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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.

Pack of Royals

Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals” featuring caricatures of the Royal Family, 1995.

Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals” featuring caricatures of the Royal Family, 1995. Each ace, court card and joker carries a caricature of a different member of the Royal Family drawn by Willie Rushton. See the List of Illustrations

Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals”, 1995
Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals”, 1995

Above: Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals”, published by Anthony Bird and printed by Piatnik, 1995. Packs contain 52 cards + two jokers + a bridge score card (extra joker) and an information booklet printed in English and German (is that a subtle joke referencing our German royal family, one wonders?).

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By Matt Probert

Member since March 02, 2012

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I have adored playing cards since before I was seven years old, and was brought up on packs of Waddington's No 1. As a child I was fascinated by the pictures of the court cards.

Over the next fifty years I was seduced by the artwork in Piatnik's packs and became a collector of playing cards.

Seeking more information about various unidentified packs I discovered the World of Playing Cards website and became an enthusiastic contributor researching and documenting different packs of cards.

I describe my self as a playing card archaeologist, using detective work to identify and date obscure packs of cards discovered in old houses, flea markets and car boot sales.

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Dutch costume playing cards

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

Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne

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

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes deck with caricatures by Jeff Decker published by Gemaco Playing Card Co. 1989

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique by Mesmaekers, 1934.

Naval and Military Families

Naval and Military Families

Naval and Military Families produced by Prince and Princess Louis of Battenberg, printed by Ernst Nister of Nuremberg, c.1905-10.

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras

La Mariée du Mardi-Gras, published by Jeux et Jouets Français. Paris, early 1900s.

A Royal Game

A Royal Game

A Royal Game featuring Queen Victoria’s children and extended family, published by A. Collier, London, c.1896.

Crown the Queen

Crown the Queen

Crown the Queen card game invented by Elaine Burton, c.1953.

Klutz Card Deck

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Woman’s Hour

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The Woman’s Hour playing cards published by David Westnedge, 1996.

Bicycle Emotions

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Les Géants d’un Mythe

Les Géants d’un Mythe

Les Géants d'un Mythe created by François Poulain and manufactured by Grimaud, 1983.

Kings & Queens of England Misfitz

Kings & Queens of England Misfitz

Kings & Queens of England Misfitz, c.1918.

Cat Chaos

Cat Chaos

‘Cat Chaos Celebrity Edition’ card game by Ginger Fox Ltd., 2017.

The Royal Historical Game of Cards

The Royal Historical Game of Cards

The Royal Historical Game of Cards invented by Jane Roberts and published by Robert Hardwicke, c.1840.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots and other Tudor period dignitaries, published by Piatnik, 1990.

World Leaders Snap

World Leaders Snap

World Leaders Snap published around WW2, c.1940.

Jeu Grotesque

Jeu Grotesque

Jeu Grotesque was first published in France c.1800.

Society Misfitz

Society Misfitz

Society Misfitz published by C.W Faulkner & Co, c.1904.

Queen’s Silver Jubilee 1977

Queen’s Silver Jubilee 1977

Queen’s Silver Jubilee playing cards designed by Susan Rae for John Wadddington Ltd, 1977

Berliner Originale

Berliner Originale

“Berliner Originale” designed by Manfred Bofinger, 1986.

Schwarzer Peter

Schwarzer Peter

Schwarzer Peter animal pairs card game produced in Germany, c.1920s.

Hide & Seek with the Kings & Queens of England

Hide & Seek with the Kings & Queens of England

Hide & Seek with the Kings & Queens of England by John Jaques & Son, c.1875.

Rois de France

Rois de France

Cartes des Rois de France (1644) facsimile edition by Edizioni del Solleone, 1986.

August der Starke

August der Starke

‘August der Starke und seine Zeit’ designed by Günter Schmitz, 1985.

Lapin Brothers

Lapin Brothers

Reprint of Lapin’s Historical Belarusian playing cards.

Naked Truth

Naked Truth

“Naked Truth” Playing Politics with caricatures by Jason Pratt, 1997

Jungle Parties

Jungle Parties

“Jungle Parties” or “Playing Politics '87” designed & drawn by Patrick Cuenot.

Schwäbisch Hall

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Schwäbisch Hall building society publicity deck designed by Alex Kardas, c.1975.

Royal Pavilion at Brighton

Royal Pavilion at Brighton

The Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion, is an Asian-style palace built for King George IV when he was Prince of Wales.

Sovereigns of England

Sovereigns of England

Sovereigns of England published by Jaques & Son, c.1875. .

Volleyball European Championship ’83

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Volleyball European Championship Rummy, 1983, designed by Klaus Hennig.

Prince of Wales National Relief Fund 1914

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A two-pack patience set produced by Thomas De la Rue on behalf of the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund in 1914.

Pack of Royals

Pack of Royals

Willie Rushton’s “Pack of Royals” featuring caricatures of the Royal Family, 1995.

Desafio Football Caricatures

Desafio Football Caricatures

“Desafio” playing cards with football player caricatures, c.2000

Carel de Wagenaer

Carel de Wagenaer

Facsimile edition of cards first published by Carel de Wagenaer, Amsterdam in c.1698

Playing Politics

Playing Politics

“Playing Politics” or “Cabinet Shuffle” specially commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983

Peterhof

Peterhof

“Peterhof” deck manufactured at the Leningrad Colour Printing Plant in 1999.

Glorious Russia

Glorious Russia

‘Glorious Russia’ playing cards made in France by Grimaud, c.1995

Kaiser Jubiläum

Kaiser Jubiläum

Kaiser Jubiläum Imperial playing cards made in Austria by Ferd Piatnik & Sons, Vienna