In the mid 1640s a Frenchman by the name of Jean Desmarests and the well-known and prolific Florentine engraver Stefano Della Bella produced four memorable series of instructive cards which were sold by Henri le Gras in Paris in 1644. These packs had a big influence on contemporary cardmaking and were the inspiration for educational playing cards published in several other countries over the next century.
“Le Jeu des Fables”
The first of these instructive and educational cards was entitled “Le Jeu des Fables ou de la Metamorphose” and depicted the gods, demi-gods, goddesses and heroes of antiquity, illustrative of the mythology of the ancients, accompanied by a succinct summary at the lower part of each card, in clear cursive script. These were designed to facilitate the learning of mythology, ancient history and fable in a light-hearted and pleasurable way. The cards were often conveniently bound into a pocket-sized book rather than used as a card game.
The series was published in several languages, as can be seen in a German version below which is mounted into a small book, handy for study.
“Jeu des Rois de France”
The second pack, titled “Jeu des Rois de France” or “Jeu de l’Histoire de France”, presents various kings from Pharamond to Louis XIV. The pack was first issued in 1644 but reprinted in Paris as late as 1698. Each card depicts one or more of the kings of France along with an abridged history or potted biography of the person(s) depicted. Sometimes the instructive text is framed by drapery, adding visual interest to the presentation. It is known in several formats: book form, uncut sheets, sometimes coloured, with or without suits, with forty or fifty-two cards,
An original version can also be viewed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France here►
A Dutch version was published in Amsterdam (Netherlands) 1680-1711: Jeu des Rois de France►
A modern facsimile was published by Edizioni del Solleone in 1986: Cartes des Rois de France►
“Jeu des Reynes Renommées”
A third pack of 52 cards was produced to offer instruction in history. Similar in design to the preceding pack, but dealing with queens of many different countries and periods, the cards present neatly engraved whole-length figures of renowned women from Dido to Queen Elizabeth. These include brave, saintly, wise or otherwise celebrated women. Some are in chariots or on horseback. Below each engraving is the title and a description of the queen, from which we may learn many curious facts. It would be confusing to use these cards as ordinary playing cards so their didactic purpose is the primary one.
“Jeu de Cartes de la Géographie”
The fourth pack has 52 cards and is intended to give instruction in Geography. The upper part of each card has a design or figure in national costume, emblematic of a geographical division of the globe. Below are a title and an account of the place represented. The design of the engravings is very commendable and amusing which no doubt helps to engage the imagination in the topic which can then be memorised.
These packs were soon followed by a growing range of new instructive and educational cards covering topics such as Arithmetic, Fortification and Military Science, Geometry, Grammar, Heraldry, Cartography, Biographies, Political Satire, and so on. Today the range of topics is even broader, from chess openings to playing cards offering emotional help and support to young people. See full list►
Mann, Sylvia: Collecting Playing Cards, Arco Publications, 1966
Willshire, W. H.: A Descriptive Catalogue of Playing and Other Cards in the British Museum, Trustees of the British Museum, 1876
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.
A limited edition art print of the Queen 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 Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.
Geometric designs by the French artist Jean Garçon for Knoll International, the furniture company.
Skulls and bones of all descriptions have become the suits and pips in this 40-card pack from Italy....
Standard French cards but printed with fluorescent inks on a black background.
Brazilian scenic aces with emperors of Brazil, Austria and France and other dignitaries on the court...
Free reinterpretation of the traditional Paris pattern courts by the artist Claude Weisbuch.
A celebration of different postal systems in Germany from 1630 to 1850, with designs by Volker Hartm...
Historical playing cards by C. L. Wüst depicting monarchs of Brazil and Portugal.
Publicity pack for the Campanile hotel and restaurant chain featuring French provincial costumes, wi...
Mythological tarot by Michael Schatzberger, Passau, Bavaria, early 19th century.
Strange facts from Robert Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not’ books, in the form of cartoons.
‘52 Ways to talk about adoption’ family-centred playing cards produced by the Center for Adoption Su...
Facsimile of Winstanley’s Geographical cards produced by Harold & Virginia Wayland, 1967.
Mythological and Allegorical tarot produced by Peter Paul Fetscher junior, Munich.
‘Gone to Pot’: special playing cards for keen gardeners, United Kingdom.
Randy Butterfield's House of Tudor playing cards feature detailed art in a high-quality collectible ...
“Les métiers et leurs protecteurs” playing cards published by Editions Dusserre, c. 1995.
Famous people associated with Nicolas Fouquet’s splendid château of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
French navigators and explorers on a promotional pack for the C.M.C.R shipping company.
Characters from the 2007 film Shrek the Third, a DreamWorks Animation production.
Advertising pack designed by James Hodges for a company specialising in regional cakes and biscuits....
Joan of Arc and her contemporaries in a colourful pack designed by Patrice Louis.
Typical costumes and views of Alsace together with lists of the principal sights.
Egg-shaped cards created by Rodolfo Krasno employing photographic images by Michel Leclerc.
French Cartomancy cards published by J. Gaudais; printed by Mansion, Paris, c.1830.
54 different dinosaurs, both large and small, illustrated by Cecilia Fitzsimons.
Old West Guns playing cards containing information about firearms from the Old West, USA.
Costumes from four operas premiered at the Paris Opera between 1830 and 1840.