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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Non-standard deck by Maillard

Attractive deck by the Portuguese maker Maillard, c.1885 with scenic aces and German-style courts

This handsome French-suited deck is anonymous but believed to have been made by the Portuguese maker J. Maillard, Lisbon, c.1885. The four aces are particularly attractive, and three of them have different scenes at each end, either exotic birds or other unnamed views, while the ace of diamonds is suggestive of an official dedication.

The court figures are unnamed, double-ended and the same at each end. Similar ones were published by J. J. Nunes of Lisbon. The fully bearded kings and attire of the queens are reminiscent of German patterns which were in turn derived from the French Paris pattern. The influence of Frankfurt card-makers upon Portuguese card-making has been noted, and for example Costa & Valerio produced copies of Dondorf designs. The cards are printed from engraved plates and hand coloured using stencils.

German-style deck manufactured by Maillard of Portugal, c.1885

Above: court cards from German-style deck manufactured by Maillard of Portugal, c.1885. The kings all wear beards and carry sceptres whilst the queens hold flowers. 32 or 52 cards, square corners and no indices. Images courtesy Rex Pitts/Ken Lodge.

Above: three numeral cards and the back design.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.

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