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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.

Watney’s Happy Families

A vintage Watney's Coombe Reid & Co Ltd promotional card game distributed by the brewery to their customers in c.1930

A vintage Watney's Coombe Reid & Co Ltd promotional card game distributed by the brewery to their customers in c.1930. The backs have the famous red barrel. The families are: the Barrels, the Cheerilads, the Combes, the Hops, the Reids, the Stouts, the Watneys and the Malts.

Although the 1920s was a decade of optimism after the Great War, the Great Depression made the 1930s a difficult time. In Britain unemployment was widespread. As we see from these images, the woman was the homemaker and had a hairdo, and the man worked. The generation of children who grew up in the 1930s would go on to fight in World War II. They had their share of hardships and built strong values of hard work.

Watney's Coombe Reid & Co Ltd promotional card game distributed by the brewery to their customers in c.1930

Above: Watney's Happy Families, with the compliments of Watney Coombe Reid & Co Ltd Brewers London, 1930. 32 cards. The rules are printed on the reverse of the box.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.

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