Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Australian Toy cards 3: Old maid

"Old maid", anon. 36+1+ instruction card.

This particular deck of cards is for playing the game of "old maid". Like the other cards in this series, they were purchased in a remote australian town, near Phillip island.
 These cards are entirely typical of their genre, featuring cartoon images as their subjects. The names of the personages are altilerative, something that might appeal to their young users.

   This deck seems to be a fairly egalitarian one. With the exception of old maid, there are precisely nine female subjects and nine male subjects. 

  The inclusion of a "Running back Randy" suggests an American origin of these designs, as does the legend "US MAIL" on Mailman Manny's bag. The caricature of the old maid, meanwhile strikes me as more vicious than other examples of the genre. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Australian toy cards 2: Hearts

"Hearts" Anon, 36c+1,
This deck was purchased as a set of three in a remote town in Australia. These cards display several unusual features. These arise from a need for economy, and attractiveness. This deck is by far the most unusual of the three.
  Hearts is a game that is typically played with a normal deck of 52 cards. The aim of the game is to avoid capturing cards with the suit of hearts, and the queen of spades. However, it appears that printing a full set of 52 cards was well beyond the budget of its maker. A deck of 36 cards was all that they could afford. So what was one to do?

One solution would be to stick to the structure of a standard deck of cards. Instead of 13 ranks in 4 suits, print 9 ranks in a 4 suits. That would result in a deck of 36 cards.
But if one did that, the scoring system would no longer work. There would not be enough cards.
Instead, the maker chose to print a deck with Three Suits .

 Each of the three suits contains 12 cards..The three suits are clover-leaves (seen above), yellow diamonds and Red hearts.   
 Apart from the indices, all the cards of each suit are identical. In the middle of each card, is a cutesy cartoon animal. A pig for the clovers, a bear for the diamonds, and a rabbit for the hearts.  

The suit of hearts, It is interesting to observe, that the cards are all double-faced. 

The additional card, known as the "Jinx". This card takes the place of the Queen of spades in the normal game of hearts. But because the card is on itself, the resulting deck has 37 instead of 36 cards. This might playing the game somewhat complex...  

The rules for the game are given on a card, printed with this deck. I transcribe it below.

The heart deck has three suit ( hearts, clovers and diamonds) of twelve cards each, including a number 6 star card which is the Jinx card. 
The object of the game is to avoid taking tricks containing the hearts or the Jinx card. 
1. Dealer shuffles and deals one card at a time, face down. an equal number of cards to each player. The remaining cards, if any are placed face down, and taken in by the player who takes the first trick. 
2. Each player selects two cards from his hand, and passes them to the person on his left. 
3. Dealer starts the [play by leading any card except a heart. after the frist trick is taken, any suite [sic] including hearts may be led. 
Play moves to th left, everyone following suite. If the player cannot follow suite, he may discard 3 hearts, the jinx card, or any card he chooses.
Highest card of the suite [led] takes the trick.
The player taking the trick with the highest card leads a card for the next round. 
Winner: is the player with the least points.
Each heart counts one point, and the jinx card counts 6 points. 
Note: Contrast this scoring system with the standard game. Each heart scores one point, the queen of spades 13 points. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

"Chik Kee cards"

"Chik Kee cards", 金星/Gold star , 159c,
( N.B: New edit as of 20th October 2017)
This deck of cards was found in an old shop in Singapore. It had probably laid there for several decades undisturbed, as the shop transformed from what was probably a general store to a dedicated lottery shop. When I spotted it, its fragile cellophane wrapper was nearly falling apart, and the edges of the cards brown. I gladly paid for it, even though shopkeeper inflated its price by several dollars.

This card is one of an extremely rare species of "money suited " cards. They apparently were once very common, but now have disappeared. The suit system is familiar to any player of mahjong. such cards have three suits, viz; coins, bamboos, (or in this case, strings of coins) , and myriads or wan. Within each suit are nine ranks. In addition to these three basic suits, these cards typically include a set of extra cards, usually three or four in number.

This particular example is rather extraordinary, for two reasons. First, it incorporates colour in its designs. Second, its ranks structure is very unusual.

Most decks of money-suited cards have four copies of each card. This particular deck has five copies of each card. ( embarrassingly , this fact escaped me for over a year!). The distribution of cards is as follows:
Ranks inside suit
Number of cards
Ace to Nine, 5 copies of each
Ace to Nine, 5 copies of each
Ace to Nine, 5 copies of each
Odd cards
, nine copies

老道 5 copies

白花 5 copies

金玉 5 copies


Here you see the suits of coins( top row) and myriads ( bottom row). 
Note the ornately decorated ace of coins ( top row, 1st from right), and the small blossom on the seven of coins (Top row, 3rd from left)
The suit of myriads contains almost cartoon-like depictions of human figures. The Chinese inscription above each card shows its rank. The Nine of myirads ( Bottom row, 1st from left) shows a man holding a flag with the character 令-- A Military commander?  The five of Myriads ( Bottom row, 5th from left) shows a man holding an axe standing beside a child. 
 For some reason, the captions of the 2. 3,4 and 7 are white on black, while the rest are black on white. Whatever significance this may have, I do not know. 
 The one, five, and nine are coloured in. This might have a role in the games played. 

The suits of strings ( top row) and the bonus cards). The strings in question refer to the ancient Chinese practice of stringing together large quantities of coins by their central holes. As before, the ranks are from one to nine. The one of the suit is coloured. The nine of the suit has a bold red overprint, showing the Chinese character for nine. 
The extra cards are on the bottom row. Translations of the inscriptions:
A: White flower
B: Golden Jade
C: Old Tao ( Perhaps a scholar or a Taoist priest-magician?)
D Thousand 
E: The back of the cards. Worthy of op art. 

It should be noted that the cards have a  form of indices. The black rectangle on the top and bottom of the cards displays the suit, and rank of the card in question. You can see it in the following table:
The rank is marked by means of a simple geometric shape. For example, the twos have a small circle; the fives two small circles, and sixes have a pair of white rectangles.
The suit is represented by the presence of a semicircle. The suit of coins has no semicircle. The suit of strings has the semicircle on the bottom of the rectangle. The suit of myriads has the semicircle on the top of the rectangle. 

The pack also includes a quality control certificate Although its inscription is much faded, I reproduce it below, with a translation. 
If any reader can provide a better translation, I am happy to receive it.

Friday, 17 June 2016

"Black Jack 21"

"Black Jack 21", Wetecs Sdn Bhd, 52+4

This deck represents one of the delights of card-collecting. Finding the unusual in unexpected places.
For all appearances this deck is utterly unremarkable. It is, like many tens of thousands, nay, millions of decks that grace the shelves of small shops all across the world, It is that tried-and-tested double-faced 52-card Anglo-American pattern. However, it is certain small details that catch the eye, and make even the most humble deck stand out.

The spades and clubs. Note the crown, delicately rendered in colour pencils that graces the ace of spades. We are told that the cards are made by, a Malaysian company; Wetecs Sdn Bhd. 

The Diamonds and hearts. At this point I should note that the back is an imitation of USPCs famous "Aladdin" cards. 
However, it is the jokers that the real charm of the deck lies. Instead of the usual jesters, we have four droll caricatures of a criminal being stuck in various circumstances. They are delicately rendered in colour pencil. The artist has taken care to incorporate playing cards into each of the scenes. 

Such are the delights of card-collecting, The little gems in unexpected places. 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Dutch Scenic aces 4 :Hooghoudt

"Hooghoudt: 56 Geplastificeerde Speelkarten". Cartamundi, 52c+2

The following deck is a pleasing advertising deck made by the distillers Hooghoudt. Most advertising decks carry the advertisements on the back only. However, the traditional Dutch scenic aces offer additional possibilities. Instead of the traditional "views of the world", the scenic aces here display views around the company's brewery.

Spades and clubs. This is the same "Dutch pattern" as seen in the Prima speelkaarten 1410, but admittedly more colourful. 

Hearts and Diamonds. Note the rather tasteful use of purple in the Queen of diamond's dress. 

The Scenic aces. Unlike the other decks ( as Here and Here), the Hooghoudt deck is illustrated using photographs-- a suitable modernization. 

The other side of the aces. 

One of the Jokers and the back. Although the title of the deck says "56 cards" ( implying 4 jokers) only 2 are present in the deck. They are the standard Cartamundi Jokers. 
The backs advertise Hooghoudt Beerenberg , a sort of spiced gin. The alcoholically inclined reader may find the following link useful: . Be prepared to enter your date of birth. 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Australian Toy cards 1: Fish

"Fish card game", Anon, 36c+1

 The following set of cards was purchased at a thrift shop in a remote Australian town. These cards came in a pack of three. All of these cards are designed for the express purpose of a particular game. Although they were purchased in Australia, they might have been printed in America. 

 Let us speculate for some moments on why this deck was produced.  Most of the games that are played with this set of three cards can be played with normal playing cards. However, owing to the shady associations of normal playing cards, parents might be hesitant to allow them to fall into the hands of children. 
   Hence, manufacturers would be more than happy to manufacture "non playing cards" for the purposes of children. In any case, it would also be economical for manufacturers. Why bother to invent a new game when you can simply design new cards for an old one? 

The present deck is intended for a game normally called "Go fish". This game involves players capturing cards in a central "pool" with cards in their own hand. In most versions, whoever captures the most cards wins.
  In this deck, the maker has taken a hint from the fishy name of the game. All nine subjects of the deck are fish. Each of the subjects is repeated 4 times to generate the deck of 36 cards.  

The illustrations of the deck are clearly interned to appeal to children.  Each of the cards has a border of a distinctive colour. Perhaps this acts in a similar fashion to the indexes of normal cards?
Most of the subjects of the deck are oceanic creatures. Perhaps the "pool" would be more properly called the "ocean"?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Four colour cards/四色牌 2:

"2001 龙凤四色牌”  112c +7
This particular deck of playing cards is yet another variation of the 四色牌, playing cards, or as some English authors call them "chess cards" . The Chinese name reflects the suit system of the cards. Four colours, Red, Yellow, Green and White. The English name reflects the ranks in each of the suits, which correspond to the pieces in the Chinese version of Chess.

  Although purchased in Singapore, this particular pattern is not common there. In all my years of collecting, I have only seen this pattern twice. On both occasions I bough the decks in question.
For a Comparison with a more typical pattern, please see  and

The red and yellow suits. The ranks are, From Right to Left: General 帥,Guard , Minister,  Chariot, Horse , Cannon , and Infantryman. 
Despite being printed in the PRC, these cards are written in Traditional Chinese characters. Also note the company name (龙凤, "Dragon and Phoenix")written in the space between the cards. 

The Suits of Green and White. Like real Chinese chess sets, ( see here and Here ) The pieces for opposing sides are written using different characters. The ranks are, Again, General 將,Guard, Elephant 象 (The Chinese words for "Elephant"and "Minister" are homophones, hence the substitution ) , Chariot , Horse, Cannon .(Amusingly, this character on its own means "Bun").and soldier. 

The "Title cards" (A, B) and the five "Jokers (C-G). The text on card A gives the name of the company, and an auspicious greeting. Card B is a Quality control certificate. (合格证). It also gives the " complaints hotline". The card informs us that the company is located in Fuzhou. 

The jokers ( C, D, E, F, G)  are slightly more cryptic. They apparently refer to ranks of the Chinese Nobility. EDIT: The jokers depict the five ranks of  ancient Chinese nobility mentioned in the Book of rites.  In descending  order of rank, they are 公 (G)、侯(F)、伯(E)、子(D)、男(C).
 In any case, the games that are played with the deck do not appear to use them. 

The box. You can see it is fairly battered. 

Thursday, 7 January 2016

International pattern XII: Anon.

[International pattern], Anon. 52c+2
This anonymous deck of cards was purchased at an outlet of the renowned Japanese value goods store Daiso about 5 years ago. The cards are made of plastic.

The first thing that strikes one about these cards is the simplicity of the design. The cards are done in only 3 colours. This is not uncommon. However, unlike most cards, the courts are drastically simplified in design. 
In most decks of the international pattern, the dress of the courts is comprised of elaborate patterns. Here the draughtsman has removed most of the roundels and other such features, replacing them with simple cross-hatching. 
Here the cards are compared with a more standard deck. D stands for the anonymous deck, W stands for the Waddingtons deck.  The maker of the anonymous deck has adhered to the basic features of the pattern, despite simplifying it. The King of spades still holds a sword, and his Queen holds both a sceptre and a flower. 

But, some courts have been altered. The King of diamonds no longer holds an axe. Instead of a pair of spiked poles, the Jack of swords holds a sword. Perhaps this was the anonymous pack's draughtsman's attempt at "rationalizing" the pattern? 

Another feature of interest is the direction the court cards face. In the Waddingtons deck, all the court cards face to the left. In the Anonymous deck, some of the courts face to the right. This feature is present in the oldest cards of the international pattern, but not in today's cards. 
We wonder what caused the maker to so drastically simplify the courts. Perhaps it was a limitation of the printing process? When printing on plastic, it might be difficult to align the colours precisely. A simplified design would be to order.