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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.

Card Games

Children's games are distinct from ordinary playing cards, with their most obvious difference being the lack of any court cards or suit marks.

Card Games... a child’s poetic universe

Happy Families, Chad Valley Games, c.1914... a child's poetic universe

Above: cards from The Round Card Game of Happy Families, published by Chad Valley Games, England. 1914   more →

Cards of the past belong to and evoke their period, whether it be a matter of style, fashion or customs. They belong to a cheerful, gregarious, competitive world, and provide the collector, by their associations,  with an unusually vivid view of history, nonetheless interesting for being from the sidelines. The study of toys and games reveals interesting coincidences from geographical and historical points of view. In many cases the illustrations provide documentary evidence of social stereotypes, gender relations or racist caricatures from past times, showing how our attitudes have changed.

There is a magic in games… from those created in the imagination, such as hide and seek, to those using pieces of paper, sticks or sophisticated manufactured items. Some games recreate the thrill of sporting activities, whilst others give a sense of creativity. Although designed principally for juvenile diversion, toys and card games can assist in a child's emotional, social, mental and physical development. A child's values are learnt from the example of adults, game playing and the media.

Children's games are distinct from ordinary playing cards, with their most obvious difference being the lack of any court cards or suit marks. Instead game cards are either numbered, lettered or grouped in some other way. They also have educational benefits for young children, encouraging congenial play and developing counting, sorting and matching skills, as well as early literacy and flowers or bird identification, whatever the case may be.

Cards specifically designed for the amusement and education of children did not appear until the second half of the 18th century. Those produced at this time tended to have pictorial themes rather than the numerical format we are familiar with today. Children's card games used to be produced to very high quality, both in the materials used and the design and printing.  Economic circumstances change, and children's card games today vary in quality and educational value.

Jaques' Happy Families

Above: Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, 102 Hatton Garden, London.

A HUGE VARIETY of games has been devised over the years, the best known of which are Happy Families or Quartet games which involve completing sets of cards and declaring these to win the game. However, cards have also been used to tell fairy tales, ask and answer questions, illustrate nature, animals, places, to teach foreign languages, to foster early learning with numbers, spelling, currency, telling the time, and so on.

Learning the ideals of good behaviour came to be regarded as important as the three Rs: the precepts were often found as proverbs or morals on cards, just as they were reproduced in the handwriting copy-books of the day and preached from the pulpit.


Children’s Card Games with Advertising

Sales incentives - from the collection of Rex Pitts


“Old Maid”

“Old Maid” card games were also re-titled in other countries as Black Peter (Schwarzer Peter) in Germany, Zwarte Piet (Netherlands), Svarte Petter (Sweden) and Pekka-Peli (Finland). The main focus of the game is towards the last card, which might be a black cat, an Old Maid, black-faced chimney sweep or black grotesque character.

Tower Press Old Maid c.1958

Above: “Old Maid” children's card game manufactured by Tower Press, England, 1950s   see more →.

Old Maid game by Hee Trading, Malaysia, 1984

Above: “Old Maid” children's card game manufactured by Hee Trading Co., Malaysia, 1984   see more →.

Dondorf's Jeu des Fleurs Woodland Snap illustrated by Racey helps Jaques' The London Post Card Game, c.1895 Jaques' Counties of England Card Game, c.1900 Ariel Productions Ltd Children's Alphabetical Packs, c.1940 Walt Disney Playing cards Spanish Regional Costumes Nintendo Mario Playing Cards Marché 7 Familles Birkel Schwarzer Peter Zirkus Kartenspiel, c.1950 Flintstones Happy Families, c.1960
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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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Black Peter

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Two Black Peter games by Willy Mayrl published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne, 1950s.

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Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.

Sergeant-Major

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Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith

Pepys Games

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The Story of Pepys Games by Rex Pitts

J. W. Spear and Sons

J. W. Spear and Sons

Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany

Chad Valley Co. Ltd

Chad Valley Co. Ltd

Chad Valley Co. Ltd (incorporating Johnson Brothers (Harborne) Ltd, the long-established UK brand bought by Woolworths in 1988 and now sold at Argos.

Multum in Parvo Co., Ltd

Multum in Parvo Co., Ltd

Multum in Parvo published a range of indoor games during the period from 1884-1927.

Ariel Productions Ltd

Ariel Productions Ltd

The founder of Ariel Productions, Philip Marx, was a prolific publisher of children’s books and comics towards the end of and just after the Second World War.

Kum-Bak Sports, Toys & Games

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Kum-Bak Sports, Toys & Games MFG Co., Ltd, London S.E.11

Crazy People

Crazy People

Crazy People children’s card game illustrated by caricaturist and graphic artist Walter Trier, c.1950.

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

‘History of fashion’ cultural quartet game designed by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.

Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet

Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet

Dutch costumes quartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, 1983.

Panko

Panko

Panko (Votes for Women) suffragette card game published by Peter Gurney Ltd, c.1912.

Snap

Snap

Anonymous Snap game, 1930s.

Nederlands Stedenkwartet

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Nederlands Stedenkwartet with heraldic needlepoint patterns by Permin, c.1970.

Lion Coffee

Lion Coffee

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

Panto People

Panto People

Panto People published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.

Hats-Off!

Hats-Off!

Hats-Off! miniature card game published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.

Zoo-Boots

Zoo-Boots

Zoo-Boots published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.

XIXth Century

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The XIXth Century published by John Jaques & Son, c.1875.

The ‘Rinker’ Snap

The ‘Rinker’ Snap

The ‘Rinker’ highly amusing snap game, c.1910.

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett Nr.282 published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne.

Round the World Happy Families

Round the World Happy Families

Round the World Happy Families by Chiefton Products Ltd of Bristol, c.1950s.

Geschichte des Buchgewerbes

Geschichte des Buchgewerbes

Geschichte des Buchgewerbes illustrated by Ludwig Winkler, published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck.

So Fängt Es An

So Fängt Es An

“So Fängt Es An” beautifully illustrated by M. Neugebauer, published by Helingsche Verlagsanstalt, c.1950.

Abbatt Animal Families

Abbatt Animal Families

Abbatt Toys Animal Families, c.1970.

Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt

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“Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt” transport quartet game by Bielefelder Spielkarten Fabrik GmbH, 1958.

Asterix Abenteuer

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Asterix Adventure quartet game by ASS, 1989.

French for Fun

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French for Fun instructive card game published by John Jaques & Son Ltd., c.1930s

Eurotrotter

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Eurotrotter by La Ducale, c.1980s.

Schwarzer Peter no.964

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Schwarzer Peter no.964 published by Josef Hohlweg, Vienna, early 20th century.

Counties of Britain

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Counties of Britain by John Jaques & Son Ltd. c.1930.

Radio Banker

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Radio Banker by John Waddington Ltd for Marconiphone Co Ltd.

Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien

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

Zwarte Piet

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Zwarte Piet by Dondorf for the Dutch market, 1906.

Jigstar

Jigstar

Jigstar film star card game by Murphy Games Ltd, 1936.

Black Peter

Black Peter

Black Peter card game designed by Willy Mayrl for Piatnik.

Corrida de Toros

Corrida de Toros

Bull fighting card game publshed by Naipes Comas, 1969.

Countries of Empire

Countries of Empire

“Countries of Empire” published by John Jaques & Son Ltd, c.1930s.

Majas Alfabets Spel

Majas Alfabets Spel

Majas Alfabets Spel beautifully illustrated by Lena Andersson, 1980s.