HE EARLIEST ENGLISH playing cards are very scarce few specimens have survived and little is known about the manufacturers. This page exhibits several early examples of traditional, standard English playing cards of which the best known are those of Hewson of the seventeenth century, and Blanchard from the eighteenth century.
An Exciting Find
Whilst renovating a house in Ross-on-Wye, and having removed the floorboards in the attic, workmen discovered 33 rather old playing cards: 9 court cards and 24 pip cards in varying states of wear and deterioration.
It is unusual to find so many cards under floorboards, and suggests that the cards may have been hidden there. One recalls edicts and laws forbidding card playing to servants and apprentices except during the Christmas holidays. The maker is unidentified, and there is no Ace of Spades or tax stamp, however there are clues which assist in dating the cards:
King of clubs: early style with Cross of Lorraine on an imperial orb
King of hearts: early style wielding an axe
King of diamonds: armed with a battle axe
Queen of hearts: a very long, thin stalk to the flower
During the 18th century the design of standard English playing cards tended to become set and stereotyped, so that these designs differed less noticeably from maker to maker. Wood blocks were supplied to card makers by a different trade and so a block-maker might have supplied various manufacturers with the same style of court designs. The designs tended to become more distorted, sometimes slightly grotesque, as the features and attributes were corrupted.
Between 1820 and 1840 designs began to be revised, and printing methods evolved, so that, once again, designs between manufacturers became more and more distinctive and competition stimulated innovation. However, it needs to be borne in mind that even as late as the 1870s packs of playing cards were assembled by hand, and that left-overs might have been used to complete another pack. Thus it is sometimes difficult to distinguish these mixed packs from more recent mixes of incomplete packs.
Finally, although De La Rue pioneered letterpress for the production of playing cards in the 1830s, a number of other manufacturers, such as Hunt/Bancks and Reynolds, continued wood-block and stencil use right up until the 1870s. The cutting work and the application of wood blocks had by this time become more refined.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A miniature set of Goodall domino cards (5.9 x 3.5 cms) still in perfect condition.
“1952-2002 commemorative deck” customised with doodles by an uncredited artist, UK, 2011.
“Playing Politics ’10: With no expenses spared” featuring caricatures by Oliver Preston, published b...
Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies with caricatures by Grant Robertson, UK.
Facsimile of Winstanley’s Geographical cards produced by Harold & Virginia Wayland, 1967.
Great inventions playing cards designed by Gary Wyatt, United Kingdom, 2011.
Festive courts on a Waddingtons pack designed to celebrate Christmas 1980.
‘Gone to Pot’: special playing cards for keen gardeners, United Kingdom.
Roy Huteson Stewart's The Tarot Strikes Back combines Star Wars with Rider-Waite tarot imagery.
“Don’t come back” playing cards produced by Hounslow NHS Primary Care Trust and Feltham Young Offend...
Randy Butterfield's House of Tudor playing cards feature detailed art in a high-quality collectible ...
Katie Abey’s rainbow-coloured designs using crazy animals to convey motivating phrases.
On-line offsite data backup publicity playing cards produced by The Bunker, United Kingdom, c. 2004....
54 different dinosaurs, both large and small, illustrated by Cecilia Fitzsimons.
Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquar...
Clamcleats playing cards for sailors designed by Celia Allison, New Zealand, 1986.
“Around the world in 54 cards” hand-coloured transformation pack produced by Peter Wood, United King...
Jessel’s Bibliography of works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming describes “The first book on P...
Characters from The Broons and Oor Wullie comic strips on their 75th anniversary.
A catalogue in 54 cards of some of the treasures held within the Museum of London collections.
The first company to register Bezique materials with Stationers’ Hall was Josh Reynolds & Son in Sep...