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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.

Popular heroes and celebrities

Miniature children's playing cards depicting popular heroes and celebrities on the backs, Montevideo, c.1928.

National Celebrities and Heroes playing cards
anonymous manufacturer, Montevideo, c.1928

Children's miniature popular heroes and celebrities cards, Montevideo, c.1928 Mini-naipes fútbol para niños, Montevideo, c.1928

Above: Miniature children's playing cards depicting popular heroes and celebrities on the backs. Similar packs were published showing football players and popular sayings and proverbs. The fronts of the cards show standard Spanish-suited cards printed in blue and orange, in the Catalan style. The ace of coins depicts symbols of commerce and national triumph, and the four of coins depicts a quiver of arrows and a shield. Cards of this type are examples of playing cards used for educational purposes besides providing entertainment value to young people.

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 UruguayChange for a Shilling, c.1930Indian 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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