Playing Card Love

Queen of Hearts TennielAfter my last post , I received a new “follow” from Lady Heather Hall, who is also a maker of cards as part of her activities with the Society for Creative Anachronism in the U.S.A. Her cards look great, and it got me thinking about why we love this little corner of world culture, enough to make our own packs.

As a child, I would often play with my granddad’s cards that he used for patience and cribbage. I suspect that most pre-internet youngsters had a similar experience, and it may have been this that embedded the images of the court cards so deeply in our psyches. Lewis Carroll was not the least of the writers who ascribed lives and personalities to the paper Kings and Queens, and the rise of cartomancy in the Victorian era took this process to a new level. It seems to have started much earlier though, when French card makers engraved names from history, legend and the Bible on their courts: Judith, La Hire, Hector…

French Cards

There are many clubs around the world that are dedicated to the study and collection of playing cards. In the U.K., the best known are the International Playing Card Society which has a very wide scope of interest, and the English Playing Card Society, which focuses on English manufacture. The IPCS publish pattern sheets, so that members may identify the cards that come into their hands. It’s fascinating that two or three hundred years ago, someone decided that the patterns on court cards produced in different French towns should be standardised, so that e.g. a King of Clubs must look one way in Lyons, and another way in Paris. Who was that man? An aristocrat of the ancien regime, perhaps, with too much time on his hands, but his long-ago efforts turned out to be not so futile, as far as collectors are concerned.

Such restrictions are now abolished, and the classic concept of the pack of cards provides a great springboard for artistic imaginations worldwide – riffing on those 12 images that are now archetypes. They never become tired, and that’s why we never tire of them .

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