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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.

Army & Navy

Andrew Dougherty’s Army & Navy deck from the Civil War era, c.1865.

Andrew Dougherty’s “Army & Navy” deck, c.1865

This remarkable and rare deck from the Civil War era has non-standard suits. The blue suits depict the ironclad warships “Monitor” and “Merrimack” and the red suits depict Zouaves and Drummer Boys. The court cards are full-length caricatures of naval and other personnel. The Ace of Monitors reads: “To commemmorate the greatest event in Naval History, the substitution of iron for wood. A. Dougherty Manufacturer, 26 Beekman St. N.Y.

In March 1862 civil war in North America brought about an engagement between the Union's “Monitor”, mounting two heavy guns in an armoured revolving turret, and the broadside-armed Confederate ship “Virginia” (ex-frigate “Merrimack” cut down and iron-plated) known as the Battle of Hampton Roads (also known as “the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack”) in the first engagement between ironclad warships. The battle lasted four hours without inflicting serious damage and with only one casualty, but heralded the beginning of a new era of ironclad warships rather than wooden ones.

Above: Andrew Dougherty's “Army & Navy” deck from the Civil War era, c.1865. The cards have no indices and are printed in red/blue/black only with a green/red back pattern. Images courtesy Jay Recher.

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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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