The World of Playing Cards Logo
Published July 03, 1996 Updated June 12, 2023

W. H. Willis & Co

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.

United Kingdom Deakin & Co Willis & Co. Moguls Triplicate Bézique Add to Collection
Longacre Playing Card Works
Willis and Co Ace of Spades c.1869-1887

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".

Willis playing cards, c.1875

Above: cards by Willis & Co., c.1875, square corners, no indices. Small 'Eureka' indices have been neatly pencilled in, documentary evidence of the time when corner indices were still in their infancy. Although the court cards are double-ended, the numeral cards are still single-ended.

See: Quadruple Bézique set

Triplicates

Willis playing cards, c.1875

Above: following the lead of American manufacturers such as Dougherty and New York Consolidated Card Company, Willis & Co. introduced novel types of miniature corner indices to facilitate fanning or 'squeezing' the cards during the mid-1880s. The miniature 'triplicate' cards in the corners were apparently registered, and are ¾ or full-length figures. Interestingly the mini court indices are full length courts but Willis appeared never to manufacture full length court cards.

W. H. Willis & Co back designs

Back designs Back designs

Above: back designs by Willis & Co. These are described in specimen books as "Calico pattern", "Ornamental", "Ornamental Gold", etc. During the 1870s W. H. Willis & Co also produced a series of packs titled "Jockey Club" having on their backs the best known horse owner's colours, and also the boating colours of Oxford and Cambridge. During the 1880s Willis' price lists included various floral and ornamental back designs, and an "Alpine" series with ornamental designs, Swiss views, round corners and highly enamelled faces and backs.

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.

Deakin's Political Playing Cards, c.1886

Above: first edition of Deakin's Political Playing Cards (1886) with the standard Willis & Co. Ace of Spades overprinted with the title of the pack and Deakin's address. The numeral cards Ace-10 are in Triplicate format, but the court cards have normal corner indices. The cards are named as follows: Jack of Hearts Hartington, King of Spades Parnell, Queen of Clubs Biggar, Jack of Clubs Healy, Queen of Diamonds Iddesleigh, Jack of Diamonds Churchill, King of Spades Chamberlain and the Jack of Spades Dilke.   See more →

Deakin's Political Playing Cards, c.1886-88

Above: Box and six cards from the 3rd edition (1888) of Deakin's Political Playing Cards, with caricatures of eminent statesmen of the day, which now has a special Ace of Spades featuring the same design as the box (note the "triplicate" indices).


REFERENCES

Goodall, Michael H., "Minor British Playing Card Makers of the Nineteenth Century Volume 1: W H Willis & Company," Woking, 1996.

avatar
1440 Articles

By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

Founder 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.


Related Articles

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

A limited edition art print of the 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil King of Diamonds

Woodblock and Stencil King of Diamonds

A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.

1961 Sweetule Natural History cards

Sweetule Natural History cards

Small cards featuring natural history subjects, given away with packets of sweet cigarettes.

1875 Lend Me Five Shillings

Lend Me Five Shillings

or “Her Majesty’s Privy Purse” - a merry round-the-table game published by D. Ogilvy.

1875 Laughing Made Easy

Laughing Made Easy

a Victorian card game published by D. Ogilvy.

2002 Classic Card Games for Kids

Classic Card Games for Kids

A boxed set of playing cards, Happy Families and an alphabet pack with rules for 22 games.

1904 So-Lah – A Game of Music

So-Lah – A Game of Music

An early 20th century domino-type musical card game by Goodall.

2018 Marmite

Marmite

Fifty-Four images celebrating a UK savoury spread, that has been around one hundred and twenty two y...

1877 Word Making and Word Taking

Word Making and Word Taking

How crossword and spelling games became popular.

2021 Film Noir

Film Noir

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating hard boiled heroes, wise-cracking women, mean streets, guns and gums...

2016 Science Fiction

Science Fiction

A deck of 55 cards, celebrating a time when Science Fiction truly was, Science Fiction.

2004 The Beatles playing cards

The Beatles playing cards

Two packs featuring photos of The Beatles issued by the same publisher in 2004 and 2005.

1991 Costume Playing Cards

Costume Playing Cards

Four centuries of costumes from the Costume Court at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

2020 Commoners playing cards

Commoners playing cards

Created by Ian Cumpstey dedicated to the common land and the countryside.

2019 Liber Ludorum

Liber Ludorum

Liber Ludorum playing cards created by Ian Cumpstey in the insular style, United Kingdom, 2019.

2018 Pike and Clover playing cards

Pike and Clover playing cards

Pike and Clover playing cards created by Ian Cumpstey, Cumbria, UK, 2018.

2023 Inglewood Hunting Deck

Inglewood Hunting Deck

Inglewood Hunting Deck created by Ian Cumpstey, United Kingdom, 2023.

2010 Pin-Ups

Pin-Ups

A deck of 55 cards celebrating a golden age of cheeky, naughty, bold and curvy ladies in film.

2008 Classic Movie Posters

Classic Movie Posters

A deck of 55 cards presenting vintage classic movies and their stars.

2014 That’s Entertainment

That’s Entertainment

A deck of 55 cards celebrating 20th Century vaudeville, musicals and cabaret.

1981 British Monarchs

British Monarchs

Commemorating the royal wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer on the 29th

2005 Rock & Pop Legends

Rock & Pop Legends

Stunning photos of a selection of US and UK music artists.

2004 The Beatles • Yellow Submarine

The Beatles • Yellow Submarine

A colourful deck celebrating the 1968 animated feature film based on the Lennon/McCartney song of th...

1999 Dutch Court playing cards

Dutch Court playing cards

Games & Print Services’ version of the Dutch pattern.

2013 Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack

Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack

The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards Past Masters’ Association Presentation Pack, 2013....

The Search for New Games in the late 19<sup>th</sup> century

The Search for New Games in the late 19th century

A few new games survived and are still around today; most came and went and are only witnessed in th...

1904 Miniature Card Dominoes

Miniature Card Dominoes

A miniature set of Goodall domino cards (5.9 x 3.5 cms) still in perfect condition.

1875 T. Drayton & Son

T. Drayton & Son

Bezique and Whist boxed sets by T. Drayton & Son, London, c.1875.

2011 Colour doodle deck

Colour doodle deck

“1952-2002 commemorative deck” customised with doodles by an uncredited artist, UK, 2011.

2020 Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland: we’re all mad here

Alice in Wonderland themed playing cards, UK, 2020.

2023 Wren 300 playing cards

Wren 300 playing cards

Papercuts by Chloe Campbell of the 52 Wren churches in the City of London.

2023 Marlow playing cards

Marlow playing cards

Visitor attractions and businesses to be found in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

2010 Playing Politics 2010

Playing Politics 2010

“Playing Politics ’10: With no expenses spared” featuring caricatures by Oliver Preston, published b...

1992 Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies

Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies

Playing Politics ’92: Pack of lies with caricatures by Grant Robertson, UK.

2005 B-Deck

B-Deck

“B-Deck” scurrilous playing cards poking fun at a former UK prime minister.

1967 Winstanley Geographical cards

Winstanley Geographical cards

Facsimile of Winstanley’s Geographical cards produced by Harold & Virginia Wayland, 1967.

1971 Meal Tub Plot

Meal Tub Plot

Meal Tub Plot playing cards [facsimile] with 17th century sketches by Francis Barlow.

Golf playing cards

Golf playing cards

Golf playing cards published by Marks & Spencer, UK.

2011 Great inventions playing cards

Great inventions playing cards

Great inventions playing cards designed by Gary Wyatt, United Kingdom, 2011.

1980 Christmas 1980 playing cards

Christmas 1980 playing cards

Festive courts on a Waddingtons pack designed to celebrate Christmas 1980.

Gone to Pot: Gardener’s playing cards

Gone to Pot: Gardener’s playing cards

‘Gone to Pot’: special playing cards for keen gardeners, United Kingdom.

2023 The Tarot Strikes Back

The Tarot Strikes Back

Roy Huteson Stewart's The Tarot Strikes Back combines Star Wars with Rider-Waite tarot imagery.