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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.

Kaiserkarte

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

“Kaiserkarte” was published specially for the last German emperor and King of Prussia, Wilhelm II. The cards were printed at the Altenburg Card Factory (Altenburger Spielkarten Fabrik Schneider & Co) in 1895-1897. The back features a medallion surrounded by an oak wreath. In the centre are the coats of arms of Germany, Austria and Italy, with a crossed sword and caduceus. German motto: “Einigkeit macht stark” (Together we are stronger).

Original “Kaiserkarte” by Schneider & Co, 1895-1897
Original “Kaiserkarte” by Schneider & Co, 1895-1897
Original “Kaiserkarte” by Schneider & Co, 1895-1897

The courts depict historical figures: King of Hearts - Franz I. His Queen is a lovely woman dressed in a Renaissance style costume. Jack of Hearts – Landsknecht. The King of Clubs is Louis the Pious, Jack - Knight Templar. The King of Diamonds resembles the features of Charles VII. The Queen - His Beloved Agnes Sorel. King of Spades - Louis XIV (Sun King). Note: decks for the Royal household would have no tax stamps, but those printed for general sale do.

Original “Kaiserkarte” by Schneider & Co, 1895-1897

Above: “Kaiserkarte” by Schneider & Co, Altenburg, used exclusively at the Imperial Court in Berlin, first published in 1895-1897. The cards have no indices and an ornate back design. Images and historical notes courtesy Valentin Zadunaisky.

Facsimile Edition

A facsimile of “Kaiserkarte” was issued by A.S.S., c.1970. The facsimile edition has indices, new aces and a new back design.

facsimile of “Kaiserkarte” published by A.S.S., c.1970 facsimile of “Kaiserkarte” published by A.S.S., c.1970 facsimile of “Kaiserkarte” published by A.S.S., c.1970

Above: facsimile of “Kaiserkarte” published by A.S.S., c.1970. The original cards did not have indices, featured a different back design and the four aces were more ornamental than in this reproduction. Contrary to the inscription on the reprint box that the original deck was first produced in 1910, the deck was first published in 1895-1897. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.

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