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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.

Heraldic playing cards

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

Detail from Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684

Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards (1684) presented to lady guests at the WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888. The cards were originally made and “sold by Hen. Broom at the Gun in St. Pauls Churchyard where the said cards may be had in colours” [1675], and gave a thorough grounding in the art of heraldry.

Colours are represented by various types of hatching and furs are represented by shading marks. All this makes the cards difficult to interpret. Quite what the ladies made of it who knows?

Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684 Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684 Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684 Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684 Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684 Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684 Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684

Above: reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards of 1684, reproduction probably printed by Woolley & Co in 1888. 52 cards, plain backs and gilt edges in a plain slide case with leaflet by George Clulow. Note: missing cards re-created by Rex Pitts.

Further References

Bonhams: Blome (Richard) Armorial Cards

British Museum: 1896,0501.929.1-52

Thorpe, John G: The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards of the City of London, WCMPC, London, 2001

Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards: Masters Installation Cards from 1882-1899

Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684
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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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