The World of Playing Cards Logo
Published July 04, 2012 Updated February 02, 2024

5: De La Rue

In December 1831 Thomas de la Rue was granted his patent for printing playing cards by letterpress.

United Kingdom De la Rue Add to Collection

Sadly, there is no book on De La Rue's playing card manufacture similar to those by Mike Goodall on many of their competitors. And yet there is a great deal of material available in their archives. True, the material is dispersed somewhat, mainly between the University of Reading and the Fournier collection. I understand that a lot of the background material sold at auction by De La Rue in 1970 is not available at the museum in Vitoria. If that is so, it's a great pity.

There are two further interesting sources of information: one is on the wopc website and the other is a book about the firm The house that Thomas built written by Lorna Houseman and published in 1968, just before the firm sold their playing card interests to Waddington. The book only relates the story up until 1941, when the Bunhill Row premises were destroyed in an air-raid and is not restricted to the production of playing cards, so there's no doubt enough for another book on their later development.

See page 28 for a discussion of plate differences in De La Rue cards and page 49 for the database of my cards with De La Rue courts.

In December 1831 Thomas de la Rue was granted his patent for printing playing cards by letterpress. In the submission for the patent the details of both his early designs is given. D1 is a break with some of the postures and clothing of the traditional figures and D2 is based on the contemporary Type III courts used by Reynolds, Hardy and several other smaller makers such as H. Wheeler and Stopforth.

Above: D1

Above: D2

It is said D1 did not find favour with the card-playing public, because he had changed so many traditional features; D2, on the other hand, was in line with cards of other makers. De la Rue liked to experiment, even in the early days, so we find packs with a white line round every pip and packs with a lot of gold on them.

Above: D1 with overlay

Above: D2 with gold, backs have gold design, too

There are also packs with green added to the traditional colours; sometimes the packs have mixed gold and green and gold courts with a consistent back design. (Don't forget, packs were put together by hand, so mixing of this kind occurred quite easily.)

Above: D2 with green and gold

By 1840 he had redesigned his courts again, updating the design and adding a lot of extra decoration to the clothing. These were produced for quite a while and even survived into the post-Frizzle period.

Above: D3, c.1840-65

At about the same time or slightly later the firm introduced a smaller-sized pack, possibly aimed at card-playing ladies, called The Victoria in adverts and price lists.

Above: D3.1, c.1840-60

There is even a double-ended version of the latter.

Above: D3.2, c.1850-55

After 1922, when Goodall and De La Rue had merged, both of their current designs were used for a few years, but by about 1930 the De La Rue design D9 had been discontinued. Eventually the Goodall design was taken over by Waddington, as they printed De La Rue and Goodall cards from 1942 onwards. De La Rue sold out their playing card interest to Waddington in 1969.

Here is an indication of the development of the JS design from c.1890-1930, also to be found on page 28.

Above: The approximate dates for the different index types shown above from top left are: (i) 1890-1905; (ii) 1890-1905; (iii) 1905-20; (iv) 1910-20; (v)/(vi) 1922-28. There is also a larger type of index and different pip shape with the wide-size courts in (i) and (ii), used from c.1905-1915.

Above: Larger indices, c.1905-15

De La Rue also introduced a number of what were considered improvements to cards to enhance handling during play. The pneumatic finish appeared some time in the 1880s and continued into the 1960s, by which time it was referred to as herringbone. There was also a silk-watered finish, which give the impression of shot silk; it seems to have been used only on one-colour plain backs.

Above: Mandarins for W.H. Smith, c.1885 (the finish doesn't show up on the scan - sorry)

The firm also produced cards for those with poor sight. As far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition they were showing Optik cards. What they looked like I don't know, but later ones had different coloured suit-signs and the courts and AS had an extra blue-grey added.

Above: Top row: Optik cards, c.1900. Bottom row: extra blue-grey added to courts from an ordinary pack, c.1900

They also produced a peculiar pack, which may have been for poor-sighted people, with large pip and Roman numerals in the centre and an added decorative frame line. It isn't clear to me how this helped with play.

Above: Roman indices, c.1905, in a standard box

For a discussion of the plate analysis of De La Rue's courts, see page 28; a detailed set of illustrations from my collection is on page 49.

Back designs

From 1844 until 1874 the designer Owen Jones produced a series of colourful and highly decorative back designs for De La Rue. I have never seen a full list of the designs and it's not always possible to know for certain whether he was the designer in any particular case. It would also appear that other people designed backs for the firm as well. Here is a selection of obvious examples. The first two are from the set he designed for the Royal Family, which were on sale at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

By the 1880s, a while after his death, others had taken over, but they clearly found inspiration in some of his ideas and themes.

A selection of backs from c.1880-1910


avatar
137 Articles

By Ken Lodge

Member since May 14, 2012

​I'm Ken Lodge and have been collecting playing cards since I was about eighteen months old (1945). I am also a trained academic, so I can observe and analyze reasonably well. I've applied these analytical techniques over a long period of time to the study of playing cards and have managed to assemble a large amount of information about them, especially those of the standard English pattern. About Ken Lodge →


Related Articles

Woodblock and Stencil King of Diamonds

Woodblock and Stencil King of Diamonds

A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

A limited edition art print of the 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

1983 The Art of Erté

The Art of Erté

Luxury playing cards displaying artwork by Erté, published in 1983 by Sobranie of London.

2006 The Chamber of 52 Cards

The Chamber of 52 Cards

Playing cards published by Peter Wood as a tribute to the rock band Genesis.

1675 English cards from the reign of Charles II

English cards from the reign of Charles II

This article explores a historic pack of English playing cards from circa 1675, likely used by King ...

Why our playing-cards look the way they do

Why our playing-cards look the way they do

Analysis of early playing card designs: origins, suit differences, standardization, technological ad...

1961 Sweetule Natural History cards

Sweetule Natural History cards

Small cards featuring natural history subjects, given away with packets of sweet cigarettes.

1875 Lend Me Five Shillings

Lend Me Five Shillings

or “Her Majesty’s Privy Purse” - a merry round-the-table game published by D. Ogilvy.

1875 Laughing Made Easy

Laughing Made Easy

a Victorian card game published by D. Ogilvy.

2002 Classic Card Games for Kids

Classic Card Games for Kids

A boxed set of playing cards, Happy Families and an alphabet pack with rules for 22 games.

1904 So-Lah – A Game of Music

So-Lah – A Game of Music

An early 20th century domino-type musical card game by Goodall.

2018 Marmite

Marmite

Fifty-Four images celebrating a UK savoury spread, that has been around one hundred and twenty two y...

1877 Word Making and Word Taking

Word Making and Word Taking

How crossword and spelling games became popular.

2021 Film Noir

Film Noir

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating hard boiled heroes, wise-cracking women, mean streets, guns and gums...

2016 Science Fiction

Science Fiction

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating a time when Science Fiction truly was, Science Fiction.

2004 The Beatles playing cards

The Beatles playing cards

Two packs featuring photos of The Beatles issued by the same publisher in 2004 and 2005.

1991 Costume Playing Cards

Costume Playing Cards

Four centuries of costumes from the Costume Court at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

2020 Commoners playing cards

Commoners playing cards

Created by Ian Cumpstey dedicated to the common land and the countryside.

2019 Liber Ludorum

Liber Ludorum

Liber Ludorum playing cards created by Ian Cumpstey in the insular style, United Kingdom, 2019.

2018 Pike and Clover playing cards

Pike and Clover playing cards

Pike and Clover playing cards created by Ian Cumpstey, Cumbria, UK, 2018.

2023 Inglewood Hunting Deck

Inglewood Hunting Deck

Inglewood Hunting Deck created by Ian Cumpstey, United Kingdom, 2023.

2010 Pin-Ups

Pin-Ups

A deck of 55 cards celebrating a golden age of cheeky, naughty, bold and curvy ladies in film.

2008 Classic Movie Posters

Classic Movie Posters

A deck of 55 cards presenting vintage classic movies and their stars.

2014 That’s Entertainment

That’s Entertainment

A deck of 55 cards celebrating 20th Century vaudeville, musicals and cabaret.

1981 British Monarchs

British Monarchs

Commemorating the royal wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer on the 29th

2005 Rock & Pop Legends

Rock & Pop Legends

Stunning photos of a selection of US and UK music artists.

2004 The Beatles • Yellow Submarine

The Beatles • Yellow Submarine

A colourful deck celebrating the 1968 animated feature film based on the Lennon/McCartney song of th...

1999 Dutch Court playing cards

Dutch Court playing cards

Games & Print Services’ version of the Dutch pattern.

2013 Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack

Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack

The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack, 2013....

The Search for New Games in the late 19<sup>th</sup> century

The Search for New Games in the late 19th century

A few new games survived and are still around today; most came and went and are only witnessed in th...

1904 Miniature Card Dominoes

Miniature Card Dominoes

A miniature set of Goodall domino cards (5.9 x 3.5 cms) still in perfect condition.

1875 T. Drayton & Son

T. Drayton & Son

Bezique and Whist boxed sets by T. Drayton & Son, London, c.1875.

2011 Colour doodle deck

Colour doodle deck

“1952-2002 commemorative deck” customised with doodles by an uncredited artist, UK, 2011.

2020 Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland themed playing cards, UK, 2020.

2023 Wren 300 playing cards

Wren 300 playing cards

Papercuts by Chloe Campbell of the 52 Wren churches in the City of London.

2023 Marlow playing cards

Marlow playing cards

Visitor attractions and businesses to be found in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

2010 Playing Politics 2010

Playing Politics 2010

“Playing Politics ’10: With no expenses spared” featuring caricatures by Oliver Preston, published b...

1992 Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies

Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies

Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies with caricatures by Grant Robertson, UK.

2005 B-Deck

B-Deck

“B-Deck” scurrilous playing cards poking fun at a former UK prime minister.

1967 Winstanley Geographical cards

Winstanley Geographical cards

Facsimile of Winstanley’s Geographical cards produced by Harold & Virginia Wayland, 1967.

1971 Meal Tub Plot

Meal Tub Plot

Meal Tub Plot playing cards [facsimile] with 17th century sketches by Francis Barlow.

Golf playing cards

Golf playing cards

Golf playing cards published by Marks & Spencer, UK.