Hand-painted playing cards

Do you like playing cards? In the collection at Melbo Manor we have a deck of cards from the 1790s. The lines of the cards are pressed on, and then the cards are hand-painted with the help of stencils. The deck is French in design. Before the French Revolution, France was a major exporter of culture and art in Europe. France laid the foundation for how to design the décor of playing cards all over the western world today. This specific design of the cards here in our collection is called the Paris standard.

The deck has four kings, four queens and four jacks. These picture cards all have names from historical rulers and mythical and biblical figures. The kings are named Caesar, David, Alexander and Charles, The queens are called Judith, Pallas, Argine and Rachel. The jacks are named Hogier, Lahire and Hector.

The jack of clubs stands out. He has been given two names, Susz & Kunze. Here, the two danish makers have signed the deck. They were given a royal lisence to print playing cards in Denmark-Norway at the end of the eighteenth century.

The cards are not mirrored, as we are used to today. This first began in the 1800s. We can imagine that it must have made it easier to become a good cardplayer, when you no longer risked falling for the temptation to turn the cards right side up, thus revealing to everyone that you had picture cards in your hand!

After the French Revolution, printers were actually banned from producing this type of deck in France for a while. The names of kings, rulers, and biblical figures were not suitable for modern, post-revolutionary France. Instead, famous philosophers, scientists and thinkers began to adorne the cards. Napoleon Bonaparte himself revived the tradition in the second decade after the revolution.

Source: Hargrave, Catherine Perry. A History of playing cards And bibliography of cards and gaming. Dover Publications Inc. Mineola New York. 2022

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