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Published March 02, 2018 Updated July 09, 2024

Translucent Playing Cards

Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French from the Biedermeier period

1870 France Erotic Translucent Add to Collection

Translucent playing cards, when held up to the light, reveal a secret image depicting amorous sensuality printed on the middle layer of the pasteboard. These cards became popular in mid-19th century France. It can be noted that the postures of the court cards, superficially presented in classical poses, allow for hidden imagery to be incorporated, sometimes involving nuns. In this example, only the numeral cards contain hidden images as the court cards are not translucent. The hidden images vary from romantic to mildly erotic to pornographic.

Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French
Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French
Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French
Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French

Above: Translucent playing cards, French, c.1870. A reproduction of this deck was published by Pieter Meffert Antiquariaat, Amsterdam, 1979, as “Erotic Playing Cards from the Biedermeier Period”. Images courtesy Charles Smythe.

Another example

In Greek and Roman times eroticism was more freely expressed. India gave us the Kama Sutra. But then it underwent restraint or repression through the middle ages and puritanical times. Erotic playing cards reappeared during the XIX century and translucent cards around the middle of the century. In some examples from this genre, the hidden imagery in the translucent playing card can be more sensual or lewd, as in the example below. The illustrations have nothing to do with the value of the card in the game.

Translucent Playing Cards, 19th century French

Another example

Above: similar cards in the Turnhout Playing Card Museum in Belgium give a suggested date of (1825-1848), made in the Biedermeier workshop.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

Founder 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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