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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.

Otto Tragy Jugendstil Spielkarten

Special Jugendstil playing cards designed by Otto Tragy and first published by Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik Schneider & Co. in c.1898.

Otto Tragy Jugendstil Spielkarten detail, c.1898

Otto Tragy Jugendstil Spielkarten Das Jugendstilspiel in Deutschland!

These special Jugendstil (‘Art Nouveau’) playing cards were designed by Otto Tragy and first published by Altenburger Spielkartenfabrik Schneider & Co. in c.1898. The cards were well received so they were produced as ‘Whist no.260’ and ‘Patience No.265’. Otto Tragy (1866-1928), son of a lawyer, studied at the academy of arts in Munich from 1886 and later he studied in Paris. In 1897 he settled near Munich and became a member of the Munich Artists' Association. He exhibited regularly in the Munich Crystal Palace. Tragy mainly made portraits, genre and still life paintings, but also bookplates, posters and sketches for decorative purposes.

Otto Tragy Jugendstil Spielkarten, c.1898

Above: Otto Tragy Jugendstil Spielkarten "Patience No.265" "c.1910. 43x66 mm; 52 cards + joker. Images courtesy Camelia Elias.

"This is a deck I use every day, so the cards show some wear. They are, however, still incredibly special and beautiful, and the colours are magnificently bright. There are 52+Joker cards in the deck. It's "Patience No. 265" (dimension 43x66 mm). This deck was popular and in production throughout 1910s. It was also re-issued again by ASS in 1978, with a different Joker and slight variation in the colouring. In my opinion the 1910 version is quite unbeatable, both in quality and spark. To my knowledge Otto Tragy designed some 4 decks in the Jugenstil manner for Vereinigte Stralsunder Spielkarten Fabrik (the Altenburg dept.), and they were all produced between 1898-1920."

Left: book plate designed by Otto Tragy, 1898.


Segeth, Uwe-Volker: Spielkarten Jugendstil und Art Déco, Edition Christian Brandstätter, Wien, 1994