Throughout their long history the quantity and quality of German cards has been outstanding. Card playing caught on rapidly in medieval Bavaria and German printers were quick to respond to the demand with a prodigious range of output which now can be regarded as an early example of popular art. German packs were produced with a variety of suit symbols and great freedom of design. learn more →
Suits were divided into two colors, green and red. The pips of one green suit were acorns, and of the other, leaves. The red suits were, and still are, hearts of the conventional shape and hawk bells. Germans have varied their pips perhaps more than any other people.
Probably spreading northwards across the Alps, card playing reached Basle in 1377. In the same year the Dominican monk Johannes von Rheinfelden from Basle wrote an allegory on the pack of cards. Cards are mentioned in the archives of Nuremberg between the years 1380 and 1384. From 1392 there are many references to playing cards in the guild books and registers of German towns. The names of both card-makers and card-painters are recorded, many of whom were women. To begin with most cards were made in the south in cities such as Augsburg, Munich, Nuremberg and Ulm. During the second half of the fifteenth century a succession of masterly German engravers practised their art and engraved playing cards reached a zenith. Many of these packs have survived as precious objets d'art - see more →. During the sixteenth century wood-block playing cards evolved so that miniature burlesque scenes decorated the lower half of each card.
Playing cards in Germany first appeared with several different archaic suit systems involving a variety of everyday objects including flowers, animals, hunting equipment or coats of arms. Gradually standardisation occurred and today the German national suit marks are: Hearts (Herzen), Bells (Schellen), Leaves (Laub) and Acorns (Eicheln). In a true German pack a second Knave is substituted for the Queen, the two Knaves being called Obermann and Untermann (abbreviated into Ober and Unter), and the 2 (Daus) takes the place of the Ace.
It was not until the late 17th century that packs with French suits were made and during the eighteenth century German card-makers excelled with their imaginative and artistic approach to card design. The existence of several German states and their varying fortunes is reflected in the different patterns still used in these areas today. But just as these states have become engulfed in the whole, so the cards are doing the same thing and regional differences are disappearing. German-suited cards are now in the minority, and if standard English cards are not used, then the Berliner or North German pattern is the most prevalent.
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.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
Pack conceived by Berthold Conradi, commemorating the 700th anniversary of the granting of town righ...
Dondorf Jägerkarte Nr. 465 playing cards dedicated to the theme of hunting, c.1930.
Publicity pack for the East German furniture industry, with designs by Werner-Hans Schlegel.
Complete pack of 36 hand-painted and silk-inlaid playing cards with French suits made in Germany.
Review of “Trzes’ Moorish Deck” facsimile published by Ulrich Kaltenborn, Berlin, 2023.
Promotional pack for a German steel hardening business, with designs by Costante Costantini.
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
Costumes of people of Brazil, Peru and Mexico, with views of Rio de Janeiro on the aces.
Cards on cards in celebration of playing-card collector Franz Braun’s 75th birthday.
Artist Edward Locker’s view of London life in 1799, using every card in the pack as part of the pict...
Designs by Jürgen Pankarz for the 20th anniversary of the Wolfgang Dorn advertising agency, Cologne....
Detailed pen and ink drawings of the major arcana by the German artist Helmut Wonschick.
‘Iceberg Free State 1923’ fantasy playing cards with a cautionary moral lesson, Germany, 2006.
Pack devised by Volker Scheub depicting characters associated with the city of Tübingen.
Publicity pack for the German brewery Nordbräu with Bavarian pattern courts (adapted).
Facsimile of cards attributed to Hans Schäufelein (c. 1480-1540) produced by ‘Calliope’, a New York ...
Publicity pack designed by Henning Loerzer for Busskamp & Koch, an advertising agency in Munich.
Playing cards issued to mark the German federal elections held on 2 December 1990.
Modern transformation pack including some saucy images created by Siegfried Heilmeier.
A colourful 1970s take on the major arcana designed by Peter Geitner, with titles in German.
‘Aces Playing Cards’ collaborative art deck published by Zeixs, Cologne (2nd edition).