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‘A long and rich history’

Collectors tread various paths of history. Topical, or theme collectors may research their subjects -- facets of the arts, industry, world history, sports, transportation, etc. In another approach, CPCC itself has long cataloged card back artwork, from many card makers and dating back over 100 years.

Then there is the long, rich history of the cards per se. Many collector-researchers seek to learn more of the cards’ story, antiques to antiquity. For most collectors, the basic history may offer many insights. Here is a highly condensed "genesis" outline. Where indicated you may click on the word VIEW for illustrations.

Circa 800s A.D. – Considered ‘ancestors’ of the cards, colorfully 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.) Click on VIEW.

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 cardmakers 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. VIEW illustration.

1800s Final refinements to today’s ‘modern deck.’ Style experiments by various cardmakers through this century gradually caught on, and became standardized by the dawn of the 1900s. To see this progression, click VIEW.

For more on the historical …

Books by such authors as Hargrave, Tilley, Hochman et al, tell much more of the cards’ story, and beautifully illustrate very old examples. Antique cards may be seen in various museums in the U.S. and elsewhere. While various groups work on to fill in more of the history (shortly we’ll refer you to more on the web).

In practical terms, many cards to over 100 years old may still be affordably found. The far older are mostly in museums, and well funded private collections. Until a point by circa 1400s where but very few rare, known examples exist.

Emerging popular collectibles

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 colorful Victorian era graphics.

The older concept playing cards too were colorfully enhanced, and people began to save these gem-like artworks. Singles from play-worn decks were put in scrapbooks, attractive decks carefully stored away. Up through the 1940s many small trading groups were active, and several, of illinois and Wisconsin, led to the early 1950s chartering of CPCC. By today several generations of our members have been gathering, and preserving these bits of history.

For our singles collections today, the old scrapbooks have mostly given way to 3-ring binders with special slotted, or plastic pocket pages. Decks are kept in all types of cabinets. In all, ‘miniature galleries’ for browsing pleasure, and showcases for the charm of card design.

Collecting, collectibility

Pleasing collections may be built for relatively little cost, nominal for unique new issues; or postage for mail trading (one good way to expand collections). There are also notable, valuable decks "out there" for the lucky and/or resourceful collector: where it’s not simply age, but also scarcity and condition that count. Throughout, CPCC promotes fair dealing as well as fair trading.

The field is indeed extensive. The versatile cards may be in various sections of the popular "antique handbooks," also antique-collectibles shops: listed as "playing cards," or perhaps "paper ephemera," "toys and games" or "gambling artifacts." Or, as cross-collectibles, grouped with Disney, Coca-Cola, etc. collectibles, or, memorabilia of Hollywood, world fairs, transportation, etc. In their diversity, cards may be non-standard oversize, or undersize (minis), also round or variety of other shapes.

The oft-quoted cardinal rule of collecting is collect what pleases you, and learn your subject well. And the collector’s sense of the market – and best sources, will grow.

Good hunting

We find unique cards everywhere in our travels, including gift shops of city to countryside attractions. For the older it’s the antiquers’ trail of shops, flea markets, garage sales and the like. Also auctions, estate sales, can yield up treasures carefully stored away long ago. In addition to fellow club members, collectors may ‘recruit’ friends, relatives to "watch for cards;" plus, on that antiques trail, may watch for, and cross-trade with collectors of other things.

The hunt can be stimulating, the collecting enjoyable, as we preserve these samples of the cardmaker’s craft, and "icons" of our history, industry and culture. Throughout, as outlined here, we enjoy many advantages within a collectors’ group such as CPCC. As also earlier stated we’d be pleased to answer any questions you may yet have, and, we invite you to see more on the cards, on the web. Whether here as a fellow collector, or to learn more, we wish you good hunting. And "happy collecting."


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This page was last revised on: 12/29/15
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