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Published January 21, 2010 Updated May 21, 2022

Early Anglo-French Cards

Cards produced in Rouen during the sixteenth century. It was cards like these which were imported to England and are the ancestors of the modern 'Anglo-American' pattern.

France United Kingdom Antique History Woodblock Archaic Patterns Add to Collection

What we now know as ‘French’ suit signs - spades, diamonds, clubs and hearts - is the result of rationalisation of the manufacturing technique during the fifteenth century. Many early or archaic suit systems involved intricate motifs which were more time-consuming to reproduce in woodcuts, hence the French producers invented new ones which could be reproduced with the stroke of a brush over a stencil. The four shapes are easy to recognise - 2 red and 2 black. Some card makers were experimenting with a crescent moon as an alternative symbol, but this didn't catch on. This ‘French’ suit system is now found throughout the world.

Cards shown below were produced in Rouen during the sixteenth century. The cards made in Rouen at that time were an eclectic mixture of features from cards made for various foreign markets, hence the origins of what became the "English" pattern are not one precise source, but a mixture of several earlier regional patterns. It was cards like these which were imported to England and are the ancestors of the modern ‘Anglo-American’ pattern   learn more →

In the hands of English manufacturers the cards gradually became wider, losing their original slimness and liveliness, and the figures became chunky and geometrical. They remained full-length until the nineteenth century when double-ended courts were introduced as another innovation by Victorian manufacturers.

See also: BlanchardHuntEarly English CardsRick Davidson's Origins Playing Cards.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

Founder and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.


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