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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.

North German pattern

The North German pattern appeared in the mid-19th century, derived from the French ‘Paris’ pattern,

As its name suggests, this pattern is used mainly in North Germany where it has become a sort of national pattern. The design of the court cards, which appeared in the mid-19th century, is derived from the French ‘Paris’ pattern and packs are often labelled ‘Französisches Bild’ to distinguish from German-suited cards. The King of Diamonds has a laurel wreath under his crown reflecting his origin as ‘Caesar’ and the King of Spades is holding the top of his harp. The Queens wear costumes from the 1840s, have no crowns and hold flowers. The court cards are divided horizontally, are unnamed and the maker's name usually appears on the Jack of Clubs.

Stralsund Heidborn Wegener Osten c.1880

North German pattern manufactured by Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkarten Fabriken, c.1880

Above: detail from corner of jack of clubs

Above: North German pattern manufactured by Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkarten Fabriken, c.1880. 40 cards running Ace to seven plus Jack, Queen and King in each suit. The court cards are engraved and coloured by stencil with excellent registration. No indices, corners gold tipped. The text on Queen of clubs reads: "früher: L.v.d.Osten. L.Heidborn. T.Wegener". In 1872 the company of Ludwig van der Osten merged with the two Stralsund companies Ludwig Heidborn and Theodor Wegener to found the "Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken Actien- Gesellschaft Stralsund" which is the inscription on the Jack of Clubs, suggesting a date in the early years of the newly-founded company. The horizontal, white dividing line is also characteristic of many earlier editions. The version of the tax stamp on the Ace of Hearts was in use from 1878 to c.1890. Image courtesy Rod Starling. See slightly later versions 1899-1903, 1903-1918

North German pattern by F.A. Lattmann, Goslar, c.1880-1890

North German pattern manufactured by F.A. Lattmann, Goslar, c.1880-1890 North German pattern manufactured by F.A. Lattmann, Goslar, c.1880-1890

Above: North German pattern manufactured by F.A. Lattmann, Goslar, c.1880-1890. Note the miniature indices in the frame lines. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

Tax Stamps from Imperial Germany

North German pattern by Spielkarten-Fabrik Schneider & Co., c.1895

North German pattern manufactured by Spielkarten-Fabrik Schneider & Co., Altenburg, c.1895

Above: North German pattern manufactured by Spielkarten-Fabrik Schneider & Co., Altenburg, c.1895. Schneider & Co operated 1892-1898, afterwards they were taken over by VSS and normally put "Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken Abt. Altenburg vorm. Schneider & Co." on their cards, or something similar, for some time. Images courtesy Claire Moore.

Tax Stamps from Imperial Germany

North German pattern by Eduard Buttner & Co. c.1900

Clubkarte No 23 North German pattern manufactured by Eduard Buttner & Co. c.1900

Above: Clubkarte No 23 North German pattern manufactured by Eduard Buttner & Co - Berliner Spielkarten Fabrik, c.1900. 36 cards, lithography, round cornered without indices. Image courtesy John Sings - www.gamesetal.net

North German style ‘Skat’ deck, c.1935

German ‘Skat’ deck in the North German pattern manufactured by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken A-G., c.1935 German ‘Skat’ deck in the North German pattern manufactured by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken A-G., c.1935

Above: German ‘Skat’ deck in the North German pattern manufactured by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken A-G., 32 cards in leather booklet, c.1935. The revenue tax stamp on the Ace of Hearts was in use from 1931 to 1936 and Nr.90 was the Altenburg office.

Tax Stamps from Imperial GermanySee also: North German pattern printed by Berliner SpielkartenNorth German pattern printed by KZWP-Trefl for Fortuna Speelkaarten, 2004North German pattern Skat printed by Piatnik, 1978

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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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