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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.

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.

Schweizer Trachten Whist No.174 (Swiss Costumes) printed by Dondorf, featuring scenic aces and traditional costumes with different views at each end (click image to reverse). Various editions of this deck were published in chromolithography, with alternative back designs, between 1906-1933. The jacks and queens show young men and women wearing costumes of individual cantons. The four kings, with flowing beards and crowns above their suit signs, are senior officials from the four Swiss cities of Zurich, Geneva, Bern and Basel. The labels are on wavy banners, except on the aces they are angular.

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf

Above: From the collection of Barney Townshend.

Patience-size packs of these cards were also issued with a single joker after c.1906.

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) patience size by Dondorf

Above: Schweizer Trachten (Costumes Suisses) patience size (43mm x 65mm), after 1906. From the collection of Matt Probert.

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By Barney Townshend

Member since October 06, 2015

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Retired Airline Pilot, interested in: Transformation Playing Cards, Karl Gerich and Elaine Lewis. Secretary of the EPCS. Treasurer of the IPCS.

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Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

Korchma Taras Bulba

Korchma Taras Bulba

The first of two decks designed by Ukrainian illustrator Vladislav Erko for “Korchma Taras Bulba” restaurant which serves traditional Ukrainian cuisine

Müller: Richelieu

Müller: Richelieu

This deck is named after Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (1585-1642), a French Roman Catholic Clergyman and statesman, Chief Adviser to King Louis XIII, noted for the authoritarian measures he employed to maintain power.

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.

Newsletter: Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

Newsletter: Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

In this newsletter we’re looking at how fashion and costume is represented through playing card art since the 14th century through to today.

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.

Folk Cards

Folk Cards

Folk Cards designed by Krystyna Gruchalska-Bunsch for Lot Polish Airlines, 1962.

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.

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

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

Alice

Alice

Alice with artwork by Jesús Blasco, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Liberty

Liberty

Liberty playing cards designed by Antonella Castelli, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Baracca & Burattini

Baracca & Burattini

Baracca & Burattini puppetry deck printed by Dal Negro, 1998.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes deck with caricatures by Jeff Decker published by Gemaco Playing Card Co. 1989

Martin Mystère

Martin Mystère

Martin Mystère based on the comic book by Alfredo Castelli. The cards were designed by Giancarlo Alessandrini.

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

Seefahrers II

Seefahrers II

‘Seefahrers’ maritime deck designed by Klaus Ensikat for Deutsche Seereederei Rostock, GDR.

Sanyo Ukiyo-E

Sanyo Ukiyo-E

Ukiyo-E deck by Nintendo for Sanyo Enterprise Co.

Year of the Child

Year of the Child

Year of the Child commemorative deck designed by Jhan Paulussen, 1979.

Maya Deck

Maya Deck

The Maya Deck produced by Stancraft for Hoyle, 1976.

Einhorn

Einhorn

‘Einhorn’ designed by Richard König, c.1986.

Fancy Dress Ball

Fancy Dress Ball

Spear’s “Fancy Dress Ball” card game with children dressed in period costumes, 1930s.

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties throughout the ages, published in Hungary, 1967.

Bicycle Steampunk

Bicycle Steampunk

Bicycle Steampunk playing cards with Gothic artwork by Anne Stokes, 2015.

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.

Casais Portugueses

Casais Portugueses

Matching game by Majora, Lisbon, c.1970, featuring figures in national dress from Portuguese provinces and colonies

Bicycle Knights

Bicycle Knights

Bicycle Knights playing cards designed by Sam Hayles in 2018.

Friendly Felines

Friendly Felines

‘Friendly Felines’ playing cards designed by Azured Ox, 2017.

Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt playing cards dedicated to the culture of Ancient Egypt.

Bicycle 808 Bourbon

Bicycle 808 Bourbon

Bicycle 808 Bourbon themed deck by US Playing Card Company 2017.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland playing cards designed by Sasha Dounaevski, 2018.

Kaiserkarte

Kaiserkarte

“Kaiserkarte” first published by Schneider & Co in 1895-1897 for the Imperial Court.

Age of Dragons

Age of Dragons

Age of Dragons by Anne Stokes, 2017.

Anne Stokes Collection

Anne Stokes Collection

Anne Stokes Collection playing cards, 2010.

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards by Andrew Jones Art, 1979.

68: Playing cards in glass

68: Playing cards in glass

My wife and I have recently commissioned a unique pair of stained glass windows for our home.

Chinese Jokers

Chinese Jokers

Chinese playing card makers have probably produced the widest variety of jokers of any single part of the world.

Ken McCarthy

Ken McCarthy

An unknown deck by Ken McCarthy, c.2018.

Les Grandes Figures de L’Histoire Bretonne

Les Grandes Figures de L’Histoire Bretonne

Les Grandes Figures de L’Histoire Bretonne

Kalevala

Kalevala

Kalevala playing cards by Sunish Chabba and Ishan Trivedi inspired by ancient Finnish mythology.