The World of Playing Cards Logo
Published November 01, 2019 Updated November 21, 2023

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.

United Kingdom History Woodblock Add to Collection

I want to present a simplified version of the classification system of woodblock cards that Paul Bostock and I worked out a few years ago. Although the minute details may be of relevance in some cases, I have tried to reduce the characteristics of both the blocks and the stencils to give a reliable way of attributing court cards to a particular maker. It has to be borne in mind that many actual examples of packs are mixed as part of the recycling of secondhand cards (legally or otherwise) and sorting them into the makers who made the constituent cards is something that this classification is an attempt to help with. There are even examples of 51 cards by one maker and the AS by another.

The first and easiest analysis is into eye type. There are three, as follows:

Type I: the eye-balls are filled in from the corner to a straight line

Type II: the eye-balls are round in the centre of the eye or at the edge in the profile courts

These were the first types to develop after the end of the Blanchard era (roughly 1780 onwards); I exemplify below a pack of this earlier type by Blanchard.

Blanchard, c.1760

Types I & II were the main designs used from c.1780-1820. Towards the end of this period card-makers were beginning to modernize their courts and many of the makers had in-house designs to replace the older ones, which were shared across several makers. Two further versions of the wood-block courts appeared around 1820. One was shared by a number of makers: Type III.

Type III: round eye-balls, but simplified lines for facial features, e.g. single-line moustaches

The fourth and final type is really an in-house design belonging to Creswick, so I have designated it as CR1.

Creswick CR1: all eyes in profile with round eye-balls

The odd thing about Creswick packs is that he doesn't seem to have redrawn any red jacks: they are either of Type II or Type III.

CR1 with Type II red jacks (probably after taking over Stone's blocks/stock in 1825)

CR1 with Type III red jacks

Although I have attributed this design to Creswick, I have recently acquired an interesting pack with CR1 courts with different colouring, Hall Type II red jacks and a Hall & Bancks Old Frizzle, which I find hard to explain (see page 69 for my collection).

King of Spades

As a first exemplification of the analysis of the outline block and the colour distribution, I'll take the KS.

Top row: KS1(I)/KS1(II)/KS2/KS3

Bottom row: KS1b/KS2b/KS1a/KS1c

The characteristics I have used to arrive at these designations are as follows:

KS1 has alternating thick and thin stripes on his upper leg; note that this KS may appear with either Type I or Type II eyes. He also has crenellations on both his sleeves. KS1a has thin stripes only on his upper leg, only with Type I eyes in Hunt and Fuller packs, as far as I can tell; KS1b has dots on his sleeve on the right; KS1c has thin stripes and lines on his sleeve on the right; only in an odd pack by Fuller, as far as I know.

KS2 has cheek shading rather than a moustache; he is only found with Type II eyes; KS2a has the twig-like design found in KS3; KS2b has dots on his sleeve on the right.

KS3 has a wavy twig-like design on his sleeve on the right (= his left) (KS2a is the same design with Type II eyes, not illustrated).

These designations cover 46 of my wood-block packs; there are some further variations, but they don't add anything to the basic distinctions. For example, Stone and Creswick produced packs with elongated faces and Type II eyes, but the KS can still be aligned with one of the six types given above. In the Hall pack below some of the faces are all elongated, so I assume this is a mixed pack with the KS, K/Q/JD coming from a Stone/Creswick pack. (In my latest article in The Playing Card (2023), I suggest that Stone was the front man for Creswick, while the latter, as a papermaker, was prevented by law from making playing cards as well.)

Queen of Spades

QS1(I) (x2)/QS1(II)/QS1a(II)

Main characteristics:

QS1 has yellow/red/yellow (Y/R/Y) on her sleeve on the right and her arm is lower than her shoulder; with Type I eyes her belt is horizontal, her head-dress on the left is all black and her sleeve is blue up to her flower and either black or white above her hand. With Type II eyes her belt is sloping, her head-dress is black and red and her sleeve is all blue; in variant QS1a her bodice is blue on the left. Except for QS1a, which always has Type II eyes, QS1 can have either eye type.

QS2(I)/QS2(II)/QS2a(II)

Main characteristics:

QS2 has R/blue (B)/Y on her sleeve on the right, her shoulder is below or just below her shoulder, and her upper sleeve is blue and red; with Type I eyes her belt is horizontal and her head-dress on the left is black and white, with Type II it is sloping, she has a lace collar by her cheek on the right by her head-dress and her head-dress on the left is black and red; QS2a holds a tulip and her upper sleeve is in line with her shoulder or just below it, a Hall variant.

QS3/QS4

Main characteristics:

QS3 has a sloping belt and black (Bk)/R/Y on her sleeve; she has blue and black on her upper sleeve, or it is all blue; her head-dress is black on the left. Type I eyes, and as far as I can tell, only used by Hardy.

QS4 has a long face (see the examples by Creswick above), B/R/Y on her sleeve and her upper sleeve is blue and yellow; her head-dress is black and red on the left. Used by Stone and Creswick. Note that the long-faced QS in the eight courts of the mixed pack above is QS2 by Hall.

Jack of Spades

Top row: JS1/JS1a/JS2/JS2a

Bottom row: JS2b/JS2c/JS3/JS3a

JS1 has Type I eyes, a moustache and an odd attribute with no base, his sleeve on the right is level with his shoulder, his sleeve on the left is all blue. His tunic is coloured Y/R/Bk/R/Y/R. Example by Hunt. JS1a has Y/R/Y/Bk/Y/R on his tunic. Example by Stopforth.

JS2 has Type II eyes, a moustache and a pike with a base, his sleeve edge is above the level of his shoulder and it is flat at the bottom, his sleeve at the left is blue and red. The top of his sleeve has small circles. His tunic is coloured Y/Bk/Y/R/Y/Bk. JS2a is the same except that he has cheek shading and no circles on his sleeve. Both examples from Hall; the flat bottomed sleeve is replaced by a curved one in later examples. JS2b (by Stone) has an elongated face and no base to his pike. He has the tunic colouring of JS1a: Y/R/Y/Bk/Y/R. His leg at the left is coloured R/Y rather than the usual Y/R, which appears in other examples by Stone. JS2c is a one-off in a piquet-sized pack by Hall & Bancks. He is like JS2a but with the tunic colouring of JS1a and no moustache or shading.

JS3 is a mixture of the two types we've seen so far. He has Type I eyes and is like JS1a except that he has blue and red on his sleeve at the left and a base to his attribute. This example from T. Wheeler seems to have had the black on his tunic missed off in the stencilling process. JS3a is an odd example from Fuller (from the same pack as KS1c above) with the staff of his attribute completely missing and blue instead of black on his tunic (see the Hunt example of JS1 above). There are other Fuller packs with the usual black on the tunic and his sleeve in line with his shoulder (JS3b, not illustrated).

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 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 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 Queen of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

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

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

A limited edition art print of the 1984 woodblock joker.

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.

2011 Great inventions playing cards

Great inventions playing cards

Great inventions playing cards designed by Gary Wyatt, United Kingdom, 2011.

1980 Christmas 1980 playing cards

Christmas 1980 playing cards

Festive courts on a Waddingtons pack designed to celebrate Christmas 1980.

Gone to Pot: Gardener’s playing cards

Gone to Pot: Gardener’s playing cards

‘Gone to Pot’: special playing cards for keen gardeners, United Kingdom.

2023 The Tarot Strikes Back

The Tarot Strikes Back

Roy Huteson Stewart's The Tarot Strikes Back combines Star Wars with Rider-Waite tarot imagery.

Tottering-by-Gently

Tottering-by-Gently

‘Tottering-by-Gently’ playing cards with cartoons by Annie Tempest.

1990 Sally Ferries Euro playing cards

Sally Ferries Euro playing cards

Sally Ferries Euro playing cards and phrase pack, United Kingdom.

Don’t come back

Don’t come back

“Don’t come back” playing cards produced by Hounslow NHS Primary Care Trust and Feltham Young Offend...

1998 From Empire to Commonwealth

From Empire to Commonwealth

Flags, locations and admission dates of 52 Commonwealth countries.

2023 House of Tudor

House of Tudor

Randy Butterfield's House of Tudor playing cards feature detailed art in a high-quality collectible ...

75: Early American cards

75: Early American cards

An overview of some of the early cards made in the United States.

2020 The Pack of Positivity

The Pack of Positivity

Katie Abey’s rainbow-coloured designs using crazy animals to convey motivating phrases.

2004 On-line offsite data backup

On-line offsite data backup

On-line offsite data backup publicity playing cards produced by The Bunker, United Kingdom, c. 2004....

2002 The Famous Dinosaurs Playing Cards

The Famous Dinosaurs Playing Cards

54 different dinosaurs, both large and small, illustrated by Cecilia Fitzsimons.

1980 Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards

Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards

Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquar...

2015 Dorset Dialect Trails

Dorset Dialect Trails

‘Dorset Dialect Trails’ playing cards, United Kingdom, 2015.

1986 Clamcleats playing cards

Clamcleats playing cards

Clamcleats playing cards for sailors designed by Celia Allison, New Zealand, 1986.

2008 Around the world in 54 cards

Around the world in 54 cards

“Around the world in 54 cards” hand-coloured transformation pack produced by Peter Wood, United King...

2008 The Journey

The Journey

‘The Journey’ limited edition playing cards produced by Peter Wood, UK, 2008.

Pretty Frills

Pretty Frills

‘Pretty Frills’ playing cards promoting curtain and blind accessories.

1859 The Origin of Patience Games in English

The Origin of Patience Games in English

Jessel’s Bibliography of works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming describes “The first book on P...

2011 The Broons and Oor Wullie playing cards

The Broons and Oor Wullie playing cards

Characters from The Broons and Oor Wullie comic strips on their 75th anniversary.

2009 History of London illustrated playing cards

History of London illustrated playing cards

A catalogue in 54 cards of some of the treasures held within the Museum of London collections.

2006 Ladbroke Sporting Casino

Ladbroke Sporting Casino

Ladbroke Sporting Casino caricature cartoon playing cards, U.K, c.2006.

1869 The Evolution of Bezique boxed sets, 1869 to 1990

The Evolution of Bezique boxed sets, 1869 to 1990

The first company to register Bezique materials with Stationers’ Hall was Josh Reynolds & Son in Sep...

1915 Goodall 1915-1916 Sample Book

Goodall 1915-1916 Sample Book

Complete contents of a sample book by Goodall & Sons

1916 Goodall 1916 Rockleigh Sample Book

Goodall 1916 Rockleigh Sample Book

Complete contents of a sample book by Goodall

1879 Goodall 1879-1880 Sample Book

Goodall 1879-1880 Sample Book

Complete contents of a sample book by Goodall & Sons

1933 De La Rue 1932-1933 Sample Book of Advertising cards

De La Rue 1932-1933 Sample Book of Advertising cards

Complete contents of a sample book of advertising cards by De La Rue