Background to card collecting

A long and rich history

There is a long, rich history to card collecting and books by authors such as Tilley, Hochman, Hargrave etc. tell a great deal more about the background to cards.

Very old cards can be seen in museums and if you are lucky, you may be privy to view some of the outstanding private collections. Many collector/researchers seek to learn more of the cards’ story, antiques to antiquity.

Chicago Playing Card Collectors has over the years catalogued card back artwork, from many card makers, dating back over 100 years.

We thank CPCC for this condensed view to the Dates/Eras/Styles of cards.

Circa 800s AD – Considered ‘ancestors’ of the cards, colourfully painted, paper domino cards used in China. In some theories, later true playing cards were also “inspired” by game pieces of Japan, Korea, India, Persian or Arab empires, and/or other old cultures.

1377 – First clear mention of cards in Europe (likely, first in use a few years prior). A monk’s manuscript tells of the new popularity of “playing cards;” describing 52 cards with ‘royal’ high, plus number cards, in four suits. Actual card designs unknown, but likely Italian, Spanish or German. (Note, versions of these, with Germanic and Latin country suit symbols, are still made, and played regionally).

Decks were hand made for the nobility; while manufacture for this “new fad” of card games rapidly spread country to country. Tarot cards, their ‘first’ origins also unclear, began to evolve separately to their present versions.

By 1450 – French card makers design the spade, heart, club and diamond symbols, and add the queen. Thus the French-suited deck departed from all-male court figures. Legends abound from this dimly charted era, one, that the French suits were designed by a knight, lieutenant of Joan of Arc.

Each country adopting the French suits (easy to stencil, red-black, for mass production) created unique “patterns” (artwork style as in the court cards). By late 1700s the English pattern, adapted from a French design – and evolving in tandem with the (young) U.S., and other British heritage countries – was to become the ‘standard’ deck familiar around the world.

Up to the 18th Century – There were many artistic eras namely pre-Renaissance Gothic and Byzantine; Renaissance; Baroque; Rococo and Neoclassic; Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite, Realist and Impressionist. Playing card images have little direct relation with most of these movements as designs weren’t used widely on cards until the late 1800’s; up until this point most had crude designs or no design at all. Images on cards began to flourish in the following eras.

1800s – Final refinements to today’s ‘modern deck.’ Style experiments by various card makers through this century gradually caught on, and became standardized by the dawn of the 1900s.

Magpie Cards have researched this area of the history of cards and can provide you with a very detailed background. We are so appreciative of other collectors being prepared to share their knowledge. There is not the need to be constantly re-creating the wheel so to speak.

Quote :“Art Nouveau (1890-1914) Beautiful, romantic, rich, complex design prominent artists of this time Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Maxfield Parrish (also a deco artist). Between nouveau and deco was an ‘in between’ time where many artists crossed over styles.

Art Deco (1920-1939)
Simple, clean, elegant and modern (for its time) design with accents of silver and gold. Cards were almost always linen finish however during the Depression paper quality was often poor. Images were simple, geometric, linear, and symmetrical with long thin forms. Prominent artists of this time Erte (aka “The Father of Art Deco”) and William Barribal.

Post War (1940’s to 1950’s)
Playing cards favored a cutesy and cartoon images like McPherson’s and Alberto Varga’s pin-up girls, Schultz and Snoopy, America and Australia release blank backed trading cards.

Modern or Retro (1960’s – 1970’s)
Modernism saw the influence of psychadelic designs, bright fluoro colours and cards representing popular culture eg cartoon characters like Holly Hobie, Betsey Clark, Raggedy Ann and Andy and the likes. In Australia Greythorne and Tassell released blank back trading cards most notably sets of the Joy girls, Sarah Kay and others.

1980’s to today lots of photographic images, cartoon and popular characters like Hello Kitty, Harry Potter, advertising (especially soft drink manufacturers) and modern artists like Thomas Kinkade (aka “The Painter of Light”).

Vintage is a term you will see a lot when searching for cards and it is used very loosely. Technically, vintage means anything over 20 years old. It is used so widely when sellers advertise cards because it is a “keyword” or a common word people type in to eBay and other sites when looking for cards.”

Collecting and collect-ability

The 1800s’ printing advancements brought new forms of “ephemera,” common objects designed for brief use: from postage stamps (circa 1840) to magazine ads to poster art. Plus other “cards” – postcards, greeting cards, etc., all in colourful Victorian era graphics.

The older concept playing cards too were colourfully enhanced, and people began to save these gem-like artworks. Singles from play-worn decks were put in scrapbooks, attractive decks carefully stored away.

For our singles collections today, the old scrapbooks have mostly given way to 3-ring binders with special slotted areas, or plastic pocket pages 9That are archival safe). Decks are kept in all types of cabinets, boxes etc.

Pleasing collections may be built for relatively little cost, nominal for unique new issues. The field is indeed extensive. The versatile cards may be in various sections of the popular antique handbooks, also second hand shops, antique shops and may be listed as playing cards, paper ephemera or as cross-collectibles, grouped with Disney, Coca-Cola, etc., or memorabilia of Hollywood, world fairs, transport etc. In their diversity, cards may be non-standard oversize, or undersize (minis), also round or variety of other shapes.

We again acknowledge and thank CPCC, Magpie Playing Cards and a variety of reference sources for their unstinting time in researching and reporting so many interesting and fascinating facts about the history of Swap/Playing cards.