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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.

Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock

"Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock” (reverse world ?) manufactured by Christian Theodor Sutor (fl. 1823-1854), Naumburg, around 1850.

“Verkehrte Welt Tarock” manufactured by Christian Theodor Sutor, Naumburg, c.1850.

Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock manufactured by Christian Theodor Sutor, Naumburg, c1850

Lithography, stencil coloured, later tax stamp: Deutsches Reich No. 9, 78 cards. The first version of this deck was made by C. A. Müller in Berlin. Sutor produced a military deck “Russische Trachten und Soldatenkarte” in c.1825.

The images on Animal Tarots usually derive from fables or songs and often have a symbolic meaning, although no sayings or moral aphorisms are normally printed on the cards. In some cases the theme of the illustrations wanders and new motifs can appear. The ‘Fool’ card (third card in top row below) might be a flute or oboe player, a fiddler or a lute player. In this case he is a buffoon, whilst Trump No.1 is a monkey ‘Papageno’. The court cards are double-ended whilst the trumps have single-ended images with Roman numerals at each end.

Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock manufactured by Christian Theodor Sutor, Naumburg, c1850

Above: cards from "Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock” (reverse world ?) manufactured by Christian Theodor Sutor (fl. 1823-1854), Naumburg, around 1850. Later tax stamp: Deutsches Reich No. 9.   From the collection of Klaus-Jürgen Schultz (https://spielkarten-sammlung.de).

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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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Cartas Gitanas

Cartas Gitanas

The designs of these fortune-telling cards are largely taken from nineteenth century Austrian "Rural Scenes" Tarock cards.

Tarok c.1900

Tarok c.1900

Piatnik & Söhne “Industrie und Glück” Tarok c.1905-1910.

Jugendstil Tarock

Jugendstil Tarock

‘Jugendstil Tarock’ was designed by Ditha Moser and first published by Albert Berger and Josef Glanz in 1906.

Animal Tarot

Animal Tarot

Woodblock and stencil Animal Tarot cards, probably of German origin, 2nd half 18th century.

Holmblad Animal Tarot

Holmblad Animal Tarot

Instead of the old emblematic designs, the trump cards show illustrations of animals, which could possibly have symbolic meanings or moralizing interpretations.

Soldaten Tarock

Soldaten Tarock

Piatnik was known for their magnificent quality of chromo-lithographic printing, and this facsimile, or reprint, of “Soldaten Tarock No. 217” is virtually as magnificent as the original.

Dondorf Tarot Aces

Dondorf Tarot Aces

The four suits are associated with four countries: Clubs = Germany, Diamonds = UK, Spades = Russia and Hearts = France.

Dondorf Tarot

Dondorf Tarot

Dondorf's “Microscopique Tarock“ was first published in c.1870. The scenes portrayed at each end of the trump cards are marvels of miniature graphic artwork and printing.

Bourgeois Tarot

Bourgeois Tarot

Bourgeois Tarot by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken.

Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock

Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock

"Verkehrte-Welt-Tarock” (reverse world ?) manufactured by Christian Theodor Sutor (fl. 1823-1854), Naumburg, around 1850.

Johann Herrl

Johann Herrl

Tarock deck made by Johann Herrl in Graz 1815

Piatnik Tarock

Piatnik Tarock

Deck of "Industrie und Glück" or "Rural Scenes" tarock cards manufactured by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne, Vienna, c.1910.

Tarock Cards

Tarock Cards

The earliest Tarot decks originated in Italy in the fifteenth century, with Italian suit symbols. However the game was very popular elsewhere and tarots with French suit signs, usually called "tarok" or "tarock", appeared around 1750 which are now mainly produced in Austria.

Estel Tarok

Estel Tarok

J. Estel Tarok, 1820.

Pittner Tarok

Pittner Tarok

Ferd Pittner, Tarok Cards

Western PCC

Western PCC

The Western Playing Card Company was formed in 1927. The exact history and origins are not clear.

Taroquis ‘Obelisco’

Taroquis ‘Obelisco’

78-card 'Taroquis Marca Obelisco' published by Mario Colombo, Buenos Aires, during the 1950s, 60s & 70s, in the style known as "Tarocco Piemontese" which had been developed by Italian cardmakers during the nineteenth century.

Tarocco Piemontese | Piedmontese tarot

Tarocco Piemontese | Piedmontese tarot

The double ended version of the Piedmontese Tarot evolved during the second half of the nineteenth century, most probably in Turin. It is still produced and used today.

Adametz, Vienna

Adametz, Vienna

Cards from a 54-card "Austrian Tarock" or "Industrie und Glück Tarock" pack made by Franz Adametz of Vienna, c.1948. This type of pack originated around the middle of the 19th century and was used (and still is) in Austria and Hungary.

Danish Tarok Cards - Holmblad, c.1850

Danish Tarok Cards - Holmblad, c.1850

The traditional animal images on tarok decks are here substituted by images of buildings from Copenhagen and the surrounding area. The deck had several editions, with each new edition updating the latest changes to the buildings that had taken place since the previous edition.

Danish Tarok Cards - Salomon & Co., c.1906

Danish Tarok Cards - Salomon & Co., c.1906

Danish Tarok cards published by S. Salomon & Co., Kjøbenhavn, c.1906.

Danish playing cards - Tarock trumps

Danish playing cards - Tarock trumps

Two versions of trump no.15 depicting the Thorvaldsen Museum.

Animal Tarok by Jean Friedrich Mayer (1752-1783)

Animal Tarok by Jean Friedrich Mayer (1752-1783)

Animal Tarok by Jean Friedrich Mayer (1752-1783).