The World of Playing Cards Logo

Jaques’ Happy Families

Published April 18, 2010 Updated April 15, 2024

In 1851 the games manufacturer John Jaques of London (founded in 1795) commissioned a set of drawings from John Tenniel, later Sir John, the chief cartoonist of Punch, for their new game of Happy Families.

1861 United Kingdom Jaques John Tenniel Card Games Happy Families Quartet Add to Collection
Victorian edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London

In 1851 the games manufacturer John Jaques of London (founded in 1795) commissioned a set of drawings from John Tenniel, later Sir John, the chief cartoonist of Punch, for their new game of Happy Families. The game was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was an instant success, soon superseding similar games such as John Bull or Dr Busby in which players also collected sets of four cards. Jaques' version of Happy Families remained popular until the Second World War, but was lucky to survive thereafter. In 1941, during the Blitz, a large bomb destroyed the Hatton Garden factory. However, a safe, which had been kept at the top of the building and had fallen through to the basement, yielded the charred remains of an old pattern book, which included the originals for all the firm's card games and one example of the Happy Families card game - Master Potts the Painter's son. Later the printing plates for the game were discovered intact and so Happy Families lived on.

Happy Families was first published by John Jaques in 1861. It was Jaques’ first card game and became a game to fill the leisure time of the Victorian family (Michael Thomson, 2022).

1880s edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London 1880s edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London 1880s edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London

Above: cards from an 1880s edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, 102 Hatton Garden, London, which included 11 families of four members each. Stencil-coloured lithography. Jaques' Happy Families had been shwon in 1851 at the Great Exhibition of that year. It was an instant success, rapidly superseding similar games in which players collected sets of four cards, an idea possibly taken from early German models. Originally only eleven families, the game was expanded to twelve families by the addition of the Mug family, drawn by Miss Irene Dodson, the great niece of Charles Dodson (alias Lewis Caroll). This enabled the game to be produced in two half packs of six families each.

Jaques' Games established 1795

Tenniel's designs are an artisan crowd - even the doctor, the only professional among them, is reduced to 'Mr Dose'. They are also lower middle class and male orientated. Happy Families, which Tenniel drew 10 years before his illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, started a successful trend. Jaques was also one of the first games makers in England to market card games seriously. Jaques' original Happy Families designs were copied, sometimes with only slight modifications, by later manufacturers as recently as the 1970s, testifying to their enduring popularity. A miniature set was produced by Alfred Bird & Son in their custard powder packets just before WW2.

1910 edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London 1910 edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London

Above: 1910 edition of Happy Families published by John Jaques & Son, London.

Further References

Thomson, Michael: The Beginning of Happy Families in EPCS Newsletter issue 135, June 2022, pp.24-34.

Welsh, Donald: Happy Families... an old game with new faces, Newsletter of the English Playing Card Society, Vol.9 No.38, Nov.1992, pp.78-81.

avatar
1442 Articles

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.


Related Articles

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

A limited edition art print of the 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Hearts

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Hearts

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.

2024 Paris 2024 Olympics 3

Paris 2024 Olympics 3

Paris Games mascot Phryge engaged in different sports in a Happy Families-type game.

2013 Go Go Gorillas!

Go Go Gorillas!

Go Go Gorillas! charity playing cards sponsored by the Eastern Daily Press and the Norwich Evening N...

1875 Hand-drawn transformation cards, c1875

Hand-drawn transformation cards, c1875

A complete set of hand-drawn transformation cards from c1875, using a standard De La Rue pack.

Classification of Numeral Card Designs in French-suited packs

Classification of Numeral Card Designs in French-suited packs

The classification of numeral cards in French-suited packs, covering various pip designs in over 400...

The Douce Collection

The Douce Collection

The Douce Collection of playing cards in the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

The Henry Hart Puzzle

The Henry Hart Puzzle

Explore the intricate history and unique design variations of Henry Hart's playing cards, tracing th...

Playing Card Research Archives maintained by The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards

Playing Card Research Archives maintained by The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards

The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards maintains an extensive archive of materials from n...

2022 Jeu des 7 familles basques

Jeu des 7 familles basques

A Happy Families-type game from the Basque country, with designs by Soledad Bravi and Agathe de Las...

1983 The Art of Erté

The Art of Erté

Luxury playing cards displaying artwork by Erté, published in 1983 by Sobranie of London.

2006 The Chamber of 52 Cards

The Chamber of 52 Cards

Playing cards published by Peter Wood as a tribute to the rock band Genesis.

1675 English cards from the reign of Charles II

English cards from the reign of Charles II

This article explores a historic pack of English playing cards from circa 1675, likely used by King ...

1961 Sweetule Natural History cards

Sweetule Natural History cards

Small cards featuring natural history subjects, given away with packets of sweet cigarettes.

1875 Lend Me Five Shillings

Lend Me Five Shillings

or “Her Majesty’s Privy Purse” - a merry round-the-table game published by D. Ogilvy.

1875 Laughing Made Easy

Laughing Made Easy

a Victorian card game published by D. Ogilvy.

2002 Classic Card Games for Kids

Classic Card Games for Kids

A boxed set of playing cards, Happy Families and an alphabet pack with rules for 22 games.

1904 So-Lah – A Game of Music

So-Lah – A Game of Music

An early 20th century domino-type musical card game by Goodall.

2018 Marmite

Marmite

Fifty-Four images celebrating a UK savoury spread, that has been around one hundred and twenty two y...

1877 Word Making and Word Taking

Word Making and Word Taking

How crossword and spelling games became popular.

2021 Film Noir

Film Noir

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating hard boiled heroes, wise-cracking women, mean streets, guns and gums...

2016 Science Fiction

Science Fiction

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating a time when Science Fiction truly was, Science Fiction.

2004 The Beatles playing cards

The Beatles playing cards

Two packs featuring photos of The Beatles issued by the same publisher in 2004 and 2005.

1991 Costume Playing Cards

Costume Playing Cards

Four centuries of costumes from the Costume Court at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

2020 Commoners playing cards

Commoners playing cards

Created by Ian Cumpstey dedicated to the common land and the countryside.

2019 Liber Ludorum

Liber Ludorum

Liber Ludorum playing cards created by Ian Cumpstey in the insular style, United Kingdom, 2019.

2018 Pike and Clover playing cards

Pike and Clover playing cards

Pike and Clover playing cards created by Ian Cumpstey, Cumbria, UK, 2018.

2023 Inglewood Hunting Deck

Inglewood Hunting Deck

Inglewood Hunting Deck created by Ian Cumpstey, United Kingdom, 2023.

2010 Pin-Ups

Pin-Ups

A deck of 55 cards celebrating a golden age of cheeky, naughty, bold and curvy ladies in film.

2008 Classic Movie Posters

Classic Movie Posters

A deck of 55 cards presenting vintage classic movies and their stars.

2014 That’s Entertainment

That’s Entertainment

A deck of 55 cards celebrating 20th Century vaudeville, musicals and cabaret.

1981 British Monarchs

British Monarchs

Commemorating the royal wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer on the 29th

2005 Rock & Pop Legends

Rock & Pop Legends

Stunning photos of a selection of US and UK music artists.

2004 The Beatles • Yellow Submarine

The Beatles • Yellow Submarine

A colourful deck celebrating the 1968 animated feature film based on the Lennon/McCartney song of th...

1999 Dutch Court playing cards

Dutch Court playing cards

Games & Print Services’ version of the Dutch pattern.

Le jeu des 7 Familles ’Utuafare

Le jeu des 7 Familles ’Utuafare

Colourful Happy Families game from Tahiti depicting costumes from different archipelagoes.

2013 Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack

Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack

The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack, 2013....

The Search for New Games in the late 19<sup>th</sup> century

The Search for New Games in the late 19th century

A few new games survived and are still around today; most came and went and are only witnessed in th...

1904 Miniature Card Dominoes

Miniature Card Dominoes

A miniature set of Goodall domino cards (5.9 x 3.5 cms) still in perfect condition.

1875 T. Drayton & Son

T. Drayton & Son

Bezique and Whist boxed sets by T. Drayton & Son, London, c.1875.

2011 Colour doodle deck

Colour doodle deck

“1952-2002 commemorative deck” customised with doodles by an uncredited artist, UK, 2011.

2020 Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland themed playing cards, UK, 2020.