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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.

Proverbs and Maxims

Naipe Infantil Gauchito children’s miniature playing cards with Proverbs and Maxims on the reverse,

Children’s miniature playing cards with Proverbs and Maxims, anonymous manufacturer, Montevideo, c.1928

"Naipe Infantil Gauchito" children’s miniature playing cards with Proverbs and Maxims on the reverse, 40 cards. Similar packs were published showing football players and popular heroes and celebrities. Cards of this type are examples of playing cards used for educational purposes besides providing entertainment value to young people. In order to complete the set, the children no doubt had to trade with their friends and organise their collections. The virtuous maxims would have been reinforced at school during copper-plate handwriting lessons.

Children's miniature playing cards with Proverbs and Maxims, anonymous manufacturer, Montevideo, c.1928 Children's miniature playing cards with Proverbs and Maxims, anonymous manufacturer, Montevideo, c.1928 box from 'Gauchito' children's miniature playing cards, Montevideo, c.1928

Right: box from a later edition with more modern court card design →

Educational or Instructional playing cards have been around since the 16th century. See also: Logica Memorativa by Thomas Murner, 1507Robert Morden's Map Cards, 1676Arms of English Peers, 1686Proverbial Cards, 1698Mechanical Instruments, c.1700Geistliche Karten, 1718Cartes Questions-Devinettes, c.1840Happy FamiliesJaques' Illustrated Proverbs, c.1885Spanish Instructional Cards, 1888Japanese Uta GarutaChildren's Maxim Cards from UruguayIndian Alphabetical Cards, c.1940Wild Flower Sevens card game, 1960Snip Snap, 1968Learn Thai Playing Cards, 2009

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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