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, 1996View Articles
Curator 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.
printed by Flemming-Wiskott A.G. of Glogau
with illustrated views of Dutch cities on the aces. This pack is for sale or exchange.
Patience playing cards with children in historical costumes
Theatre programme in the form of a pack of cards. East Germany, c.1967.
Hunters, animals and birds feature on all but the Kings in this pack by Theodor Wegener, c.1863-70.
A few items used for advertising or displaying Dondorf playing card products.
A set of advertising poster stamps for C.L.Wüst playing cards.
Miniature playing cards, possibly for children, with a romantic theatrical theme. C.L. Wüst c.1890.
This miniature pack is very similar to one made by C.L.Wúst in c.1890.
An interesting pack of playing cards with illustrated Indian aces made "Specially for the Bombay Market", c.1915.
‘Aphorisms on the Kiss’ published by C. A. Solbrig, Leipzig, 1808.
Wüst Spanish pattern c.1910 advertising Cuban ‘Tropical’ beer.
The maker is possibly Kaspar Traugott Knaut (1799-1881).
Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.
Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany
‘History of fashion’ cultural quartet game designed by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.
The ‘Rinker’ highly amusing snap game, c.1910.
Geschichte des Buchgewerbes illustrated by Ludwig Winkler, published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck.
“So Fängt Es An” beautifully illustrated by M. Neugebauer, published by Helingsche Verlagsanstalt.
“Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt” transport quartet game by Bielefelder Spielkarten Fabrik GmbH, 1958.
Asterix Adventure quartet game by ASS, 1989.
‘Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien’ family card game by Dondorf.
Zwarte Piet by Dondorf for the Dutch market, 1906.
Gulliver in the Land of Dwarfs quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pößneck.
Bass & Bass ‘Jeu des Familles’ made by Franz-Josef Holler, Münich, 1989.
‘Significant Inventions in Everyday Life’ quartet game published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pössneck, 1979.
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
History of Motorcycles quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck, 1989.
Delightful comical deck designed by Loriot, the German cartoonist and comedian, 1973.
Kaffeehaus-Pikett featuring the old Viennese Large Crown pattern, made by ASS.
Musikinstrumente quartet game published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pössneck, 1984.
‘Seefahrers’ maritime deck designed by Klaus Ensikat for Deutsche Seereederei Rostock, GDR.
Darling pin-up playing cards designed by Heinz Villiger, c.1950s-60s.
Fairy Tales quartet published by Heinrich Schwarz + Co for Dutch market, c.1970.
‘Einhorn’ designed by Richard König, c.1986.
Renovation 2.000 playing cards with special courts designed by Jean Hoffmann.
Fairy Tales quartet game by F.X. Schmid, Munich, 1960.
Deutsche Nutzpflanzen - Quartett game promoting Kali brand crop fertilizer, 1938.
Märchen-Quartett (Fairy Tales) illustrated by J. P. Werth and published by J. W. Spear & Söhne, c.1915.