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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.

John Waddington Ltd, early type

John Waddington Ltd, early type Ace of Spades and court cards, 1922-30.

John Waddington Ltd, early packs 1922-30

The first packs produced by John Waddington Ltd were printed by direct lithography with images transferred by hand onto stone. However, at this time, direct lithography was changing over to offset lithography and the plates of the early court cards were frequently re-drawn and differences in the outlines and colouring can be detected in different editions.

John Waddington Ltd, early packs c.1922-24

Above: two examples of early packs manufactured by John Waddington Ltd, c.1922-24, showing the early court card designs. The upper example has four indices and plain white faces with an advertising reverse for Preservine Soap. The lower example, with a geometric pattern on the reverse, has two indices and the faces and hands are coloured pink. These court cards were soon re-designed.

Waddington’s newly designed court cards, re-drawn several times, 1924-onwards

John Waddington Ltd, early pack c.1924-30

Above: the early Ace of Spades continued to be used with a new version of the court cards for a few more years, with slightly different types of indices, until it was replaced with an updated design. The new designs were submitted to the board for approval in 1924; they are based on USPCC’s US3 design. The printing plates of these early court cards frequently wore out and were re-drawn so that slight differences in the outlines and colouring can be detected in different editions. See also: AscotTwilleseLondon Palladium, c.1925.

Waddington's early Ace of Spades and joker with new courts, c.1925-35

Above: the early Ace of Spades and joker with new courts and slightly smaller indices, c.1925-35. See a later edition here

John Waddington Ltd, early pack c.1924-25

Above: an anonymous Ace of Spades with an elaborate design was also used by John Waddington Ltd around this time (c.1925) for packs with pictorial backs or for advertising packs. The above specimen has gold edges and depicts a hunting scene on the reverse. The box is titled "Hunting". This back design appears in Waddington's 1933 Trade Brochure 'Sporting' Series.

Advertising Deck for Black and White Scotch Whisky by Waddingtons

Above; wide-sized advertising deck for Black and White Scotch Whisky by Waddingtons, c.1928-30. The extra card is a nice bit of social history! Courtesy Matt Probert.

Rothman's cigarettes, c.1926-29

Above: the newly registered ace of spades first appeared in c.1925. This pack for Rothman's cigarettes dates from c.1926. Images courtesy Matt Probert.

Advertising Deck for De Reszke Cigarettes by Waddingtons c1930

Above: advertising deck for De Reszke cigarettes, wrapped in paper, tax wrapped, in a tuck box, c.1930. Courtesy Matt Probert.