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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.

Bergmannskarte

Bergmannskarte, manufactured by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig, c.1816.

“Bergmannskarte”, Leipzig, c.1816

Detail from Bergmannskarte, manufactured by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig, c.1816

German-suited, single-ended “Bergmannskarte” manufactured by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig (Germany), about 1816. Etching, stencil coloured, 36 cards.

As early as the sixteenth century German playing cards evolved so that miniature burlesque scenes decorated the lower half of each card. Packs with miniature illustrations or vignettes on the numeral cards were now being produced covering all types of subject, from glorifying military achievements to idyllic rural scenes, animals or folklore. At the same time, many packs illustrate the fashions of the day, buildings, royalty, heraldry or whatever the artist fancies.

Bergmannskarte, manufactured by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig, c.1816

Above: “Bergmannskarte” manufactured by Industrie Comptoir, Leipzig, about 1816. Etching, stencil coloured, 36 cards.   From the collection of Klaus-Jürgen Schultz (https://spielkarten-sammlung.de).

See also:   Cartomancy Deck, c.1818

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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