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.
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.)
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.
Member since February 01, 1996View Articles
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.
“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.
The Four Worlds playing cards by artist Aleksey Zhiryakov in the stylistic traditions of Palekh, 2018.
“Cosmopolitan” № 2121 playing cards designed by Russian artist Valeri Mishin, 1996
Miner’s Cards for the Czech company Rutek Alliance, 2012.
“Eastern” playing cards dedicated to ethnic Buryat culture, 2015
In 1943 a pack of ‘anti-fascist’ playing cards was designed by Vasiliy Andrianovich Vlasov mocking the rulers of Germany and the Axis powers.
St Petersburg Souvenir playing cards, 2004
Russia Souvenir Playing Cards published by The Bronze Horseman, c.2004.
A deck designed by Victor M. Sveshnikov dedicated to the Neva river and the city of Saint Petersburg.
“Peterhof” deck manufactured at the Leningrad Colour Printing Plant in 1999.
Back to the USSR deck featuring communist party leaders and politicians, c.1995
‘Glorious Russia’ playing cards made in France by Grimaud, c.1995
‘Trans-Siberian Express’ playing cards designed by Veronika Nicolaeva, Az-Art Publishing House, St. Petersburg, Russia, 2015.
Playing cards depicting imagined residents of St. Petersburg with illustrations by Alexei Bobrinsky.
East Slavonic Mythology designed by Aleksey Orleansky (1994) featuring creatures from the watery underworld.
In the style of religious icon paintings, these court card figures wear costumes reminiscent of the mid-17th century.
“Cossack” playing cards, with artwork by O. Panchenko dedicated to the revival of the traditions of the Cossacks. Printed by the Colour Printing Plant, St Petersburg, 1994.
Russian “Historical” playing cards with designs by Nikolay Karazin, 1897
Russian Opera & Theatre Scenes playing cards first published by the Colour Printing Plant (USSR, Russian Federation) in 1973
“Maya” playing cards designed by Russian artist V. M. Sveshnikov and first published by The Colour Printing Plant, St Petersburg, in 1975.
“White Palekh” was first published by the The Colour Printing Plant in St. Petersburg in 1982 with designs by Pavel Bazhenov.
Originally published as “Slavonic Cards No.501” by The Colour Printing Plant, St. Petersburg, in the 1920s
“Seasons” playing cards published by The Colour Printing Plant in St Petersburg in 1971, designed by U. P. Ivanov
Russian style “Slavic Costumes” playing cards first published in 1911
Playing cards showing the influence of ‘Jugendstil’ manufactured by the Soviet Playing Card Monopoly (U.S.S.R.) 1930
Russian “Historical extra fine No.204” Playing Cards depicting Ancient Dynasties, 1920s.
Inspired by freezing tribal images of northern winter, this deck is called to show you all its mystic and dangerous beauty.
“La Traviata” playing cards designed by Erté, c.1985.
The Russians were no strangers to propaganda cards. Clubs represent the Russian Orthodox church, Hearts Roman Catholicism, Spades Confucianism and Diamonds represent Judaism.
Playing Cards by Unknown Publisher, Georgia (Russia) 1920s.
In 1817 the Imperial Playing-Card Factory (Leningrad) was founded and it played a benevolent role by channelling revenues to the Imperial Foundling Hospitals.
The rigour of simple geometric forms with an inner life and poetry which emanated from the richness of colour, the musicality of rhythm, the vibrant breath of the execution...
Cards from a Russian standard woodblock and stencil pack of circa 1820.
A rare American Russian political pack depicting events and moods in early 20th century Russia.