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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.

A Pair of Transformation Packs

Two similar but fascinatingly different hand-drawn transformation decks by the same artist, c.1875

Two similar but fascinatingly different hand-drawn transformation decks by the same artist, c.1875

The drawings are executed freehand with quick and spontaneous pen strokes using a steel-nib pen, with differences in detail between the two versions so that one is not an identical replica of the other. The facial features often vary and most aspects of the ‘transformations’ are dealt with in a versatile manner. However, the artist’s rapid, sketchy style and protean sense of humour are evident in both versions. The left-hand pack more often has highlights added with white paint wheras the right-hand pack was sometimes drawn more carefully; but which pack came first is not easy to say.

Left: De la Rue pack with 2-way pips
c.1870-80
Right: Goodall (?) pack with one-way pips

The two packs were not necessarily made at the same time, maybe several years apart. The twos of diamonds include a miniature poster for plays running at the Theatre Royal. The left-hand pack mentions "Stolen Kisses". This is probably the three-act comedy play by Paul Merritt, c.1876-77. The right-hand pack advertises "Under the Gaslight", a play written by Augustin Daly, published in 1867.

details from the twos of diamonds showing the theatre posters

Above: details from the twos of diamonds showing the theatre posters.

Above: the ace of spades and back design from the De la Rue pack, and the back from the second pack, assumed to be by Goodall & Son.

REFERENCES

Townshend, Barney: “A Pair of Transformation Packs” in The Playing-Card (Journal of the IPCS), Vol 36, No.3, Apr-June 2008 pp.190-204.

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By Barney Townshend

Member since October 06, 2015

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Retired Airline Pilot, interested in: Transformation Playing Cards, Karl Gerich and Elaine Lewis. Secretary of the EPCS. Treasurer of the IPCS.

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