The idea of this blog, as it's developed over a number of years, is to post information about playing cards and their history that interests me and, I hope, a lot of others, too. Each page will have a theme and the list of pages is available at the beginning of the blog. I will now give a brief overview of what standard English cards have looked like over the centuries. More detailed information will appear on subsequent pages.
What was considered the first mention of playing cards in England is in 1463 when Edward IV banned their importation, so they must have been popular by then. Why ban something that isn't? Chaucer doesn't mention them, so some time between about 1400 and their ban must have seen their introduction into this country from nearby Europe. A very recent article by Thierry de Paulis in The Playing Card (Vol. 41/3) gives an earlier mention dated 1413. What these cards were like no-one really knows, though there is a representation of a six of diamonds on the wall of a small Suffolk church in Hessett, near Bury St Edmunds, which dates from the 15th century, so French-suited cards were known in East Anglia at least. Since there were close connections between the Low Countries and East Anglia, in particular in respect of the wool trade and weaving, their appearance in this part of England may not be surprising. During the 16th century Spanish-suited cards, alongside French ones, were also used. Again not a surprise, given the close connections between Spain and England in that century. But the pack that came to be associated with England in particular was imported from Rouen. There are a few extant examples of these cards, and I illustrate some of the courts from a modern reproduction of a pack by Pierre Maréchal (actually taken from book illustrations in Gurney Benham's book from 1931)
In the 17th century there were indigenous English card-makers, but again few of their cards have survived. Here are a few from Paul Bostock's website (below), c.1680.
By the 18th century more examples survive and the stocky, distorted figures of the court set develop into a style that is peculiarly English. The Blanchard pack below (c.1770) is from the late Sylvia Mann's collection.
The tax on playing cards became higher and higher, especially towards the end of the 18th century and into the early 19th, partly to help pay for the war against Napoleon. So a number of fake ASs were produced to avoid the taxation, as in the pack below.
In 1832 Thomas de la Rue revolutionized the method of printing cards. Until then, and beyond, cards were made from the impress of wood-blocks (usually apple or pear wood) and then the colours were stencilled by hand. Packs were also assembled by hand. De la Rue used letterpress to produce his cards and slowly but surely during the first half of the 19th century the new method took over.
Double-ending was relatively late in coming to Britain, some time around 1850, but again change was fairly slow, so single-ended cards were in favour for quite a long time after that, certainly into the 1880s. (For further details, see page 33.)
Other early examples from Goodall (c.1855) and De La Rue (c.1855):
By this time the backs of playing cards were beginning to be decorated with marvellous designs, such as those of Owen Jones.
By the 20th century most of the features of our present-day cards are recognizable, though before World War I the standard size was still wide (as in American poker cards) and the figures took up quite a large area of the card. I give a few examples to bring us up to date.
To give just a little sense of the variety of designs found with the standard English pattern I illustrate 20 different JHs, made from c.1920-70, which represent only a tiny fraction of what is and has been produced
Also, here's a historical progression of the JS from c.1525-1880; the top row are French c.1525, English c.1670, English c.1770, English c.1810; the bottom row are all American and date from c.1820-1880. They are all from Paul Bostock's website. See also a recent discovery of a JS, possibly from the 1630s, at the bottom of page 2.
For many examples of early standard English cards, see https://plainbacks.com
See also https://www.i-p-c-s.org
www.endebrock.de/pers-home.html is another interesting site with lots of illustrations and information on tax stamps and duty.
If you want to buy cards, or just have a look at some very nice ones, try https://gamesetal.shop
And, of course, there's lots more information on rest of the wopc website.
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 →
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s, with imagery and design synthesizing several influences.
When there are official taxes to pay, people will find a way to avoid paying them - often illegally....
An in-depth review of the history of card-playing, gambling, legislation, manufacture and taxation o...
The Russian Playing Card Monopoly was established in March 1798 with all revenue going to support th...
15 Trappola playing cards possibly made by Johann Ziser of Prague, c1760.
The old Languedoc pattern was known at the beginning of the seventeenth century, if not before.
Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.
Archaic Spanish-suited playing cards published in Toulouse by Antoine de Logiriera (1495-1518).
Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during t...
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a histori...
This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the l...
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important histor...
Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summ...
Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.
A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.
This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in ...
Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.
Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.
Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of late...
Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.
A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how ...
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of ...
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.
On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collect...
Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.