W. H. Willis & Co
c.1869 - 1892
a brief history...
Willis & Company was formed in 1869, having been preceded by Charles Steer at the same address (80 Long Acre, London), who also manufactured playing cards during the 1850s and 60s. Sample books and price lists began appearing in 1870 offering a wide range of cards of different qualities, prices, designs and style, including Improved Ivory cards, rules booklets and Self-Scoring Cribbage and Bézique Markers.
Willis playing cards were all of the double-ended courts variety, although early packs had one-way numeral cards. The court cards are in a decorative style. Willis & Co. also followed the trend in round corners and indices once these became preferred by card players. The designer/engraver Harrison Weir produced back designs for Willis & Co. The quaint Ace of Spades shows many similarities with the newly-designed Goodall Ace and may have been by the same artist (Cruikshank). There are no known Willis Jokers.
Standard Playing Cards
W. H. Willis & Co's range of standard playing cards included various qualities, such as: Court Moguls, Moguls, Oriental Moguls, Double Moguls, etc. at the top end, down to Harrys, Gold Harrys, Third Harrys, Highlanders, Best Highlanders at the bottom end. These quality designations, along with distinctive back design names, are the precursors to early brand names, such as "Jockey Club" or "Alpine Series".
W. H. Willis & Co back designs
The business continued to expand during the 1870s and early 1880s and won prize medals at International Exhibitions. Then the playing card interests were wound down and sold off in 1887. Subsequent efforts to re-start the firm's playing card production appear to have been in vain, although Willis & Co continued to operate as cardboard makers until around 1893. Willis & Co printed the delightful Political Pack shown below in 1886.
Deakin’s Political Playing Cards
The wholesale stationers Deakin & Company, of 45 Eastcheap, London EC saw the opportunity to publish a political pack with caricatures of political figures relating to the Irish Home Rule movement which was a contentious issue of the day. The packs were printed in three editions by Willis and Co., and the first edition in 1886 sold 60,000 packs in three months. In subsequent editions details on some cards were modified.
Member since February 01, 1996View Articles
Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
52 selected views of Scotland by De La Rue (Waddingtons) for GlenAlan Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland, c.1960s.
Publicity items for a group of entertainers, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK, 1911.
Cards made by John Waddington Ltd. for the Madras Club, Chennai (formerly Madras), India, c.1930.
54 different personalities from the city of Inverness published by the Highland Hospice.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme covers from 1956 to 2016 published by Winning Moves UK Ltd.
Images from the Ministry of Defence Cape Wrath Training Centre, Sutherland, Scotland. Published 2010.
Celebrating the work of Andreas Vesalius in the quincentenary year of his birth.
Great Britains’s Olympic gold medallists from 1964 to 2004 published by the British Olympic Association.
Celebration of the work of David Kindersley, stone letter-carver and typeface designer. Published by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, Cambridge, UK, 2015.
Pack celebrating the rugby world champions of 2003. Produced by MMcardz.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Hall & Son
Comic Fortune-Telling Cards published by Reynolds & Sons, c.1850.
Comic Question & Answer cards by Josh. Reynolds & Sons, circa 1850.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith
We are deeply saddened by news of the passing of Anthony Rex Pitts (1940-2021).
The Story of Pepys Games by Rex Pitts
Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany
Chad Valley Co. Ltd (incorporating Johnson Brothers (Harborne) Ltd, the long-established UK brand bought by Woolworths in 1988 and now sold at Argos.
Multum in Parvo published a range of indoor games during the period from 1884-1927.
The founder of Ariel Productions, Philip Marx, was a prolific publisher of children’s books and comics towards the end of and just after the Second World War.
Kum-Bak Sports, Toys & Games MFG Co., Ltd, London S.E.11
Crazy People children’s card game illustrated by caricaturist and graphic artist Walter Trier, c.1950.
Panko (Votes for Women) suffragette card game published by Peter Gurney Ltd, c.1912.
Anonymous Snap game, 1930s.
Panto People published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Hats-Off! miniature card game published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Zoo-Boots published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
The XIXth Century published by John Jaques & Son, c.1875.
The ‘Rinker’ highly amusing snap game, c.1910.
Round the World Happy Families by Chiefton Products Ltd of Bristol, c.1950s.
Abbatt Toys Animal Families, c.1970.
French for Fun instructive card game published by John Jaques & Son Ltd., c.1930s
Counties of Britain by John Jaques & Son Ltd. c.1930.
Radio Banker by John Waddington Ltd for Marconiphone Co Ltd.
Jigstar film star card game by Murphy Games Ltd, 1936.
“Countries of Empire” published by John Jaques & Son Ltd, c.1930s.