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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.

La Suisse Historique Swiss Cantons souvenir

A masterpiece in the genre of tourist souvenir decks, “La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir designed by Melchior Annen in c.1920.

A masterpiece in the genre of tourist souvenir decks, “La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir was designed by Melchior Annen (1868-1954) and manufactured by J. Müller & Cie in c.1920. A different scene is shown at each end of the four aces, and different costumes on each end of the 12 court cards. Müller had pioneered the production of tourist souvenir decks in the mid-19th century. New machinery now allowed twelve-colour chromo-lithography printing which in turn permitted a wider assortment of playing cards to be produced. This led to more business worldwide and a more prestigious reputation for the firm which became one of the most reputable in Europe.

Back and box from “La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir designed by Melchior Annen in c.1920
“La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir designed by Melchior Annen in c.1920 “La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir designed by Melchior Annen in c.1920

Above: “La Suisse Historique” Swiss Cantons souvenir designed by Melchior Annen and manufactured by J. Müller & Cie in c.1920. (Click the images to reverse). Packs were sold with 36 cards (Piquet No.34) or 52 cards (Whist No.33) in standard or patience sizes and with several variations of back design.

In 1999 the Müller playing card factory was sold to Carta Mundi.

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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.

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

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Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.

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Chinese Costumes

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

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Souvenir from Zakynthos

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New Zealand Souvenir

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Souvenir from New Zealand by Croxley (John Dickinson) c.1950.

Ocean to Ocean Canada Souvenir

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“Ocean to Ocean” Canadian Pictorial Souvenir pack by Chas Goodall & Son Ltd, c.1912.

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

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Greek Mythology

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Greek Mythology playing cards published by Michalis Toubis S.A., 1995.

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

Columbian Exposition Souvenir

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Columbian Exposition Souvenir playing cards, G.W. Clark, Chicago, 1893.