The World of Playing Cards Logo

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.

Cotta Transformation playing cards

In 1804, J.C. Cotta, a publisher and bookseller in Tübingen, Germany, produced the first set of transformation cards that was published as an actual deck of playing cards.

Cotta Transformation playing cards, 1804

In 1804, J. C. Cotta, a publisher and bookseller in Tübingen, Germany, produced the first set of transformation cards that was published as an actual deck of playing cards, designed by Charlotte von Jennison-Walworth. The court cards depict characters from Friedrich von Schiller's tragedy Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans) but the transformed pip cards are unrelated. This art form probably began as a parlour game in late 18th century England for the entertainment of ladies and gentlemen, but since then transformation cards have become one of the most popular fantasy creations in playing cards and often showcase a high level of creative art and skill. You can play it yourself at home... take a piece of card and mark five or six suit symbols, then players must create a figure from these...

Cotta's Transformation playing cards, first published in Tübingen, Germany, in 1804

Above: Cotta's Transformation playing cards, first published in Tübingen, Germany, in 1804. These decks were published as almanacs, each card corresponding to one of the 52 weeks of the year. Cards shown here are from the facsimile edition published by Baptiste-Paul Grimaud (France-Cartes) in 1984. 52 cards + extra card in presentation box.

avatar

By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

View Articles

Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

Recommended

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

The Kiss, 1808

The Kiss, 1808

‘Aphorisms on the Kiss’ published by C. A. Solbrig, Leipzig, 1808.

Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.

72: The Ace of Spades

72: The Ace of Spades

In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.

Dubois

Dubois

Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Transformation Cards for Christmas

Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History

A. Camoin & Cie

A. Camoin & Cie

This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.

Bosch Puzzle Playing Cards

Bosch Puzzle Playing Cards

Bosch Puzzle Playing Cards by Sunish Chabba, 2020.

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

History of Playing Cards explained in 5 Minutes

Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.

Toledo, 1584

Toledo, 1584

Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.

Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Middle Ages

Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern

The Bristol Pack

The Bristol Pack

The Bristol Pack, an exhibition of playing cards designed by Bristol artists, 2005.

“Deck with French suits”

“Deck with French suits”

A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.

Eroticartes

Eroticartes

Eroticartes with drawings by Pino Zac, 1983.

Curator

Curator

The Curator Deck with designs by Emmanuel José with suit symbols cleverly transformed into artistic designs.

Heraldic playing cards

Heraldic playing cards

Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Le Jeu de la Guerre

Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.

National Gallery (Dutch School)

National Gallery (Dutch School)

National Gallery (Dutch School) published by J. Jaques & Son, c.1895.

Corner Indices

Corner Indices

Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.

Baraja Carlos IV by Félix Solesio, 1800

Baraja Carlos IV by Félix Solesio, 1800

Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair No.41 Playing Cards by the United States Playing Card Co, 1895. All the number cards have been imaginatively transformed.

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

71: Woodblock and stencil: the hearts

A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

70: Woodblock and stencil : the spade courts

This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards

The Deck of Cards by Andrew Jones Art, 1979.

On The Cards

On The Cards

A Motley Pack - transformation playing cards & ‘On The Cards’ book facsimile published by Sunish Chabba, 2019.

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

66: Adverts and related material 1862-1900

Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.

Tyrolean Playing Cards

Tyrolean Playing Cards

Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

65: Adverts and related documents 1684-1877

Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.

Prisoners of War

Prisoners of War

Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.

64: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 2

64: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 2

A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.

63: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 1

63: The descendants of the French regional patterns: 1

A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

62: French regional patterns: the queens and jacks

Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.

61: French regional patterns: the kings

61: French regional patterns: the kings

On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Iohann Christoph Hes Tarot c.1750

Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.

Notgeld - Emergen¢y Money

Notgeld - Emergen¢y Money

Notgeld - Emergency Money - was in rare cases issued on playing cards.

60: Some less common Goodall packs, 1875-95

60: Some less common Goodall packs, 1875-95

There are some interesting packs from Goodall in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Bicycle Playing Cards, 1st edition

Bicycle Playing Cards, 1st edition

1st edition of famous Bicycle Playing Cards printed by Russell & Morgan Printing Co., Cincinnati, 1885.

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Trentine Pattern

Primiera Bolognese

Primiera Bolognese

Primiera Bolognese by Modiano, c.1975