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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.

Gilbert and Sullivan

Gilbert and Sullivan deck created by Don Jack using artwork from Players cigarette cards.

Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards designed by Don Jack, adapting the original artwork by H M Brock (1875-1960), as seen mostly on Players cigarette cards which were his main inspiration. The background detail of the cigarette cards has been removed to create the court card figures, which are at a larger scale. See the Box

Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards printed by Carta Mundi, 1994 Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards printed by Carta Mundi, 1994 Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards printed by Carta Mundi, 1994 Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards printed by Carta Mundi, 1994 Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards printed by Carta Mundi, 1994

Above: Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards published by R Somerville of Edinburgh and printed by Carta Mundi, 1994. 52 cards + 3 jokers in box. The original Players cigarette cards from 1925-1927, which the playing cards are inspired by, are shown beneath each card.

More original cigarette cards

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Players cigarette cards from 1925-1927 illustrated by H M Brock

Above: Players cigarette cards from 1925-1927 illustrated by H M Brock, which were the inspiration for the Gilbert and Sullivan playing cards.

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By Rex Pitts (1940-2021)

Member since January 30, 2009

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Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.

His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.

Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.

Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.

His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.

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Gilbert and Sullivan

Gilbert and Sullivan

Gilbert and Sullivan deck created by Don Jack using artwork from Players cigarette cards.

Bandsman Snap

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Bandsman Snap by Chiefton Products Ltd of Bristol, c.1950s.

Musikinstrumente

Musikinstrumente

Musikinstrumente quartet game published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pössneck, 1984.

Musical Snap

Musical Snap

Musical Snap by C.W. Faulkner & Co., c.1900.

Monty Gum ‘Stars Play’

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‘Stars Play’ card set published by Monty Gum, Leiden, 1988.

Musikalisches Kartenspiel

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Facsimile of Dondorf’s “Musikalisches Kartenspiel” (c.1862) published by Lo Scarabeo, 2004

Story Magazine

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Dutch singers, TV and theatre artist playing cards for “Story” magazine, 1978.

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers

Parisian Actors and Opera Singers

Extraordinary ‘Actors and Opera Singers’ deck printed by Avril et Cie, Paris, c.1865

Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf card game published by Pepys Games, 1947.

Milonguita

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Dogs

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Black Tango

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Sony Tape Rock ‘N’ Pop Playing Cards

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Chinese Roles of Beijing Opera

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Löjliga Spel Kort

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Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley playing cards published by The United States Playing Card Company, c.2002

Gilbert & Sullivan Cards

Gilbert & Sullivan Cards

“Gilbert & Sullivan” hand-made Savoy Operas pack designed and created by Rex Pitts.

Russian Opera Scenes

Russian Opera Scenes

Russian Opera & Theatre Scenes playing cards first published by the Colour Printing Plant (USSR, Russian Federation) in 1973

Music Manuscripts

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Artwork featuring playing cards in Music Manuscripts

Pop Rocky

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“Pop Rocky” miniature playing cards with double-ended caricatures of celebrities and pop stars, originally published inside a magazine, c.1970.

Requiem Playing Cards

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This pack has been inspired by the Requiem Mass, a Mass celebrated for the souls of one or more deceased persons. The dark style of illustrations features occult symbols and imagery such as horns, hearts, thorns and skulls and the typography reflects ancient latin scripts.

Eglantine Table

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The Eglantine Table, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, elaborately inlaid with marquetry depicting musical instruments, playing-cards, games and heraldic references.

La Traviata

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“La Traviata” playing cards designed by Erté, c.1985.

Löschenkohl’s Musical Playing Cards

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Johann Hieronymus Löschenkohl (1753-1807) produced a copper engraved deck of playing cards titled “Das Musikalische Kartenspiel” in 1806.

Graciela Rodo Boulanger

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Boulanger's paintings and graphic art works are easily recognized. The Latin American influence is an integral part of her work. The use of light and contrasting colours are reminiscent of her years spent in La Paz, memories of her native country.

Girls’ Generation

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Karl Gerich No.27

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The courts are characters from Wagner's opera “The Ring of the Nibelungs”, beautifully etched and hand coloured. Each character is named in a cursive script along each side of the card.

Cosi Fan Tutte

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Cosi Fan Tutte was published in 1994 and is based on Mozart's opera. The pips (heart-shaped locket, magnet, marriage contract and poison bottle) are key objects in the development of the operatic plot.

Richard Wagner

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Richard Wagner playing cards designed by Melchior Annen.

Tango

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‘Tango’ playing cards from Argentina, c.2004.

Mambrú

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Bandana

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Bandana Argentine pop girl group playing cards 2002.

Rodrigo El Potro

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Argentinean Tango playing cards

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The Tango - sultry and seductive - is Argentina's form of popular music and dance, invented in Buenos Aires in the 19th century.

The Beggars’ Opera

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The Beggars’ Opera Playing Cards were first published in 1728. The cards carry the words and music of the songs from Gay’s opera, which was intended as a parody of current Italian works. The music was taken from many popular tunes of the day.

MusoDeck Playing Cards for Musicians

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