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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.

Hewson

Antique English woodblock playing cards by a card maker named C. Hewson, mid-17th century.

Antique English playing cards by C. Hewson

Perhaps the best known early English playing card maker is known as “C. Hewson”.

However, there may never have been such card-maker. There are no references to anyone of that name in the Worshipful Company records, no adverts referring to him, nothing. It seems to be a name given to the Jack of Clubs in the wake of a non-standard pack of the late 17th century in which the JC is the historical figure, Cobbler Hewson, the regicide [here].

In this example, the standard English woodcut courts are not as misformed or distorted as they became later, and preserve features relating to the original French designs from which they derive. For example, the plants in the background of the Jacks, the Queens holding a bird or more elaborate flowers and the King of Hearts holding a battle axe, as well as a generally more realistic appearance, all gradually succumbed to a sort of industrial deterioration over time.

antique English playing cards by a card maker named C. Hewson, mid-17th century

Above: antique standard English playing cards by a card maker named C. Hewson, mid-17th century. Images courtesy www.plainbacks.com

Further specimens can be seen on the British Museum website: here and here.

Images in slideshow gallery (right): 1) Jack of Clubs by C. Hewson, mid-17th century. 2) Jack of Spades by anonymous manufacturer, possibly Thomas Lynne, who operated in Cripplegate, London in the 1630s, image courtesy of Lord & Lady Edward Manners, Haddon Hall. Photo by Ken Lodge. 3) Title page of new book "English card-makers and their wood-block cards: a classification of their distinguishing features with a particular focus on the period 1790-1830" by Ken Lodge and Paul Bostock which is now available direct from the authors.

To order copies of the book "English card-makers and their wood-block cards: a classification of their distinguishing features with a particular focus on the period 1790-1830" by Ken Lodge and Paul Bostock, contact Ken Lodge by email: k.lodge111@btinternet.com

The cost is £38 + postage. Postal rates are as follows:

First (UK): £2.38*

Second (UK): £2.01*

Europe (Air): £6.60

* if you would prefer a padded envelope, the cost is £3.20 (1st) + 70p for the envelope or £2.80 (2nd) + 70p for the envelope (UK orders only).

Overseas (USA etc): £10.15

Australasia: £10.75


REFERENCES

Lodge, Ken: The Standard English Pattern (second revised and enlarged edition), Bungay, Suffolk, 2010

Lodge, Ken: A fascinating find at Haddon Hall, published in ‘The Playing-Card’, journal of the IPCS, vol.43 no.1 pp.30-32.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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

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