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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.


Swedish cards have characteristics in common with their Scandinavian neighbours

Playing cards probably arrived in Sweden from France where the reputation of Rouen cardmakers was known in the 17th century. Later, German or Belgian versions of French ‘Paris’ pattern cards were adopted in Sweden and local manufacturers began to adapt the designs.

early example of Swedish pattern, based on the French ‘Paris’ pattern, c.1780

Above: early Swedish cards, based on the French ‘Paris’ pattern, unidentified maker, c.1780. The badge of the Swedish Wasa dynasty (a wheatsheaf) can be seen in the costumes (click to zoom). Image courtesy Erik Blåsjö.

During the second half of the 19th century makers began introducing more distinctive features into the designs until Öberg of Eskilstuna produced what has become the ‘standard’ Swedish pattern.

Öberg & Son standard Swedish pattern

Above: Öberg & Son standard Swedish pattern, 1943  more →

Öberg & Son stamp

Although many Swedish cards have characteristics in common with their Scandinavian neighbours, the ace of hearts is likely to contain the maker’s name and a tax stamp. The indices are also likely to be E, Kn, D and K.

Non-standard Swedish packs are often based on historical themes or affirm a sense of national identity. The old game of “Kille” (also known as “Cucu” or “Gnau”) has been made in Sweden since at least the second half of the 18th century.

Above: ‘Kille’ cards by an unidentified maker from the late 18th century  more →

See also: Löjliga Spel Kort   Rylander & Komp, patience-kort, 1852   Åkerlund & Rausing   Jacob Bagges AB Stockholm   Olle Hjortzberg   Einar Nerman Patience   Petter-Spel   Vasa Dynasty   Kille   Olsen Spelkort Smygvänliga   Alf Cooke for Scandinavia   Öbergs “Four Centuries”   Öbergs “Svenska Lloyd”   Öbergs “Comedia”   Offason “Beau”   Offason “Moviestars”   Spendrups Brewery   Souvenir of Gotland.

Above: “Löjliga Spel Kort”, 1825  more →

Above: playing cards published by Jacob Bagges AB Stockholm, c.1920  more →

Above: Vasa Dynasty playing cards made by J.O. Öberg & Son, Eskilstuna, 1928  more →

Above: Swedish style pack by Åkerlund & Rausing, Stockholm, 1931-1937  more →

STAB Lx Matchbox labels with playing card designs

Above: STAB Lx Matchbox labels with playing card designs.

Above: J. O. Öberg & Son’s “Comedia” playing cards designed by Stig Lindberg  more →

Above: Öbergs “Four Centuries”   more →

Above: “Moviestars” by Offason AB  more →

Above: “Grand Prix Champions” by Offason   more →