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Published January 03, 2014 Updated March 22, 2022

37: Late 19th Century Card-Makers and Problem Cases

After the Old Frizzle period and the tax was reduced to 3d per pack, from 1862 onwards, a number of makers started up, who hadn't made cards before, although they were part of the paper and pasteboard industry.

United Kingdom Alfred Davis & Co Ansell Benda Eagle Playing Card Co Hunt & Sons Mitchell Mudie Willis & Co. Add to Collection

After the Old Frizzle period and the tax was reduced to 3d per pack, from 1862 onwards, a number of makers started up, who hadn't made cards before, although they were part of the paper and pasteboard industry. Others reinvented themselves and started using more up-to-date production methods. In the former category were James English and Willis & Co.; in the latter Woolley & Co. and Joseph Hunt & Sons/Hunt's Playing Card Manufactory. The last of these was a new firm set up by descendants of the original Joseph Hunt in direct competition with the inheritors of the original Hunt firm, Bancks Brothers. I dealt with Bancks on page 31 and Woolley on page 58. On this page I'll give a brief survey of the other three. Then I'll discuss Mitchell and the problem cases of importers and stationers.

Late competitors to De La Rue and Goodall: These smaller firms took on the rôle of competitors to the ever more dominant De La Rue and Goodall. In some sense they took over from the earlier competitors such as Creswick and Hardy, who had fallen by the wayside in the early 1850s. None of them lasted as card-makers much beyond the turn of the century, the new Hunt firm and Willis only managing some 15 to 18 years.

JAMES ENGLISH/PEERLESS: English had been a hot-presser and pasteboard maker since 1854, but it wasn't until 1865 that he made his first cards. He introduced indices in the 1880s and seems to have continued in a small way until c.1904. The name Peerless Playing Card Co. was used on his cards and boxes from the 1880s.

Above: English, square corners and indices (within border on courts), c.1880

For more detail regarding this firm see: page 29

WILLIS & CO

Willis took over the business of Charles Steer in 1869. The latter started a small output of cards in 1856; his cards appear to have been of Belgian origin and the AS was the same as that used by Perry with a different name on it. For Steer's cards and Perry's cards, see page 36. Willis's cards were quite different.

Above: Willis's first design, unturned, with small indices, c.1880, found earlier without indices

He introduced triplicate indices in c.1884, one with courts with the pips on the left, the other with all pips on the right, so all the kings and the JS were turned.

Above: Triplicate indices, c.1885

Deakins Political Pack was printed by them; there are three different editions. See also wopc website

Above: First edition, 1886

Willis produced some very elaborate and striking back designs, a few of which I show below. Several show the influence of Owen Jones.

The firm stopped making cards in the late 1880s and sold off their stock. There are Tom Thumb patience cards with Willis courts and a Woolley AS from the 1890s.

For my packs by this maker along with Whitaker, Perry and Benda, click here

HUNT

In 1866 a descendant of Joseph Hunt started a card-making business using more up-to-date printing methods than Bancks Brothers. Despite an apparently good start they do not seem to have managed to keep up with the competition. Like Bancks, their bitter rivals, they didn't make all the functional changes that the main makers did, in particular the introduction of indices in 1878-80. Their first courts were double-ended, but based on the wood-block designs of their predecessors. The lithographic stone used for printing these courts is now in the Cuming Museum, London, an illustration of which can be found in The Playing Card 31/6 (2003).

For a list of my cards by Hunt's Playing Card Manufacturing Co. Click here

Above: H1

Their second court set had turned courts but with a non-traditional feature in that all the queens face the same way. (Interestingly, Bancks copied this feature when they redesigned their courts in the 1880s.)

Above: H2

In 1872 the firm introduced the game of Zetema in a double-boxed set. Some of these sets have cards by Mesmaekers, which could reflect the fact that a lot of Hunt stock was destroyed in a fire in 1874. After the fire the firm relocated and changed its name to Hunt's Playing Card Manufactory. Towards the end of the 1870s the firm introduced round corners and smaller cards, but it didn't last long and finished trading in the early 1880s. The last Hunt cards were produced by C.T. Jeffries in Bristol.

Above: H3

The last courts I've seen (H4) were printed in two colours only; I only have a black and white photocopy of these.

J. & W. MITCHELL

An even smaller outfit in terms of playing card production was J. & W. Mitchell. Based in Birmingham as papermakers, they opened an office in London in 1856. Exactly when they produced their cards is difficult to say, but given that they all have round corners and indices, it must be the 1880s at the earliest.

Above: J. & W. Mitchell

Importers and stationers

A much more difficult area to get information about is that of firms who imported cards. They were either importers of fancy goods (which may have included playing cards in some cases), or agents for foreign makers or stationers. I have already mentioned Perry & Co. on page 36, and to judge by his cards Steer may also have been an importer rather than a maker. The best known of the importers are Ansell, Benda and Davis; all three imported cards from Turnhout. Towards the end of the 19th century Mudie & Sons developed a substantial business selling cards made both in this country and abroad.

ANSELL

A. Ansell & Co appear first in 1831, but disappear from time to time after 1846, though the firm is still listed as a merchant in the 1870s and as late as 1884. This seems to be the same firm, as the first name is still Abraham. Ansell’s cards are those of Van Genechten: the AS is the latter’s design with Ansell’s name (“London & Paris”) written at the base. Van Genechten only started his business on his own (without Glénisson) in 1856, so whether Ansell became an agent for the Turnhout manufacturer is not clear. Ansell used a number of different court sets.

Above: Van Genechten's copy of De La Rue's D3 for Ansell, c.1860

Above: A later Ansell pack, c.1875

BENDA

Benda is the surname of at least four different people: Emanuel, Julius, Gabriel and Anton. Some of them were probably brothers, as Benda Brothers also appear in the Post Office lists. They were all born in Bavaria. Emanuel was a toy dealer, who died in 1852, and Gabriel was an importer of fancy goods, which may well have included playing cards. The latter appears first in 1846 and continues until at least 1862. Gabriel and Julius were living at the same address in 1856. Anton appears in 1863 and goes through until 1884 as a playing-card importer. In 1864 Benda Brothers appear as the agents for Van Genechten, and they are still listed as fancy goods importers in 1884 alongside Anton Benda & Co. By 1885 Ernest Becker is the agent for Van Genechten. Some time before 1895 Anton Benda & Co had moved address and were importers of Chinese and Japanese goods and Benda Brothers also moved and imported various types of goods, some of which were made in their factory in Paris. As late as 1914 Benda Brothers were still listed, and another firm listed as toy importers was Benda & Hipauf. There is no obvious connection with playing cards by this time. Julius died in 1898, Anton in 1900. I have not been able to determine their family relationships. There are ASs with initial A and with initial G, both of which are very similar to one by Mesmaekers, based on the English Exportation AS of the Old Frizzle period.

Above: Mesmaekers AS - Van Genechten AS for G. Benda

However, the courts with the A. Benda aces are BW2 (see page 36 on Whitaker), which were probably produced by Van Genechten. So this one is complicated! But G. Benda also had cards with the Van Genechten AS used by Ansell (bottom right above) with his name at the base and with single-figure courts like those of Davis (see below). There is a pack by Anton Benda with a double-ended version of BW2 made from the top half of the plate used twice.

Above: Anton Benda, probably made by Van Genechten

A. Benda was also involved in the Eagle Playing Card Co. (no connection with the American firm) established in 1887, after he seems to have parted company with Van Genechten. The cards were made in Bohemia; the only pack I've ever seen is on the wopc website, from which the illustration comes.

The courts are a copy of the contemporary New York Consolidated courts (US6), which were often copied in Europe at that time.

Alfred DAVIS & CO.

Another importer, Alfred Davis & Co., appears in 1835 and continues into the 1870s, though his end-date is unclear. The one pack I know of with this name has an unidentified set of single-figure courts and an AS similar to the Van Genechten one used by the other importers, an inexact copy of Old Frizzle.

Above: The back design of rose hips is a very close copy of one by De La Rue.

MUDIE & SONS

Mudie imported a great many cards from various makers, especially from the United States. They started in about 1880 and continued into the 1930s. They also had cards made for them by Goodall and De La Rue, usually identifiable only from the boxes. For examples of their second-hand American imports, see page 13.


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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 →


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