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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.

Gulliver

Deck inspired by Gulliver‘s Travels book by Jonathan Swift, Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

The artwork in this deck of cards is by Jesus Blasco, inspired by the famous book Gulliver‘s Travels written by the Irishman Jonathan Swift in 1726, and published here by Lo Scarabeo, Torino, Italy, 2003. See the information cards

Gulliver by Lo Scarabeo, 2003 Gulliver by Lo Scarabeo, 2003

Above: cards from Gulliver by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

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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.

Recommended

Alice

Alice

Alice with artwork by Jesús Blasco, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.

Gulliver im Land der Zwerge

Gulliver im Land der Zwerge

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

El Gato con Botas

El Gato con Botas

Puss in Boots card game manufactured by H. Fournier, 1981.

Crikey!

Crikey!

Crikey! Classic British Comics playing cards published by Bird Playing Cards, 2013.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes deck with caricatures by Jeff Decker published by Gemaco Playing Card Co. 1989

Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels card game no.293 published by Piatnik, c.1950.

Authors

Authors

Authors quartet game published by Whitman Publishing Co., 1951.

Dickens Snap

Dickens Snap

Dickens Snap, c.1890.

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras, published by Jeux et Jouets Français. Paris, early 1900s.

Mary Whitmore Jones and her Chastleton Patience Board

Mary Whitmore Jones and her Chastleton Patience Board

Mary Whitmore Jones and her Chastleton Patience Board by Tony Hall.

Wonderland Misfitz

Wonderland Misfitz

Wonderland Misfitz by C.W. Faulkner & Co. Ltd, c.1908.

World of Harry Potter

World of Harry Potter

World of Harry Potter playing cards produced by Winning Moves under Waddingtons Number 1 brand, 2019.

Boekenkwartet

Boekenkwartet

Boekenkwartet featuring illustrations from children's books, 1970s.

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables playing cards by I. Kirk, c.1759.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland playing cards designed by Sasha Dounaevski, 2018.

Martín Fierro

Martín Fierro

Naipes “Martín Fierro” based on the epic poem by José Hernandez.

On The Cards

On The Cards

A Motley Pack - transformation playing cards & ‘On The Cards’ book facsimile published by Sunish Chabba, 2019.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, 2005.

Characters of “The Water Margin”

Characters of “The Water Margin”

Characters from the Chinese novel “The Water Margin” - 水滸撲克.

Le Avventure di Pinocchio

Le Avventure di Pinocchio

Avventure di Pinocchio by Dal Negro, based on Carlo Collodi’s famous 1883 novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio”.

Beatrix Potter’s Rummy

Beatrix Potter’s Rummy

Beatrix Potter’s Rummy published by Gibsons Games, c.1985.

Hogwarts

Hogwarts

Harry Potter Hogwarts playing cards, c.2016.

Biggles

Biggles

Biggles card game published by Pepys Games in 1955 based on the popular books by Capt W E Johns.

Just William

Just William

Just William, drawn by Thomas Henry, published by Pepys Games in 1952.

Dogs

Dogs

‘Dogs’ playing cards showcases 52 canine portraits in four suits as authors, artists, musicians and film stars, illustrated by Chet Phillips, 2016

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

“Game of Thrones” playing cards are an official fan deck associated with the HBO adaptation of the books by George R.R. Martin.

Jacqueline Wilson Playing Cards

Jacqueline Wilson Playing Cards

“Jacqueline Wilson” playing cards were illustrated by Nick Sharratt and published by Winning Moves UK Ltd in 2007.

Characters from Charles Dickens

Characters from Charles Dickens

“Characters from Charles Dickens” card game published by Jaques & Son, c.1880.

Baraja Literaria

Baraja Literaria

“Baraja Literaria” Spanish pack with cartoons by Serafín, published by Asescoin and manufactured by Naipes Comas, 2002.

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland card game based on original designs by Sir John Tenniel published by Thomas De la Rue & Co. Ltd, c.1900

Alice in Wonderland Snap

Alice in Wonderland Snap

Alice in Wonderland “Snap” 1 penny game from 1920s or 30s, made in Germany, anonymous manufacturer.

Fairy Tales

Fairy Tales

German Fairy Tales Card Game.

New Style ‘Jugendstil’

New Style ‘Jugendstil’

Playing cards showing the influence of ‘Jugendstil’ manufactured by the Soviet Playing Card Monopoly (U.S.S.R.) 1930

Edgar Allan Poe Playing Cards

Edgar Allan Poe Playing Cards

A Kickstarter campaign for a fine deck of playing cards inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe

Sherlock Holmes Playing Cards

Sherlock Holmes Playing Cards

Three fine deck of playing cards inspired by the characters and stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Don Quijote IV Centenario

Don Quijote IV Centenario

Baraja IV Centenario Don Quijote is the work of artist Vicente Arnás, published by Asescoin, Madrid, 2004.

Noddy Happy Families

Noddy Happy Families

Enid Blyton’s Noddy Happy Families was published in 1955 by Sampson Low, 25 Gilbert Street, London W.1., manufactured in Great Britain.

Literary Figures

Literary Figures

Non-Standard Literary Figures playing cards manufactured by Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne A.G., Vienna, 1924.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

Harry Potter Spanish-suited deck made in Argentina, c.2001.

Early References

Early References

Out of an apparent void, a constellation of references in early literature emerge pointing to the sudden arrival of playing cards, principally in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy around 1370-1380.