On English packs the design and wording on the ace of spades will tell you the maker’s name and, until 1860, the amount of tax paid. Taxation on playing cards was a form of protectionism and a means of raising revenues for the Exchequer, but ultimately the amount received from playing card duty was less than the cost of administering the tax. In his budget speech on 4th April 1960 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the decision to abolish the excise duty on playing cards in the UK. After this time the ace of spades remained a maker’s identification device with a more elaborate design than the other three aces, but no longer represented any tax or duty paid to the treasury.
American manufacturers have also tended to follow the English tradition of an elaborate ace of spades as a trade mark or manufacturer’s badge.
However, some makers produce custom packs for third parties, either as promotional items (eg: Haig whisky, Simpsons etc) or on behalf of other companies (Wills Cigarettes, Dubreq etc) and the ace of spades may or may not be informative. Some generic designs are copied and used by various makers, hence duplicate images assigned to different makers. Some makers have been taken over or otherwise ceased trading only for their designs to be adopted by other companies.Consequently a large number of modern aces of spades are anonymous so that, in the absence of any other information, the collector has difficulty deciding who made it. In addition, Chinese card factories were all formerly owned by the state, and as such packs did not carry a maker's name, simply 'China'.
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I have adored playing cards since before I was seven years old, and was brought up on packs of Waddington's No 1. As a child I was fascinated by the pictures of the court cards.
Over the next fifty years I was seduced by the artwork in Piatnik's packs and became a collector of playing cards.
Seeking more information about various unidentified packs I discovered the World of Playing Cards website and became an enthusiastic contributor researching and documenting different packs of cards.
I describe my self as a playing card archaeologist, using detective work to identify and date obscure packs of cards discovered in old houses, flea markets and car boot sales.
Playing cards in Russian life - Karty v zhizni Rossii - published by Aleksandr Lutkovskii in 2004.
Rock paintings and engravings of the San people, better known as the “Bushmen”.
An interesting pack of playing cards with illustrated Indian aces made "Specially for the Bombay Market", c.1915.
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 No.174 (Costumes Suisses) by Dondorf.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
Anonymous Snap game, 1930s.
Alice with artwork by Jesús Blasco, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.
Liberty playing cards designed by Antonella Castelli, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.
Baracca & Burattini puppetry deck printed by Dal Negro, 1998.
Sherlock Holmes deck with caricatures by Jeff Decker published by Gemaco Playing Card Co. 1989
Martin Mystère based on the comic book by Alfredo Castelli. The cards were designed by Giancarlo Alessandrini.
‘Seefahrers’ maritime deck designed by Klaus Ensikat for Deutsche Seereederei Rostock, GDR.
Genoese pattern with Pictorial Aces for Brazil by Brepols, Turnhout, c.1920.
Ukiyo-E deck for Sanyo Enterprise Co.
Year of the Child commemorative deck designed by Jhan Paulussen, 1979.
The Maya Deck produced by Stancraft for Hoyle, 1976.
‘Einhorn’ designed by Richard König, c.1986.
Bicycle Steampunk playing cards with Gothic artwork by Anne Stokes, 2015.
“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.
Bicycle Knights playing cards designed by Sam Hayles in 2018.
‘Friendly Felines’ playing cards designed by Azured Ox, 2017.
Gods of Egypt playing cards dedicated to the culture of Ancient Egypt.
Bicycle 808 Bourbon themed deck by US Playing Card Company 2017.
Alice in Wonderland playing cards designed by Sasha Dounaevski, 2018.
“Kaiserkarte” first published by Schneider & Co in 1895-1897 for the Imperial Court.
Age of Dragons by Anne Stokes, 2017.
Anne Stokes Collection playing cards, 2010.
The Deck of Cards by Andrew Jones Art, 1979.
My wife and I have recently commissioned a unique pair of stained glass windows for our home.
Chinese playing card makers have probably produced the widest variety of jokers of any single part of the world.
An unknown deck by Ken McCarthy, c.2018.
Les Grandes Figures de L’Histoire Bretonne
Kalevala playing cards by Sunish Chabba and Ishan Trivedi inspired by ancient Finnish mythology.
Hearts of London for British Heart Foundation 2009.
Worshipful Company Pack manufactured by Chas Goodall & Son, 1893.
Roman Empire playing cards designed by G. Wyatt for Green Board Game Co Ltd., 2011.
Virginie Houdet “Cartes à Jouer” limited edition, 2017.
Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2, based on Indian folk art, published by Sunish Chabba, 2018.