing card archaeologist, using detective work to identify and date obscure packs of cards discovered in old houses, flea markets and car boot sales.

Recommended

Anma US Armed Forces

Anma US Armed Forces

Anma US Armed Forces, 1942.

Egyptian Tarot

Egyptian Tarot

Egyptian Tarot published by Naipes La Banca, Buenos Aires, c.1980.

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot

Bharata Major Arcana Tarot by Ishan Trivedi & Sunish Chabba, 2018. Inspired by Indian art forms.

Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi

Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi

Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi, c.1850

Bourgeois Tarot by Piatnik 1987

Bourgeois Tarot by Piatnik 1987

Piatnik’s ‘Bourgeois Tarot’ in a version published in 1987 with nice quality images, especially the double-ended trump cards.

V. F. Solesio Tarot

V. F. Solesio Tarot

V. F. Solesio Tarot, Genoa, mid-late 19th century

Rolla Nordic Tarot

Rolla Nordic Tarot

Rolla Nordic Tarot was drawn by Paul Mathison.

Le Grand Tarot Belline

Le Grand Tarot Belline

“Le Grand Tarot Belline” after drawings by Edmond Billaudot (1829-1881).

Tarocchi di Mantegna, c.1465

Tarocchi di Mantegna, c.1465

The so-called Tarocchi di Mantegna (c.1465) reflect an ideological structure bringing to mind the soul's progress towards perfection.

Aleister Crowley Tarot – the sombre luminary

Aleister Crowley Tarot – the sombre luminary

Aleister Crowley Tarot - Crowley and Lady Freda Harris worked on the illustrations between 1938 and 1943

Perspectives on Tarot

Perspectives on Tarot

Tarot, originally a 15th century card game from Italy, has evolved into a form of personal mysticism and spirituality.

Sola-Busca Tarocchi

Sola-Busca Tarocchi

The Sola-Busca Tarocchi, c.1491

Nine Lives Tarot

Nine Lives Tarot

Nine Lives Tarot by Annette Abolins, 2013

Housewives Tarot

Housewives Tarot

The ‘Housewives Tarot’ designed by Paul Kepple & Jude Buffum, published by Quirk Books, 2004.

Héron French tarot

Héron French tarot

French edition of the ‘Bourgeois’ Tarot by Héron

Tarot des Pompiers de Paris

Tarot des Pompiers de Paris

Tarot des Pompiers de Paris, a French Fire Brigade tribute tarot deck

Vergnano Tarot 1826-1851

Vergnano Tarot 1826-1851

Stefano Vergnano’s Tarot and playing card factory holds a special place in the history of the Tarot.

Army Health Promotion

Army Health Promotion

Health Promotion playing cards issued by the British Army with cartoons about army life and information on where to get health advice.

Tarot of Musterberg

Tarot of Musterberg

Designed by Cesare Asaro to simulate decks from the 1700s or earlier, the Tarot of Musterberg is based on the traditional Tarot de Marseille but with an imaginary historical background.

Tarocco Siciliano

Tarocco Siciliano

The highly individual Sicilian Tarot has the Italo-Portuguese suit system with straight, interlocking swords and batons, and maids instead of jacks

Salute!

Salute!

Salute! The Four Services promotion game by John Jaques & Son Ltd, London, c.1940.

Ordnance Recognition

Ordnance Recognition

Ordnance Recognition Playing Cards cards designed to help people at risk from unexploded bombs

ARRCO

ARRCO

ARRCO Playing Card Co., Chicago, c.1935 - c.1970s.

Wüst “Encyclopedic Tarot”

Wüst “Encyclopedic Tarot”

“Encyclopedic Tarot” by C. L. Wüst with “bourgeois” views of life on the Trumps.

Vandenborre Tarot

Vandenborre Tarot

Belgian Tarot published by François-Jean Vandenborre, Brussels (1762-1803)

Oliver Mundy tarot

Oliver Mundy tarot

Original Tarot designs in Italian Renaissance style by Oliver Mundy.

Charles Cheminade Tarot

Charles Cheminade Tarot

Marseille Tarot cards by Charles Cheminade of Grenoble, France, early 18th century.

OCCO Game of Tarot

OCCO Game of Tarot

Scott Hill has been working on a tarot pack which can also be used to play card games, the pack has been designed to revive tarot and make it a fun and social interaction.

Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

Rider Waite Tarot - details compared

After the first edition of the Rider-Waite tarot in 1909 four further editions were published till approx 1940. These differ in several attributes: outline artwork, colours, lettering and card thickness.

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider Waite Tarot early editions

Rider-Waite Tarot

Rider-Waite Tarot

The Rider Waite Tarot was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith.

Serravalle-Sesia Tarot

Serravalle-Sesia Tarot

Serravalle-Sesia Tarot published by Fratelli Avondo, c.1880.

Inner Realms Tarot

Inner Realms Tarot

Inner Realms was conceived from sacred geometry that inspired me to create and then pick out pieces of that design that amazed me, or inspired me to create another design...

Watersprite tarot

Watersprite tarot

The vibrant colours and artwork glorify the symbolism, mood and positive energy in this exciting new tarot deck from Australia.

Épinal Tarot

Épinal Tarot

The woodcuts were produced by Francois Georgin (1801-1863), a famous engraver during the Napoleonic period, retaining the composition and general features of the Tarot de Marseille.

Stairs of Gold Tarot

Stairs of Gold Tarot

Whilst the titles of the cards are in Italian, the Hebrew and Sanskrit letters on the Trump cards denote, respectively, associations with the Cabbala and Vedic metaphysics.

Mitelli Tarocchini

Mitelli Tarocchini

The title refers to “a new form of Tarocchini”. Mitelli's designs are to a high standard of artistic quality and a complete departure from the old tradition, especially the 22 Trump cards which are unnamed and unnumbered.

Bavarian Military Cards

Bavarian Military Cards

The King of Acorns is supposed to represent Prince Otto; the King of Leaves is Maximilian II; the King of Bells is Ludwig II; the King of Hearts is Ludwig I wearing a general's uniform. The court cards are all male, but some of the numeral cards depict women.

Army No.303

Army No.303

The Joker is particularly persuasive, whilst the Ace of Spades has a battle scene involving artillery, with Navy ships in the distance and the statue of the goddess of Freedom in the middle.