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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.

Conjuring Decks

Conjuring Decks by Universal Playing Card Co (Alf Cooke) and others...

A selection of special conjuring packs from the collection of William Lismore. I picked up a number of packs from the same place (antiques center) that seemed to belong to the same person.

a forcing deck of ‘Alf Cooke’ playing cards by Universal Playing Card Co Ltd (Alf Cooke), c.1950

Above: a forcing deck of ‘Alf Cooke’ playing cards by Universal Playing Card Co Ltd (Alf Cooke), c.1950.

a forcing deck of ‘Alf Cooke’ playing cards by Universal Playing Card Co Ltd (Alf Cooke), c.1960

Above: another forcing deck by Universal Playing Card Co Ltd (Alf Cooke) c.1960, but in a plain tuck box with a joker stuck on the outside.

Alf Cooke ESP cards

Above: a deck of Alf Cooke ESP cards.

Fox Lake conjuring cards

Above: a deck of Fox Lake cards that change from a ‘normal’ deck to all jokers, c.1960. See also: Fox Lake 'Svengali' deck, c.1960

special conjuring pack by John Waddington Ltd, c.1950. special conjuring pack by John Waddington Ltd, c.1950.

Above: special conjuring pack by John Waddington Ltd, c.1950. The pack consists of duplicates taped to each other at the back so that they can open up and stand by themselves. All the cards duplicates taped to them in the same way, possibly for a magic stage act. All above images courtesy William Lismore.


An Alf Cooke / ARRCO ‘Enardoe’ Curiosity from Ian Taylor.

An Arrco set of cards housed in a 1950s Alf Cooke box. The cards are reversed in colour compared to a standard deck, and are from Enardoe Goofy Bridge, produced by ARRCO Playing Card Co, Chicago, USA, also c.1950s. A matching card on the back of the tuck box is an Arrco joker which was affixed over an Alf Cooke jack of spades which was glued to the box see photo here

Above: the Club de Luxe box manufactured by Alf Cooke Ltd (Universal Playing Card Co), c.1950s. The cards somewhat rattle in the box, which I think would have housed a slightly wider deck, though the height looks about correct. Written in pencil at the top of the side of the box is "Goofy".

Above: the cards inside the box (also shown below). The cards measure 52mm x 89mm. The cards themselves are in very good condition for 70 years old. I don't believe they have been played with much. See reverse here

ARRCO had been producing decks with reversed colours for Edward Drane & Co (Enardoe) since c.1932 as a gimmick. The cards shown here may be old stock sold off to Alf Cooke to use in conjuring decks. Alternatively, the original owner's Enardoe box was damaged, so he put them in this one! But why go to the trouble of sticking a joker very securely to the box? Playing cards are a wondrous connection to the past, though they do tend to throw up more questions than answers!

Goofy Bridge cards with reversed colours by ARRCO

Above: the cards inside the box are from Enardoe Goofy Bridge, produced by ARRCO Playing Card Co, Chicago, USA. From the collection of Ian Taylor.

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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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