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Russian Playing Cards

In 1817 the Imperial Playing-Card Factory (Leningrad) was founded and it played a benevolent role by channelling revenues to the Imperial Foundling Hospitals.

Russian playing cards

There is much individuality and an Oriental flavour to old Russian cards, often with flowing back designs reminiscent of embroidery or carpets. In 1817 the Imperial Playing-Card Factory (Leningrad) was founded, with the consent of the Emperor Alexander I, and it played a benevolent role by channelling revenues to the Imperial Foundling Hospitals and some the foundlings also worked for the monopoly. The stamp on the ace of diamonds depicted a pelican nurturing its young.

In the 19th century, England was the principal exporter of playing cards to Russia and the name of De la Rue figures prominently in this connection. In October 1842 Thomas de la Rue’s younger brother, Paul Bienvenu de la Rue, travelled to St Petersburg to take charge of Russian playing card manufacture. Paul was appointed superintendent of the Russian royal playing card monopoly. The stranglehold of Tsarist despotism which prevailed at that time affected the playing-card business. In the provinces, as well as in the capital, with the early dark and the day’s work over by four o’clock, card playing was heavily indulged in. It was not unusual for gentlemen to play for eight or nine hours at a time. The Russians were the biggest playing card customers in Europe and used a million packs of cards a year. The proceeds of the Russian playing card monopoly were supposed to go towards charitable causes, but sceptical observers believed that the Tsar’s private coffers also benefitted.

cards with pseudo-medieval costumes manufactured by the Imperial Playing Card Factory, St Petersburg, c.1870

Above: cards with pseudo-medieval costumes manufactured by the Imperial Playing Card Factory, St Petersburg, c.1870. The ace of diamonds contains the stamp of the Imperial Foundling Hospital in St Petersburg to which some profits were given.

A roller press was sent from London to St Petersburg and De la Rue supplied machinery, inks and paper for manufacturing the Tsar’s playing cards. The sale of these commodities meant that the Russian establishment was an important customer of De la Rue, and was the firm’s first overseas trade. His Imperial Majesty had reason to be satisfied with the results of the negotiations with De la Rue. Thomas gave such good advice and his brother Paul managed affairs so ably that by 1847 production by the Tsarist monopoly had risen to four million packs per year, making it easily the biggest playing card plant in the world. (Back in England, playing card production did not pass the million mark until 1873.)

Above: “Black Palekh” for the 150th anniversary of the Leningrad/St. Petersburg playing-card factory, 1967

Opera themed playing cards with original designs by Viktor Mihajlovich Sveshnikov, printed by the Colour Printing Plant, 1973

Above: Opera themed playing cards with original designs by Viktor Mihajlovich Sveshnikov, printed by the Colour Printing Plant, 1973

Cossack playing cards designed by O. Panchenko, 1994

Above: Cossack playing cards designed by O. Panchenko, printed by the Colour Printing Plant, 1994

The Saint Petersburg Colour Printing Plant finally closed in 2004. After the USSR ended and the Colour Printing Plant closed down, several local or foreign firms started to print playing cards.

St Petersburg Souvenir playing cards published by The Bronze Horseman, 2004

Above: St Petersburg Souvenir playing cards, 2004. See also Russia Souvenir


Russian Playing Card Society

See also: Россiйское карточное общество →

Russian Standard playing cards

Above: Russian standard pattern playing cards, c.1820

Ace of hearts on Vodka bottle with whip

Above: Russian Monarch playing cards, 1909

“New Style” playing cards from Russia based on Literature & Theatre

Above: “New Style” playing cards based on Literature & Theatre, 1910

Russian “Historical extra fine No.204”

Above: “Historical extra fine No.204” first published in the 1920s

Russian Four Seasons

Above: Four Seasons, 1971

Maya playing cards

Above: Maya playing cards designed by Victor M. Sveshnikov, 1975

Neva playing cards, 1992

Above: Neva playing cards designed by Victor M. Sveshnikov, 1992

East Slavonic Mythology playing cards

Above: East Slavonic Mythology playing cards designed by Aleksey Orleansky, 1994

“Peterhof” deck manufactured at the Leningrad Colour Printing Plant in 1999

Above: “Peterhof” deck, 1999

Korchma Taras Bulba playing cards

Above: “Korchma Taras Bulba” playing cards designed by Vladislav Erko, 2005

Pekelna Horugva playing cards - Пекельна хоругва

Above: “Pekelna Horugva” playing cards designed by Vladislav Erko, 2012

Trans-Siberian Express playing cards

Above: “Trans-Siberian Express” playing cards designed by Veronika Nicolaeva, Moscow, 2015

“Eastern” playing cards dedicated to ethnic Buryat culture, 2015.

Above: “Eastern” dedicated to ethnic Buryat culture, published by the Russian Playing Card Society, 2015.

Russian “Historical” playing cards

Above: “Historical” playing cards designed by Nikolay Nikolaevich Karazin (1842-1908)

Russian “Slavic Costumes”

Above: Russian “Slavic Costumes”, first published in 1911

Slavonic Cards No.501

Above: Slavonic Cards No.501, 1920s

Russian “Anti-Religions” Playing Cards

Above: “Anti-Religions” playing cards, 1930s

Anti-Fascist Propaganda Pack for the Siege of Leningrad, 1943

Above: Anti-Fascist Propaganda Pack for the Siege of Leningrad, 1943

Simultane by Sonia Delaunay

Above: SIMULTANÉ playing cards by Sonia Delaunay, 1964

White Palekh

Above: “White Palekh” with designs by Pavel Bazhenov

Glorious Russia by Grimaud, c.1995

Above: “Glorious Russia” printed by Grimaud, c.1995

“Back to the USSR” printed by Grimaud, c.1995

Above: “Back to the USSR” printed by Grimaud, c.1995

Palekh

Above: “Palekh” with designs by Aleksey Orleansky, c.1995

Hermits illustrated by Alexei Bobrinsky

Above: “Hermits of St. Petersburg” playing cards illustrated by Alexei Bobrinsky, 2014

The Four Worlds playing cards by artist Aleksey Zhiryakov in the stylistic traditions of Palekh, 2018

Above: The Four Worlds by Aleksey Zhiryakov in the style of Palekh, 2018

More Russian Playing Cards: Fortune TellingDivinationCosmopolitan № 2121Charlemagne “New Figures”Rokoko

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator 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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