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Published October 28, 2023 Updated October 29, 2023

Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards

Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquarian, 1980.

1980 United Kingdom Waddingtons Commemorative Olympics Sports Add to Collection

Produced by Stanley Gibbons, more famous for their stamps, this double set of cards was produced oddly three years after the 1976 Olympic Games officially known as the Games of the XXI Olympiad, which were held in Montreal, Canada.

The set is a double set bridge size cards released as a limited edition of 4,000 sets by Waddingtons. Each set is identical, featuring 54 pen/ink drawings by artists unknown of winners of the ‘76 Games, usually in an action scene from their specific sport. The fronts are pipped in each corner and the card colour is blush. The backs of the cards depict a traditional Greek discus thrower in black and orange, both colours and image reversed on each deck. The box lid is a black faux velvet with gold writing. See the box

Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquarian, 1980 Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquarian, 1980 Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquarian, 1980

Above: Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquarian, 1980.

Addendum from Roddy Somerville

As I was working for Stanley Gibbons at the time, allow me to set the record straight.

There is much more to this pack than meets the eye. It does not commemorate the 1976 Summer Olympic Games held in Montreal. Yes, the sportsmen and sportswomen depicted all won medals at the 1976 Games but the pack itself was issued just before the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The issue date was actually the 30th of June, 1980.

In the run-up to the Olympic Games held in Moscow in 1980 (i.e., sometime in 1979), Waddingtons decided to make 1976 Olympic Games medallists the subject of their 1980 calendar pack (calendar packs being given by Waddingtons to good customers around Christmas each year from 1976 to 1997 approx.). As you can see from the back of one of the Jokers, the Moscow Games are clearly mentioned.

Unfortunately, because of the Soviet-Afghan War, 66 countries decided to boycott the games, though not Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Waddingtons had planned to issue the same designs on playing cards as had appeared on the calendar pack in order to mark the games but at a late stage decided to abandon the project as being commercially unviable. On learning of this, Stanley Gibbons picked up the baton and decided to run with the pack. The double pack was issued less than three weeks before the games began. It was not a commercial success. However, there was a promotional card inside the orange-backed pack (see image) which customers could return to Stanley Gibbons in order to receive a free copy of Sylvia Mann's "Collecting English Playing Cards" together with their latest sales catalogue of playing cards. This was quite successful, attracting a number of new collectors to the hobby. Obviously, many of the packs now in the hands of collectors will be lacking this card. Thus, the extra card in each of the two packs was different - a title card in the black-backed pack and a promotional card in the orange-backed pack.

By not mentioning the Moscow Olympic Games or indeed any specific Olympic Games either on the cards or on the box, Stanley Gibbons hoped to avoid any possible controversy and also prolong the sales of the cards.

P.S. I still have a few sets of the playing cards and a few of the calendar packs for sale. - R.S

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By Ian Taylor

Member since June 20, 2022

I've played card games from the age of three, collecting all things "cards" from 16 and finally started to specialise at 58! Thanks to these wonderful pages and a certain Mr Lodge, my main interest is in British decks, with examples of the English standard pattern in other countries. I am beginning to develop a liking for Belgium and German cards, too. It's nice to be able to spend time writing profiles for WOPC, on more modern yet beautiful decks. Looking forward to retiring in April, when I can spend more time on this wonderful interest.


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