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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.

Fruits et Légumes

The beautiful artwork in Dondorf's “Fruits et Légumes” quartet game reminds us of the benefits of natural food.

Fruits et Légumes No.342   (c.1900)

B. Dondorf (1833-1933), Frankfurt am Main.

All the green, healthy food you could ever want... reduce your stress and lose weight! The beautiful artwork in Dondorf's “Fruits et Légumes des Champs et des Jardins” reminds us of the benefits of natural food without additives. The game contains 40 cards divided into ten sets of four cards each being a different type of fruit, vegetable or cereal. The winner, as in most ‘Happy Families’ or quartet games, is the player who completes the highest number of sets.

Left: “Fruits et Légumes des Champs et des Jardins” No.342 published by B. Dondorf, Frankfurt am Main, Germany in c.1900. 40 cards in telescopic box. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

Dondorf Card Games

Dondorf began producing card games (rather than playing cards) in around 1870 with a then fashionable “Question and Answer” game which was obviously aimed at children because all the illustrations were of children. Around the same time there were children’s quartet games with sets such as Ass, Moon, Sheep etc and a musical game. By 1900 the “Struwwelpeter” game and “Wappen Quartet” were on the market. A “Black Peter” game appeared by 1905 but not so much with pairs of characters but pairs such as Trees, House and Cyclists. It seems that all the games cards were catalogued with a number beginning with a “3” and many are numbered between 314 and 352. This would suggest that at least 37 games were published up to the time when Dondorf were taken over. At this point Spears purchased the rights to the card games and continued to publish the educational ones featuring flowers and animals etc.

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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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