The World of Playing Cards Logo

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.

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

The Chinese Court Costumes on these playing cards are adapted from four sources in the Winterthur Collection of Printed Books, and were published by Fournier as a double boxed set in 1984. There is an interesting explanation of Chinese culture and symbolism on the Info Card

Chinese Costumes playing cards, published by Fournier, 1984 Chinese Costumes playing cards, published by Fournier, 1984
Chinese Costumes playing cards, published by Fournier, 1984

Above: Chinese Costumes playing cards, published by Fournier, 1984. The designs for the backs of the cards were taken from a Chinese lacquered screen made between 1800 and 1850.

avatar

By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

View Articles

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.

Recommended

Korchma Taras Bulba

Korchma Taras Bulba

The first of two decks designed by Ukrainian illustrator Vladislav Erko for “Korchma Taras Bulba” restaurant which serves traditional Ukrainian cuisine

Müller: Richelieu

Müller: Richelieu

This deck is named after Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu (1585-1642), a French Roman Catholic Clergyman and statesman, Chief Adviser to King Louis XIII, noted for the authoritarian measures he employed to maintain power.

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten

Schweizer Trachten No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.

Newsletter: Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

Newsletter: Costume & Fashion as Revealed in Playing Cards

In this newsletter we’re looking at how fashion and costume is represented through playing card art since the 14th century through to today.

Folk Cards

Folk Cards

Folk Cards designed by Krystyna Gruchalska-Bunsch for Lot Polish Airlines, 1962.

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

Andere Zeiten - Andere Kleider

‘History of fashion’ cultural quartet game designed by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.

Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet

Netherlands Kostuum Kwartet

Dutch costumes quartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, 1983.

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett

Österreichisches Trachten-quartett Nr.282 published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne.

Irish Legendary

Irish Legendary

Irish Legendary deck featuring figures in the Legends of Ireland, designed by Rachel Arbuckle, 1990.

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes

Chinese Costumes from the Winterthur Collection, published by Fournier, 1984.

Maya Deck

Maya Deck

The Maya Deck produced by Stancraft for Hoyle, 1976.

Neerlands Glorie

Neerlands Glorie

Neerlands Glorie Kwartetspel published by Hausemann & Hötte N.V, Amsterdam, 1945.

Tonalamatl

Tonalamatl

Baraja Tonalamatl Mexican Aztec playing cards based on the prehispanic Codex Borgia manuscript.

Fancy Dress Ball

Fancy Dress Ball

Spear’s “Fancy Dress Ball” card game with children dressed in period costumes, 1930s.

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties throughout the ages, published in Hungary, 1967.

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

New Figures by A. I. Charlemagne, 1862

“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.

Casais Portugueses

Casais Portugueses

Matching game by Majora, Lisbon, c.1970, featuring figures in national dress from Portuguese provinces and colonies

Naipes Cardón

Naipes Cardón

Naipes Cardón designed by Mario Luis Rivero depicting traditional Argentine culture and identity, 2002.

Deutsche Geschichte

Deutsche Geschichte

German History Quartet published by Otto Maier Verlag Ravensburg, c.1930-35.

Roman Empire

Roman Empire

Roman Empire playing cards designed by G. Wyatt for Green Board Game Co Ltd., 2011.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots and other Tudor period dignitaries, published by Piatnik, 1990.

Bharata Playing Cards

Bharata Playing Cards

Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2, based on Indian folk art, published by Sunish Chabba, 2018.

Fashion Face Off

Fashion Face Off

“Fashion Face Off” card game illustrated by Erin Petson for Laurence King Publishing, c.2011.

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

XVII Century Engraved Animal Cards

French suited German engraved cards c1610 to 1650,

Far East

Far East

Far East playing cards with designs by Isabel Ibáñez de Sendadiano, c.1980.

Mongolian Mask Dancing

Mongolian Mask Dancing

Mongolian Religious Mask Dancing playing cards, c.2010

Provinces de France

Provinces de France

Jeu des Provinces de France published by Éditions Dusserre, 1979.

Story Magazine

Story Magazine

Dutch singers, TV and theatre artist playing cards for “Story” magazine, 1978.

Europe

Europe

“Europe” designed by Teodoro N. Miciano and printed by Heraclio Fournier in 1962, portraying XIV century European fashions.

Dames de France

Dames de France

“Dames de France” published by J-M Simon based on originals by Armand Gustave Houbigant, Paris, c.1817

Fair Play cross cultural playing cards

Fair Play cross cultural playing cards

“Fair Play” cross cultural playing cards illustrated by Canadian artist Stephen B. MacInnes.

Cartas Precolombinas

Cartas Precolombinas

Spanish playing cards with Pre-Columbian designs from Argentina, 2001.

Eastern

Eastern

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

Comtesse

Comtesse

“Comtesse” by Bielefelder Spielkarten Fabrik GmbH, 1960s.

El Aguila

El Aguila

Naipes ‘El Aguila’ with flamboyantly dressed court figures made in Mexico by La Cubana S.A., c.1975.

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers

Extraordinary ‘Actors and Opera Singers’ deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865

Rococo Playing Cards

Rococo Playing Cards

Piatnik’s Rococo style playing cards issued as “Rococo Patience”, “Luxus-Patience”, “Empire Patience”, “White Horse Patience”, “Patience-Whist No.140”, “Mini Patience” and “Lady Patience”

Ancient Civilisations

Ancient Civilisations

Ancient Civilisations playing cards designed by Celedonio Perellón, produced by Heraclio Fournier, 1973.

El Rodeo Talabartería

El Rodeo Talabartería

Promotional playing cards produced for ‘El Rodeo Talabartería’ specialising in leather goods and clothing, Buenos Aires, c.2006.

St Hubert’s Bridge

St Hubert’s Bridge

“St Hubert’s Bridge” published by Éditions Philibert, Paris, c.1956.