Playing Cards from Switzerland
Although playing cards may have first appeared in Italy or Spain, they very soon arrived north of the Alps. Alongside the printing of textiles, the humble woodblock prints of saints and playing cards were forerunners in the art of printing. Early literary evidence indicates that playing cards arrived in Switzerland sometime around 1376. In 1377 A friar from Basle by the name of John described a pack of cards [Ludus Cartarum] in some detail during a sermon, and a great freedom was already apparent in the composition of the pack described by him. Brother John explained that cards were painted and played with in different manners. He also added that the new game was of advantage to noblemen and to others, especially if they practise it courteously and without money. We know from prohibitions that gambling caused concern to the authorities who sought to ban or regulate it because it attracted gamblers and cheats.
Brother John went on to say that there are four Kings depicted on four cards, and each one holds a certain sign in his hand and sits upon a royal throne, and under the King are two marechali, the first of whom holds the sign upright in his hand, and the other holds the sign downward in his hand.
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawkbells and flowers emerged sometime during the fifteenth century from a multiplicity of suits which had evolved in the Upper Rhine region. A common feature of many of these early cards is that the Kings are seated on thrones while the upper and lower valets are standing, often holding their suit sign. Another feature is the banner 10 which was found in packs throughout the South of Germany and especially around the Alps in the 15th and 16th centuries. The banner 10 now only survives in Swiss playing cards and is more or less counted as an Ace.
An edict from Lyons in 1583 caused many French playing card makers to emigrate to Switzerland because of excessive duty on playing cards. And as new cantons joined the ancient Swiss Confederation they brought with them the customs of other lands: Italian-suited tarot cards and French-suited cards in the Paris and Lyons styles.
The distinguished firm AG Müller was founded in 1828 by Colonel Johann Bernhard Zündelwho opened a playing card workshop in partnership with the cardmaker Fizell, and in 1830 he employed Johannes Müller for a four year apprenticeship. In 1831 Johann Georg Rauch took over Zündel's factory and the business was relocated to Diessenhofen. By 1835 Müller had been promoted to foreman, by which time the factory was employing six workers and producing about 3,000 dozen packs of playing cards a year. A few years later Johannes Müller was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to buy the business. In due course Müller introduced machinery to assist with the production and in 1855 Müller expanded his range of goods to include railway tickets to meet the growing demand from the new railway lines being built, which coincided with the rise in tourism.
In 1863 Müller was able to purchase David Hurter’s playing card factory which had existed in Schaffhausen since 1793. Müller's son, Johannes Müller Jnr, who held the post of works manager in the factory at Schaffhausen, married Hurter’s daughter Anna Margaretha in 1865. When his father died in 1873, Johannes Müller-Hurter decided to close the Diessenhofen workshop and relocate the business to Schaffhausen. At this time the enterprise was equipped with the most modern machines available, which enabled Müller to widen his playing card range to include souvenir packs and playing cards destined for export to continents such as India and South America.
In due course, after the successful acquisition of another rival playing card factory, more spacious premises were obtained in Neuhausen-on-Rhine Falls in 1898. In 1901 the management of the factory passed to Müller's youngest son, Heinrich Julius Müller (1875-1948), who expanded the business output up to 100,000 dozen packs of cards. This success was achieved by renewal of the machinery as well as H. J. Müller's commercial skills, inventive talent and improvement in the quality of all products. New machines allowed twelve-colour printing which in turn led to a wider range of playing cards. A price list from 1922 mentions over 50 different types of playing cards on offer.
In 1960 the playing card factory in Neuhausen became AGMüller (Aktiengesellschaft - Public Limited Company). The old factory building had already been upgraded in 1954 and additional new offices were also built. As a result of the emergence of the esoteric use of tarot cards, the playing card factory expanded to become one of the leading suppliers of Tarot cards worldwide, which were above all exported to the United States. Further new buildings were erected in 1974/75 for this purpose.
By 1982 the pressure of foreign competition in the playing card market was being felt and the family decided to sell the entire business to Biella-Neher in Biel. The new owners of AGMüller concentrated fully on playing card manufacture. Urania Verlags AG was founded in 1988, based in Neuhausen, which became a world leader in the field of tarot cards and associated esoteric literature. However in 1999 the playing card manufacturing subsidiary was sold to Carta Mundi SA in Turnhout (Belgium). AGMüller in Neuhausen continues to supply tarot cards worldwide, with a range of well over 120 titles growing each year.
Over the years many graphic artists have designed playing cards for, or been printed by, Müller & Cie, including Melchior Annen, Marianne Pomeroy, A. Sager, Fredy Prack & René Beuret, Elsi Jegen, Robert Hiltbrand, Susan Csomor, Fredy Sigg, Fritz Bünzli, Mario Grasso, Roland Gazzotti, Egbert Moehsnang and Gertrude Kümpel as well as many dozens of tarot artists.
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.
A miniature pack of playing cards advertising Suchard chocolate and cocoa made in the early 1900's.
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.
Facsimile of Swiss William Tell deck from c.1870 published by Lo Scarabeo.
“Werbung die Sticht” deck with artwork by Fritz Bünzli to promote advertising on playing cards by AG Müller 1982.
Investors Overseas Services, Ltd. (IOS) by A. G. Müller (Schaffhausen), c.1969.
Facsimile edition of Swiss suited deck first published by Johannes Müller in c.1840.
Alchimistenspiel - Jeu des Alchimistes designed by Elfriede Weidenhaus, 1967.
French Suited Piquet by David Vachet, Switzerland, c.1812.
Publicity pack for Brunner Möbel with graphic design by André Stehle, 1966
AGMüller standard English pattern for the Royal Jordanian Airline, 1980s
Modern Swiss-German Pattern by AGMüller, c.2000.
A masterpiece in the genre of tourist souvenir decks, “La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir designed by Melchior Annen in c.1920.
The Krienser Fasnachts-Jass deck was designed and published by Léon Schnyder from Kriens for the 1988 Fasnacht Carnival
Each court figure is richly decorated and holding something different: a letter, a wreath, a quill pen, a mace, a bird, a flower, a cushion, a goblet, a flute, etc.
The lower and upper knaves are depicted in a vibrant and lively manner, while the enthroned kings are more ponderous. The traditional Swiss Shield court cards also have beer tankards with a barrel on the Deuce.
Egbert Moehsnang produced this contemporary Swiss-suited, double-ended pack, based on original XV century sources, with highly legible indices and colour scheme, but they were simply shunned by card players and the idea wasn't successful.
“Casino” pack made by J. Müller & Cie & Cie, Schaffhouse. The pack was probably designed by Josef Maria Melchior Annen (1868-1954) who also designed several other packs for Müller & Cie.
Designed by Josef Maria Melchior Annen (1868-1954) who also designed several other packs for Müller & Cie.
The suit signs and indices are clear and easily recognisable, and each suit has a different predominant colour. The juxtaposition of traditional craft techniques with abstract modern design could be seen as postmodern.
Zodiac Bridge was designed by René Marcel Rivière and printed by AGM Müller in c.1975. A different sign of the zodiac appears on the clothing of each court card figure.
The Basler Fasnachts deck is designed each year by a different local artist.
Swiss Album patience cards manufactured by C. L. Wüst (Frankfurt), c.1900, with a different landscape on the reverse of each card. The court cards depict costumed figures along with shields from the cantons.
Richard Wagner playing cards designed by Melchior Annen.
Playing cards inspired by stained glass, designed by Gertrude Kümpel, 1989.
Traditional Spanish Cadiz-style pack manufactured by Müller & Cie, Schaffhausen, 1952.
'Humanist' pack made by J. Müller & Cie (Schaffhouse), originally named 'Troubador'. The pack was designed by Melchior Annen (1868-1954) who also designed several other packs for Müller & Cie.
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawk bells and flowers emerged sometime during the XV century
This Swiss Regional Costume pack can be seen as an early form of tourist souvenir which subsequently developed into the photographic souvenir pack.
French-suited playing-cards in the Paris pattern appeared in Switzerland around the end of the sixteenth century, when many Lyonnais cardmakers were driven away by heavy taxes.
Souvenir pack with Scenic Aces made by Müller (Diessenhofen), c.1850.
English type 'Mogul' playing cards manufactured in Switzerland by John Müller for export to India, c.1880-1890.
Madame Lenormand Fortune Telling Cards made by Müller.
David Hurter built up a playing card business in Schaffhausen during the 18th century.
Playing Cards made by J. Müller, Diessenhofen, c.1840-50 with court cards coloured differently at each end.
David Hurter had begun to build up a playing card business in Schaffhausen during the late 18th century.
The Swiss national suit system of shields, acorns, hawkbells and flowers originated sometime during the fifteenth century.
Piquet playing-cards made by J. Müller, Diessenhofen, c.1850-60. The full-length court cards are following the French style.
Spanish-suited playing cards manufactured by J. Müller for export to Latin American countries, c.1875.
Souvenir pack with Scenic Aces made by J. Müller (Diessenhofen), c.1860. The courts are conventional figures based on French designs.
The Princely Hunting Pack, c.1440/45, is attributed to Konrad Witz and his workshop in Basle.