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Published April 07, 2004 Updated July 15, 2022

German playing cards

Card-playing rapidly became popular in medieval Bavaria and German printers were quick to supply the goods.


Above: Stuttgart luxury cards, c.1430

Above: Master of The Playing Cards

Hofamterspiel c.1460

Above: Hofamterspiel c.1460

South German Engraver, c.1495

Above: South German Engraver, c.1495

Above: Hans Beham, c.1523

Above: Peter Flötner, c.1545

Above: Johann M. Backofen, c.1800

Above: Joseph Losch, c.1800

Above: Bergmannskarte, c.1816

Above: Schiller Deck, c.1818

Above: Anti-Napoleon Deck

Above: Verkehrte Welt Tarock, c.1850

Above: Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908)

Above: Princely Hunting pack, c.1445

Thomas Murner, 1507

Above: Thomas Murner, 1507

Above: Jost Ammon, 1588

C.L. Wüst (1811-1927)

Above: C.L. Wüst (1811-1927)

Bernhard Dondorf (1833-1933)

Above: B. Dondorf (1833-1933)

Above: Victory deck by Friedrich Gotthelf Baumgärtner, Leipzig, 1815

Above: Fortune Telling Deck by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig c.1818

Above: Narren-Karte by Christian Heinrich Reuter, Nürnberg, c.1860

Above: Johann Jegel's Historical Deck, c.1850

Above: T. O. Weigel, 1885

Above: “Graf Zeppelin Round the World Flight”, 1930

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 →

archaic German cards by Heinrich Hauk, dated 1585

Above: archaic German cards by Heinrich Hauk, dated 1585. The suit symbols are: acorns, bells, birds and flowers. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University: GER sheet 249

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.

Bohemian playing cards of the German type manufactured by Georg Kapfler and dated 1611

Above: archaic German-suited playing cards manufactured by Georg Kapfler, dated 1611.

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.

Master PW Circular Playing Cards, c.1500
Engraved Playing Cards, Germany, 1617
Geistliche Karten, Augsburg, 1718

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.

playing cards by I. Schenck, Nuremberg, XIXth century

Above: playing cards manufactured by I. Schenck, Nuremberg, XIXth century  more

Stuttgart PackPrincely Hunting PackMaster of the Playing CardsHofämterspielHans Beham, 1523Heinrich Hauk, 1595I.M.F. Engraved Cards, 1617Thomas MurnerPeter FlötnerEarly German Engraved CardsThe South German EngraverBook of TradesMaster PW Circular Cards, c.1500Geistliche Karten, Augsburg, 1718Johann Jobst ForsterOld Bavarian patternJoseph Losch, c.1800Joh. Matheus Backofen, c.1800‘Prague’ or ‘Bohemian’ patternSaxon pattern‘Victory Deck’, c.1815Anti-Napoleon Deck, c.1815Bergmannskarte, c.1816Cartomancy Deck, c.1818C. A. Müller “Antike Götter”, c.1830C.L. WüstSchiller Deck, C.L. Wüst, c.1830Wüst Swiss Album PatienceC.L. Wüst: Brazil Scenic AcesBourgeois TarotMlle Lenormand Cartomancy CardsNorth German patternVerkehrte Welt Tarock, c.1850Johann Jegel's Historical Deck, c.1850Bavarian Military CardsBavarian patternT.O.Weigel: Luxus Skatkarten, c.1860Narren-Karte by C. H. Reuter, c.1860Neue Deutsche Spielkarte, c.1883Deutsches Schützenfest 1884Liebig Beef Extract, 1891Prussian PatternB. DONDORF (1833-1933)F. A. LATTMANNWilhelm Busch Comic Card GamesOtto Tragy Jugendstil SpielkartenBadische SpielkartenfabrikWalter ScharffSinalco advertisingBambi playing cardsSchmid Argentina S.A.Pajarito SkatVeltins SkatFussball SkatSchwäbisch Hall, c.1975Financial TimesBosco playing cards made for Perú> • Birkel Schwarzer Peter Circus gameKlipp Klapp Karten, 2004British Channel Island Ferries

Thanks to Klaus-Jürgen Schultz ( and Barney Townshend for contributing many packs from their collections to this site. If you would like to contribute some antique or interesting items please use the Feedback & Enquiries form in the footer below.


By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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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.

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1930 Rococo Whist-Bridge Nr.53

Rococo Whist-Bridge Nr.53

printed by Flemming-Wiskott A.G. of Glogau

1880 Lattmann No.9 playing cards

Lattmann No.9 playing cards

with illustrated views of Dutch cities on the aces. This pack is for sale or exchange.

1920 Dondorf Patience playing cards No.26

Dondorf Patience playing cards No.26

Patience playing cards with children in historical costumes

1967 My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady

Theatre programme in the form of a pack of cards. East Germany, c.1967.

1868 German hunting pack by Theodor Wegener

German hunting pack by Theodor Wegener

Hunters, animals and birds feature on all but the Kings in this pack by Theodor Wegener, c.1863-70.

1930 Dondorf related ephemera

Dondorf related ephemera

A few items used for advertising or displaying Dondorf playing card products.

1910 C.L.Wüst Poster Stamps

C.L.Wüst Poster Stamps

A set of advertising poster stamps for C.L.Wüst playing cards.

1890 Miniature Theatre playing cards

Miniature Theatre playing cards

Miniature playing cards, possibly for children, with a romantic theatrical theme. C.L. Wüst c.1890.

1900 A miniature theatrical pack of playing cards, Germany? c.1900

A miniature theatrical pack of playing cards, Germany? c.1900

This miniature pack is very similar to one made by C.L.Wúst in c.1890.

1915 Playing cards for the Bombay Market

Playing cards for the Bombay Market

An interesting pack of playing cards with illustrated Indian aces made "Specially for the Bombay Market", c.1915.

1808 The Kiss, 1808

The Kiss, 1808

‘Aphorisms on the Kiss’ published by C. A. Solbrig, Leipzig, 1808.

1910 Wüst Spanish pattern

Wüst Spanish pattern

Wüst Spanish pattern c.1910 advertising Cuban ‘Tropical’ beer.

Anonymous possibly Kaspar Traugott Knaut.

Anonymous possibly Kaspar Traugott Knaut.

The maker is possibly Kaspar Traugott Knaut (1799-1881).

1906 Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten

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

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

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.

J. W. Spear and Sons

J. W. Spear and Sons

Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany

1954 Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

‘History of fashion’ cultural quartet game designed by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.

The ‘Rinker’ Snap

The ‘Rinker’ Snap

The ‘Rinker’ highly amusing snap game, c.1910.

1989 Geschichte des Buchgewerbes

Geschichte des Buchgewerbes

Geschichte des Buchgewerbes illustrated by Ludwig Winkler, published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck.

1950 So Fängt Es An

So Fängt Es An

“So Fängt Es An” beautifully illustrated by M. Neugebauer, published by Helingsche Verlagsanstalt.

1958 Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt

Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt

“Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt” transport quartet game by Bielefelder Spielkarten Fabrik GmbH, 1958.

1989 Asterix Abenteuer

Asterix Abenteuer

Asterix Adventure quartet game by ASS, 1989.

Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien

Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien

‘Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien’ family card game by Dondorf.

1906 Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet by Dondorf for the Dutch market, 1906.

1979 Gulliver im Land der Zwerge

Gulliver im Land der Zwerge

Gulliver in the Land of Dwarfs quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pößneck.

Bass & Bass Jeu des Familles

Bass & Bass Jeu des Familles

Bass & Bass ‘Jeu des Familles’ made by Franz-Josef Holler, Münich, 1989.

1979 Bedeutende Erfindungen im Alltag

Bedeutende Erfindungen im Alltag

‘Significant Inventions in Everyday Life’ quartet game published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pössneck, 1979.

“Deck with French suits”

“Deck with French suits”

A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.

1989 Geschichte des Motorrades

Geschichte des Motorrades

History of Motorcycles quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck, 1989.

1973 Loriot Rummy

Loriot Rummy

Delightful comical deck designed by Loriot, the German cartoonist and comedian, 1973.



Kaffeehaus-Pikett featuring the old Viennese Large Crown pattern, made by ASS.

1984 Musikinstrumente


Musikinstrumente quartet game published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pössneck, 1984.

1988 Seefahrers II

Seefahrers II

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

1960 Darling


Darling pin-up playing cards designed by Heinz Villiger, c.1950s-60s.

1970 Sprookjes Kwartet

Sprookjes Kwartet

Fairy Tales quartet published by Heinrich Schwarz + Co for Dutch market, c.1970.

1986 Einhorn


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

1958 Renovation 2.000

Renovation 2.000

Renovation 2.000 playing cards with special courts designed by Jean Hoffmann.

1960 Märchen-Quartett


Fairy Tales quartet game by F.X. Schmid, Munich, 1960.

1938 Deutsche Nutzpflanzen

Deutsche Nutzpflanzen

Deutsche Nutzpflanzen - Quartett game promoting Kali brand crop fertilizer, 1938.

1915 Märchen-Quartett


Märchen-Quartett (Fairy Tales) illustrated by J. P. Werth and published by J. W. Spear & Söhne, c.1915.