a site for the playing card collector
and ephemera enthusiast
a site for the playing card collector
and ephemera enthusiast
This site is for the playing card enthusiast and has been named after Bernard J. Dondorf who was born in 1809 and established a lithographic printing business in Frankfurt Germany 1833 which, amongst other items, printed playing cards. B Dondorf was arguably one of the finest printers of his era printing some amazing playing cards during the company's 100 year history. Ironically it was the quality and expensive production process that ultimately contributed to the the demise of the company in 1933.
Whilst Dondorf playing cards acted as the catalyst and inspiration for me to become a serious collector and remain my main passion, I have developed many new playing card related interests over the years and will share them with you on this website.
This site aims to showcase the very best in collectable playing cards and card games and to share information on the subject. There is also a blog reporting items of interest and details of any cards recently sold at auction, subscribe to receive regular updates sent by email.
Launched June 2018 I hope this site will develop progressively and prove to be of value to all who share in it.
What's new? ....
- De La Rue the early years
- The strangest Family - George 111, uncovered in cards
and changes :
- Crimean War cards (See Archive)
- Klaus Ensikat (See Archive)
- Reynolds 'perforated' (see featured English decks page)
- John Leighton (See Archive)
- Llewellyn & Gibson & Gisborne cards (see featured English decks)
What's in the news - Blog at the foot of this page - sign up for regular updates..
In 1831, at Somerset House, London as w as required for duty purposes, Thomas De la Rue registered his first ace of spades there. This was the first public appearance of of a De La Rue playing card. Early the following year "His present most Excellent Majesty King William IV' granted him a Royal Letters Patent for 'certain improvements in making or manufacturing and ornamenting playing cards' in the second year of his reign.
Up until this time playing cards had either been stencilled by hand in water colours or printed in one colour and then hand tinted. The process was inevitably expensive, laborious and inaccurate. The first of a long line of De La Rue patents, Thomas's playing card 'Improvements' ran to 12 pages. The most significant improvements included the introduction of steel printing blocks with lead plates bearing images of the court cards, the use of superior quick drying oil inks, a new method of glazing the cards by passing them between copper sheets through powerful rollers instead of the antique method of glazing by friction with a flint, and the use of enamelled paper. Thomas became known not only as 'the father of the English playing card' but was claimed by some to be largely responsible for modern English colour printing.
Thomas's first set of playing card designs printed in 1832 were not too dissimilar to existing styles however he continued to develop improvements and in the years between 1832 and 1835 he set about altering the actual designs of playing card faces, which had remained unchanged for generations. Whilst the changes were not too drastic Thomas tried to put a little life into his kings, queens and knaves. By tradition these had always had blank, wooden faces. Thomas added expression into the faces and modernised the court-dress slightly and gave his queens feet. ( The first and only time Queens had feet)
The most popular card game at this time was 'Whist' and the biggest celebrity on the subject was Mrs Battle who was launched into society by Charles Lamb who produced 'Mrs Battles's opinions on Whist'. Thomas was keen to capture this large market of whist players and presented his new playing card designs for comment. For Mrs Battle Whist was her business, her duty and the thing she came into the world to do. Up and down the country all that whist players asked for was a 'clean fire, a clean hearth and the rigour of the game'. They just wanted to get on with the game and not be diverted by unnecessary ornamentation to the cards. Mrs Battle was heard to comment ' Why two colours even, when the mark of the suit would distinguish without it ?'.
Charles Lamb goes to Thomas's defence 'But the eye, my dear madam, is agreeably refreshed with variety. Man is not a creature of pure reason - he must have his senses delightfully appealed to'. He notes the colours and antics of the court cards and commented 'All these might be dispensed with and with their naked names upon the drab paste board the game might go on very well, picture less, but the the beauty of cards would be extinguished for ever'.
After much discussion and after incurring considerable cost Thomas bowed to the pressure of Mrs Battle and he refined his court designs. The faces of his new playing cards obediently reverted to the desired conventions. Once more they became expressionless and the queens lost their feet again.
Thomas appeared to have capitulated. So intent were the players on their game, however, that before they had realised it, Mr Dde la Rue had wrought some changes in their paste boards after all. Quick to take the point that there was no future in altering the fronts of cards, he changed his tack. He revolutionised the backs instead. In so doing he proved that he could do a smart about turn; at one moment he was facing an expensive mistake, at the next a trade success, a manoeuvre that he performed so smoothly that the public was hardly conscious that he had suffered a fall in the process. His preoccupation with designs for playing card backs was not entirely aesthetic. Until he arrived on the scene the backs, being plain, revealed flaws all too easily. This was a source of constant annoyance to the players. A recognisable bumps on a knave of diamonds, for instance, could spoil the sport for a beady eyed Mrs Battle. Thomas's all over patterns camouflaged any such potential give-aways. Not that there were many flaws in his cards; the new smoothed surfaced enamelled paper ensured there were no 'hills and valleys'.
The search for the best artists in London to design card backs had begun and it was not long before he discovered the famous Owen Jones.
(extracts taken from 'The House that Thomas Built' published by Lorna Houseman for De La Rue in 1968.)
It was on the 25 October 1760 that King George II rose from his bed at Kensington Palace, retired to his closet for the usual purposes and dropped dead. A new reign had begun. George III born 24 May 1738 at the age of 22 years was proclaimed King on 26 October 1760. Unlike his father and grandfather George III was not a foreigner. In George III's first speech to Parliament, he said "born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain". The last monarch who could claim this was Queen Anne, born almost a century before in 1665. The new king was young and personable but also unmarried so the search began to find him a wife amongst the protestant princesses of Europe.
King George's eventual choice was the exceedingly obscure Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a small duchy just south of Germany's Baltic coast. Arranged marriages were still largely the norm amongst upper class of society, where family alliances and the inheritance of land remained predominating factors, though royalty alone had rarely met their intended partners before. Arrangements for marriage were hastened as George's desire was to have his bride by his side at his Coronation, which was to take place on 22 September 1761. The young Princess Charlotte, was only seventeen arrived in Harwich on the 7 September and made London the next day.
The King's marriage and Coronation set the seal on the new reign. At the personal and domestic level this flourished. The Queen was soon accepted by her new country. In her honour, London was to boast a Mecklenburgh Square, English kitchens created the Apple Charlotte and the world of botany named the striking southern African bloom the Strelitzia. The marriage itself was very fruitful and the family grew and grew and grew.....
A son and heir, the future George IV, was born on 12 August 1762 and created Prince of Wales a week later. Eight more sons and six daughters followed at almost yearly intervals until the last, Princess Amelia, was born in 1783. All of whom with the exception of Octavious and Alfred survived to reach adult hood.
It was very exciting to discover a number of early playing cards with courts depicting members of King George's family. So far I have been unable to find any reference or examples of similar cards, so these can be described as rare. Unfortunately, I only have 8 of the courts and can only speculate as to the names of the missing family members.
Born in London in 1804 Alfred Forrester discovered an aptitude for literary and artistic pursuits from an early age. He was soon associated with writing for periodical publications such as New Monthly, Bentley and the very well known Punch magazine. He often wrote short tales, songs, children's stories and occasional burlesques. Forrester was also a talented artist, worked on etchings and could draw using pen and ink. He is best known for his book illustrations which include: Dean & Sons series , Little Plays for Little People, The Comic History of the Kings & Queens of England. c.1850 Forrester was commissioned by Reynolds & Sons makers of playing cards to produce drawings for a set of playing cards. Following the popular trend for 'transformation' playing cards the set published by Reynolds had comic style courts and caricature faces illustrated within each of the 'pips' on the cards. These cards are relatively scarce and appear to have been a one off production, but what a legacy from one of those talented victorian artists.
Alfred Henry Forrester died 26 May 1872 and was buried at West Norwood cemetery , near London.
Alfred Forrester published most of his work under the pseudonym of Alfred Crowquill
An artist with published prints
A book illustrator
32 illustrations depicting the Kings & Queens of England
The Crowquill cards
Published by Reynolds & Sons 1850-1860 . This is a full set of 52 cards with ink drawings of comic faces within all the pips. The courts are also a departure from the standard and once again are comic style representations. The style of drawings is typical of Crowquill's work as can be seen across his other commissions for book and comic illustrations. There is no better way to own 232 diffecrent comic drawings by Alfred Crowquill.
Playing cards published throughout the reign of Queen Victoria
Wrappers more than just paper and string
The beauty of Dondorf playing cards for all to see
Delightful artwork in playing cards from the turn of the 20th Century
Card games that are a bit different
Playing cards from the Art Deco period
Standard old English playing cards with Duty Aces
Early Illustrated playing cards individual cards or complete sets purchased
Playing cards by Dondorf.
Old or unusual English card games
Pre 1900 commemorative English Playing cards for Royal events
If you wish to enquire about the availability of any playing cards or books for sale or have old / Unusual cards or games for sale then please contact us here.
Playing card valuation and research service also available.
Suffolk, England, United Kingdom
a selection of catalogues detailing Dondorf playing cards, English Royalty cards issued during Queen Victoria's reign and early English playing cards, when available in printed form will be advertised on EBAY.
Is your collecting theme Royalty?
or early English playing cards?