Wednesday, 28 December 2011

swiss playing cards "Jass" ( Müller)

Swiss playing cards, AG Müller, 36c.
In switzerland, two kinds of playing cards are used. there is one, with french suits, and another, with the native swiss suits, described here.
 The native swiss playing cards are a very interesting deck to say the least. the cards maintain some ancient features that were one present in german playing cards, but now long gone.
It has been said that the swiss cardmakers were so conservative, a man from the 15th c. will be quite at home with the playing cards of 1950s schaffhausen.
Things of note:
1- the tens have been replaced by banners, a feature found in the most primitive of german cards ( fith card from right in all of the pictures)
2 the court cards have their ranks spelled out (  viz; KÖING, OBER, UNDER)

for the french suited pattern mentioned earlier, see:

Monday, 19 December 2011

"No. 32" ( fournier)

"No. 32" ( fournier) , 48c. + 2 jokers and 1 spare.
This deck is of the Catalan pattern, which is a reworked version of the spanish national pattern.  Aldough it is rarely used in spain, it is quite commonly used in latin america.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sicilian tarot, part 3

Sicilian tarot, part 3- the trumps:
the Sicilian tarot's trumps are quite unusual. for starters, instead of the pope at trump 5,  we have temperance. likewise, as I have stated in the introduction, the highest trump is marked 20, and depicts Jove.
Sometime after its introduction into Sicily, some figures of the tarot deck, viz; the devil, and the tower were judged to have been offensive ( apparently, by the duchess  Rosalia Caccamo), and were replaced by more innocuous counterarts: the devil was replaced by a ship (taken from the minchiate deck) However, the reason why the tower was censored was because, according to reports,  it originally depicted a person being dragged down to hell......
However, strangely, some other subjects escaped censorship:. take 11 for example, "the hanged man" in most tarot decks, the figure is suspended from the foot. However, in this deck, the unfortunare is depicted quite graphically strung by his neck!. Also, on 19, the sun, we see 2 men [ cain &abel?] , one about to club the other.  also, no 13, death , escaped censorship altogether.

part 1-

 for another review of this deck , see:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sicilian tarot, part 2

Sicilian tarot, part 2- the court cards:
the courts of the Sicilian deck are very interesting. For starters, the knaves are female. this mirrors the ancient portugese cards, where the jacks in the suits of cups and coins were female.
in the suit of batons, observe the knave. she is holding a parrot. innocuous, you may say, but in former times, the parrot was a dragon....

see part 1
part 3 -

Sicilian tarot, an introduction:

The Sicilian tarot is the least common of the three tarot decks that are made in italy. Indeed so restricted is their use in that island that according to Michael Dummet,the averege Sicilian will immeadietly tell you that the deck is cartomantic in nature when presented with one.

This idosyncratic deck is of 64 cards, and is quite small ( 8 x 4.5 cm).
the deck has , as usual,22 trumps, but of these, 20 are numbered ( the highest ,20, depicts Jove with thunderbolts). So what happened to the other 2? well, there is the fool, but he has another wretched companion,"miseria" ( poverty) , thus bringing the total number to 22.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Württemberg pattern , ASS altenburg

Württemberg pattern , 48 cards ( 2 x 24) , ASS altenburg.

The Württemberg pattern is somewhat of a hodge-podge. The court cards probably evolved from the courts of a Tarock ( german version of tarot) deck , hence the mounted obers in the deck ( tarot/tarock decks, needless to say, have knights).
The deck comes in two forms, the first, and less common form, is a normal 32- card deck , for playing skat, schafkopf ( sheepshead),  &c. The second, and more common form, ( shown here) is comprised of two 24-card decks united together, with the following ranks in each suit
Ace, King, Ober, Under , 10, 7
The curious ranking is because this deck is used to play the game of "binokel", in which the 10 and 7 hold special powers. This game, which my American readers may know as "pinochle" used to be played with a pair of 32 card decks, till the players threw out the non-scoring ranks of eight and nine.
Note the following features:
1- The obers have their name written out in full on them
2-The under of bells carries a knapsack
3- The aces are decorated with pictures of food and drink.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

"Tarocco bolognese" (Dal negro)- part II

I shall procced to discuss the trumps of this deck.
The trump sequence used here is very unusual, and idosyncratic.
the top row of the above picture shows the lowest 6 trumps. from the left, are the Fool, the magician (operating a shell game) , and the four moors. The reason why I show only three cards, is that there are two copies of the middle of the three ( 4th from left). ( see for history of the moors)

we then procced to the second row, and the trumps 12-16. The hanged man [12] is depited twice on the card, and so on to 16, the star

we now arrive at the top 4 trumps, " la Grànda "- the greats. The cards, are by tradition, not named, so the player is to deduce the rank from the image. the cards are, from L-R, the moon, the sun, the angel and the world. 

Tarocco bolognese , Dal negro- part I

Tarocco bolognese , Dal negro. 62 cards.
 the court cards of this deck are almost identical to the ones in the "primera bolognese " pattern, save with the addition of queens.

It would also be of interest that this pattern  was one of the first patterns to be double faced, ( c. 1800)

"Tarocco bolognese" (Dal negro) - introduction

The Tarocco bolognese or "tarocchino"  is the idosyncratic tarot deck, used in Bologna.
 It gets it's other name , tarocchino, ( little tarot) , from the fact that whilst a normal deck of tarot cards has 78 cards, this deck has only 62 cards. so what happened to the other 16 cards?

The reason for this is the absence of the number cards of 2-5 in each of the four suits , probably to make the game more interesting by eliminating useless lower ranks. This is especially telling, when you consider the games played with this deck place a heavy emphasis on scoring combinations of cards.

Another unusual feature of this deck is that the trumps 2,3,4 and 5 have been replaced by four Moors. why was this so? . Well, if you consider the fact that in the normal tarot, the aforesaid ranks are the popess, empress, emperor and pope,  you will not e surprised to hear that the depiction of these ranks greatly angered the papal authorities when they came to  hear of this. therefore, as a compromise, the makers printed the offending ranks as moors.

This also tells us something about the games played with the deck back then. If the fope, popess, emperor and empress were replaced with four [almost] identical subjects, We can infer that whatever game played with the deck treated the aforementioned series treated them as equal.
part I ---

Monday, 21 November 2011

"schafkopf" ( bavarian pattern playing cards, stralsund type)

Barvarian pattern playing cards by F.X schmidt. 36 c.
this version of the bavarian pattern is called the 'stralsund' type, so called because it was made in stralsund.
there are very small diffrences between this and the München type, most naotbly in the ober of acorns, who carries a triangular shield here insted of a oval one in the München type. also note the 10 of hearts, whos central pips are green & yellow, unlike the stralsund's plain red.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

tarocco piemontese (modanio) part 2

For an introduction to this deck by modanio, see

Now, in this post, I shall discuss the trump cards of this deck.
The trump cards are a series of 22 cards. 21 of them are numbered from 1-21, and there is one unnumbered one, called the fool (or "matto") . this series is known to the fortune tellers as the "major arcana"
the picture above shows the first 5 trumps, including the fool ( numbered 0)
note the card marked "2" it bears the text "la papessa"- "the popess " this is intended to refer to pope joan, who was said to have reigned ( disguised as a man) in the middle ages. also , the card marked '5" depicts " il papa"- "The pope"

the top 5 trumps. in most games played with the deck, the 20 ("judgement") is regarded as the highest trump-

the trumps of 10-13. here you see the effect of making the cards double faced.
trump 12, "the hanged man, " is usually depicted as a man suspended by his foot from a gallows ( see below) .  however, when the deck became double-faced, all that was left was his pants and legs!

the hanged man, before becoming double faced.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

tarocco piemontesi (modanio), part 1

tarocco piemontesi , modanio, 78 c.
this tarot deck is used in piedmont for playing various games ( and if you are one of those who think the tarot is for fortune telling, please see
Since a deck of 78 cards is quite hard to examine in one post, I shall break it down into it's 2 parts, viz: the trumps and suit cards. this post examones the suit cards.

Now, one of the defining features of a tarot deck is the inclusion of an extra rank into the court/picture cards, the knight. this brings the total number of court cards from 12 to 16.
Note the followng features in the deck:
I- three of the forur ourts bear names in italian. the only rank that is unnamed is the jack, or valet.
II the 2 of coins has a sort of ribbon wrapped around the pips. this feature is found in other italian decks.
III the pips of the coins bear numbers in them.

On tarot:

Whatever the local fortune teller or pastor has told you about tarot cards is wrong.

Trarot cards were NOT invented by egyptians, or gypsies. they were invented in Italy during the 14th-15th c.( no-one is quite sure about the date!)
Neither were they invented for divinatory puropses! they were essentially a extended deck with more cards to make the games more interesting. This becomes especially apparent when you consider the deck's structure.
the structure of a tarot deck:
the tarot deck is divided into 2 parts:

I- A deck of 56 cards, in the 4 Latin suits.
     each of the 4 suits is divided thus:
      1- a series of 10 pip cards, from 1-10
       2 - a series of 4 picture cards, viz: KIng, Queen, Knight ( cavalier), and knave ( jack)

II - A series of 22 cards, called "trumps", which outrank the former series:
21 of these cards bear numbers from 1-21, and one is unnumbered.
Part I of the deck is known by the fortune telling dunces a"s the "minor arcana" , and part II as the "major arcana " it is here where you will find the omnimous sounding cards, like death, the hanged man, and the tower: but not to worry, these frgures were very probably taken from characters in triumphal parades.

"los dos tigres" ( fournier)

Los dos tigres - fournier, 48c.
this deck is essentially a luxury version of the common or garden Spanish national deck.
What is interesting, however, is that this deck maitains some features that have been lost in the spanish national deck in the meantime. for example, the knight of cups still bears the inscription "AHI VA"
also note the 2 of cups. ot states "DE UNA HOJA"- "ON ONE SHEET"- this message dating back to the days when most cards were made of  sheets of paper & card glued together. a deck that was made of solid card , was therefore, seen to be of better quality, and so this would be advertised
also note the 2 and 3 of coins ( 3rd pic) the maker has cleverly turned the coins to medals, to advertise the superiority of this product!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

kabufuda ( nintendo)

kabufuda by nintendo. 40 cards + 1 spare.

The following deck is but the last survivor of one of the most amzing journeys in the history of cards: the introduction of cards into japan. as the story is quite long, I shall post it seperately.
Anyway, the important bit is this: When the portugese came to japan, the locals copied, and played with the portugese cards with gusto, developong the their own local versions. However, at some period of time, one bright spark decided to repeat one suit of the four-suited deck  four times,  for use with counting games, similar to baccarat. Some decks used the suit of coins , and others like the kabufuda here, the suit of batons.

The deck you see below consists of 4 series of 10 subjects, viz: ace-9 & a jack. ,  ( see caption on 1st pic)
in one of theese series, however, the ace and the 4 are more elaborate than the other 3 ( see second pic)
the game that is played with this deck is much like baccarat.
top , R-L  ace, 2,3,4,5
bottom , R-L - 6,7,8,9, knave/ jack ( countas as 10)

the more elacorate ace ( far right) , and four ( middle), with what appears to be a medal on it.
the wrapper ( with a pic of Napoleon ) is on the fal left.

how cards came to japan

In the 16thc, portugese sailors came to japan, bringing along with them many new things, like guns,buttons, and more importantly, playing cards.(the cards were an very idosyncratic latin-suited pattern, the most notable feature of which was the fact that dragons or sea-serpents wound themselves around the aces)

The japanese copied this strange new form of entertainment with gusto, down to the very names of the suits, and yes, the dragons. However, with frequent copying, the dragons ( and the court cards too) became more & more stylized, till the extent that they were transformed to splodges or squiggles , what little detail obscured under paint.

later, someone had the bright isea of repeating one suit of the cards 4 times. in the case of the below deck it was the suit of batons, nut others used the suit of coins.
anyway, all the patterns I mentioned above, including the portugese patern, are long extinct. al that is left is this deck.

Friday, 11 November 2011

"bresciane" (modanio)

Bresciane by modanio. 52 cards.
The Brescian pattern is the only italian pattern that invariably has 52 cards. You will not find a 40-card version of this pattern.
The design of this pattern is not unlike the bergamo pattern ( see:, viz: it has the same distinctive red & black coins, the cupid on the ace of cups & the 5 of coins has a starburst around the central coin.
other than that, this pattern is much smaller ( 8.5 x 4 cm) ,and the court figures are drawn in a more crude fashion ...

Thursday, 10 November 2011

"spillekort no. 333" ( handa)

"spillekort no. 333"( lillebror)-  . Handa, 52c.+4 jokers
The folowing  deck is danish, and is called 'spillekort no. 333' by the maker handa of copenhagen. It is also known as the "lillebror"- "little brother"
the deck has 4 identical jokers.

the deck has 4 identical jokers.

"bergamasche" ( modanio)

Bergamasche ( bergmao pattern) by modanio. 40 c.
This pattern is used in the city of Bergamo, and is rather plain.
that is to say, it does not have interesting fatures. for example,  on the ace of cups stands a Cupid, and the ace of batons exclaims "VINCERAI"-  "Victory!"
Some of the pip cards have little pictures inserted in them (see 3rd pic)
Another interesting feature is the ace of coins, which is Normaly a simple ring in red & black ( the inside of the coin was cleared so the tax stamp could be put on it) but here, the ring has been filled in with the characteristic black & red coin of this pattern.

"preference" ( vienna large crown pattern)

"preference"by ASS altenburger .32 c, no indexes

Preference is a the name of a game played in Austria & Russia. The cards that you see here are of the viennese large crown patern, a highly idosyncratic pattern of that country.
Interesting features to look out are the Jack of clubs, holding an impliment that  has been described as a "carpet beater" ,but I think is actually a sort of spear. Also note the king of spades, who bears the name of the company on a sash he is wearing.
the jack of hearts bears the company's address, "IN ALTENBERG" , split between the 2 flags he is holding. This pattern also comes in a 24- card form for playing schnapsen

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

miniature "tell pattern" piatnik

miniature "tell pattern", by piatnik. 32 cards.
a pleasing miniature of the "william tell"/ four seasons pattern.
these cards are harldly used in Germany at all, instead being used in central europe.
Note the pip cards. they have little scenes from the wtell legend, like the death of Tell's archenemy, gessleer, on the 7 of hearts.
for a Hungarian version of this pattern, see:

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

"sarde" (modanio)

Sardinian playing cards by modanio. 40 cards.
In my opinion, this pattern is the most artistic of all those used in italy
The design of this pattern barely conceals it's spanish origins. it probably was a copy of a luxury spanish deck made sometime in the 1820s. In fact, it can be said to be simply a copy of the " Baraja Neoclasica' by clemente roxas in 1810.( for a pic of the deck.)
also note the little pictures on the 4s.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Romagnole (modanio)

playing cards from  Romagna, by modanio. 40 cards

another italian pattern.
The card on the far left ( that is blank save for the maker's name & a green thing  in the middle) is the ace of coins. the reason for the sparse decoration is the fact on this card went the tak stamp, and as a result, space had to be cleared for it.
also note the king of coins. in older editions of this pattern, he is shown about to stab hmself with the ax he is holding... the same as the english king of hearts!

"napoletane"( modanio)

Neopolitan playing cards  by modanio. 40 c.
the followibng pattern is used in naples, and is about the same size as the sicilian  playing cards.
note the grotesque on the 3 of batons, & the hunting scene on the 5 of swords.