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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.

Kenya Tribes Playing Cards

“Kenya Tribus” playing cards published by Sapra, Mount Kenya Sundries Ltd, Nairobi, 1991

“Kenya Tribus” Playing Cards

“Kenya Tribus” beautifully illustrated playing cards published by Sapra, Mount Kenya Sundries Ltd, Nairobi, 1991.

Kenya has a very diverse population that includes most major ethnic, racial and linguistic groups found in Africa. Each card features a full-length colour illustration of African people including: warriors, dancers, musicians, young girls, men and women, witch doctors and drummers. There are about 42 different tribes in Kenya, making more than 42 ethnic communities each having its own traditional practices and symbols. This pack of cards contains a total of 55 illustrations.

“Kenya Tribus” playing cards published by Sapra, Mount Kenya Sundries Ltd, Nairobi, 1991

Above: “Kenya Tribus” playing cards published by Sapra, Mount Kenya Sundries Ltd, Nairobi, printed by Grimaud, 1991. Images courtesy Rex Pitts.

Photo credit: Safari photos by Jane Wintle.

Variation

These have the same artwork as “Kenya Tribus”, but without the background to the images, and different jokers.

Above: a dual version of a similar deck, unknown manufacturer / publisher. Images courtesy Matt Probert.

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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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