Wrappers - Tax / Duty


What are wrappers?

Playing cards have been one of the earliest forms of pre-packed goods, that is too say they have always been sold in a packet, box or a wrapper of some kind since it was impractical to sell them loose. The more familiar term 'wrapper' as we know it today became the norm from 1711 onwards when the implementation of tax laws began to affect the appearance of cards /and or their packaging. The imposition of tax on playing cards was primarily for two reasons, firstly to raise funds for parliament to cover the cost of wars etc and secondly to protect English card makers from cheap foreign imports which also incurred the duty. The amount of duty payable on a pack of cards since 1711 has fluctuated over the years and the ways of showing the duties on packs of cards varied considerably. They included the use of embossed stamps, official Aces of Spades, and tax-wrappers.

The early card makers registered their 'marks' or designs for their wrappers and many such marks were recorded. Examples include pictures of Royalty, with the Henrys' or Harrys being popular. Other marks included designs denoting specific Inns or taverns and names such as the 'Nags Head' or 'Coach & Horses' have been recorded. After a few years the variety of wrappers in use reduced to a few designs which were used by multiple card makers and they started to denote a quality standard. The best quality cards were in a 'Great Mogul' wrapper with the next best quality being 'Henry VIII' then Highlanders and finally the Merry Widow.

The makers traditional practice was to wrap the pack in paper and tie it with a thread. The paper was the maker's wrapper, a large rectangular piece of stout paper, printed to show his pictorial 'mark' and his name and address or location.

Dating them

The Reynolds & Sons wrapper shown here dates from 1832 as we know from the address that Reynolds was operating from 29 - 30 Vere Street from this time.

More below......

Early wrappers

The Great Mogul


In April 1741 Blanchard is the first two register the mark for the Great Mogul. Over the next century this design was used by several makers and became known more for its sign of quality.

King Henry VIII


Henry wrappers were quite common and the Henry VIII wrapper was to become recognised for cards of the second best quality.

The Merry Andrew


The last in a series of four illustrations that indicated the quality of a pack. The Merry Andrew was a comical character of the day and according to the dictionary definition is a 'buffoon, a zany; or a jack pudding'. 


Henry Hart

Henry Hart was one of the earliest English card makers and was registered between 1763 - 1797.

This wrapper appears to have been for playing cards printed for Exportation as it refers to penalty 'if re-landed' or 'Used in Great Britain'.

John Llewellyn


This is an early maker who printed cards between 1778-1786. Llewellyn took over from J McEvoy and had business premises in Picadilly London. Image courtesy of the Cumings Museum London.

reverse of wrapper


Gibson & Gisborne

Gibson an early English card maker took over the business from Blanchard c. 1770 and then joined up shortly afterwards with Gisborne who jointly printed cards from 1772 until the turn of the century. Hunt another famous card making family was apprenticed to Gibson and was to set up his own business from c.1790. Note the VI pence stamp embossed on the front of this wrapper, another also appears on the reverse.


Hall & Bancks

Bancks became a partner to Hall in 1819 and they were known to have a printing business at 23 Piccadilly from 1820 later moving to 15 Piccadilly. Six pence embossed seal on the wrapper.



An early wrapper 'Valiant Highlander' dated c. 1778 - 86. This wrapper was amongst two decks of cards auctioned in 2019, the second a deck by Gibson & Gisborne (see below) and is believed to be printed by Llewellyn. Both sets of cards appear to have been printed for Export and in both cases the word 'Exportation' has been scratched out. No decks are known with the word exportation on them. It may be possible that both these decks were intended for use domestically and with the intention of avoiding payment of the playing card duty.


Gibson & Gisborne

Gibson & Gisborne wrapper with a Scotch piper. Gibson who took over Christopher Blanchard's business c.1774 - 1790 and operated alone under the name of Gibson for a couple of years before joining up with Gisborne. The partnership of Gibson & Gisborne was known to have produced cards under their joint names from c.1774 until c.1797 when the Gisborne name is dropped and Gibson joins forces with Hunt becoming Gibson & Hunt.

James (I) Hardy


James Hardy

Playing cards printed by James Hardy have the name 'I Hardy' on the Ace of Spades and not J. It is not known why this is.

This is a playing card wrapper found with a pack of cards for Exportation. The exportation ace has die no 39 (3rd re-cut) and dates from 1823. The address on the wrapper 27 South Side of St Paul's Churchyard, London were James operated from 1812 - 1830.


Hardy and Son

This is another wrapper from the printer James Hardy and was found with a pack of cards for exportation. The exportation ace has die  No. 30 re-cut 3 times and dates from 1823 - 25. The Cards are sightly later in design than above and can be dated (ref Ken Lodge, 'The Standard English Pattern') to c 1825

the wrapper reflects the change in firm name to Hardy and Son, reflecting Jame's first son (Henry). Henry completed his apprenticeship and became a Freeman of the city in 1821.


Hardy & Sons

This deck by Hardy & Sons and reflects the addition to the family of a second son (Edmund) and possibly the youngest son (James)  to James Hardy senior.  Edmund completed his apprenticeship in 1824 and became a Freeman of the City of London in that year. The deck has an Old Frizzle' Duty One Shilling ace which was introduced in 1828, the courts are full length and the address on the wrapper is 27 St Pauls Church-Yard. (James) Hardy is known to have operated from these premises between 1812 - December 1837 when he died. The family continued to live at 27 St Paul's Churchyard until 1852. These cards date c.1828 - 1830


Any person using or selling cards in Britain or Ireland without the Duty Ace of Spades would be subject to a penalty of £50


Hardy & Sons - Highlander wrapper c. 1828

Reproduction Cards & Wrapper


I Hardy

Care! You can find many of these cards and wrappers for sale on Ebay and on other auction sites. If they are described as a reproduction then fine. The set is a reproduction produced in America and sold as a souvenir in colonial Williamsburg but one or two sellers try to pass off as antique / genuine which they are not.

Post 1862


JosH. Reynolds & Sons

This deck by Joseph Reynolds was sold c. 1862 after the duty was reduced to 3d and no longer had to be evidenced on the Ace of Spades. The The wrapper has been influenced more by marketing and branding now and the cards here are from the 'Highlanders' range which are of a good quality and as described by the printer patented. 


The penalty for selling cards without licence or for retaining the wrapper once the pack has been opened, to use again is £20.


Bancks Brothers late Hunt

Great Mogul wrapper by Bancks, 20 Piccadilly London. Playing cards printed with single figure courts and issued c.1862 - 1875. The wrapper has three legends; On opening pack of cards this wrapper is to be destroyed. Penalty £20 if retained for use again; The seller is to cancel the Stamp by writing in ink or printing his name upon it. Penalty for omission £5 and Selling cards without a Licence Penalty £20.

Cards for Export & Use at Home


Thomas De la Rue

This deck of cards was printed c. 1870 by De La Rue. They are a smaller size card, more narrow than the standard and the courts are of a European style. This size of card often became referred to as the Victoria card as Queen Victoria was said to be fond of this style of playing card. The cards were printed for the export market as can be seen by the description ' Carte A Jouer' but also sold in the domestic market. The duty can be seen on the wrapper as 'Three Pence' . De L a Rue was one of the very few printers that continued to show the Three Pence Duty on the Ace of spades and decks produced solely for the domestic market have aces with this duty shown.


"On opening a pack of cards the wrapper is to be destroyed Penalty £20 if retained for use again"

The last wrapper..


Standard blue Duty Three Pence wrapper

This deck was  printed c. 1930 and has a standard Three pence duty wrapper. The printers name is not marked on the wrapper but the cards were produced by Waddingtons. This style of wrapper was common on decks produced by all domestic playing card printers up until 1960 when the duty of Three pence was removed altogether and tax wrappers then became redundant. You will find the makers name on many wrappers and names such as Goodall, De La Rue, Waddingtons, Alf Cooke, Universal are common.


As before - "On opening a pack of cards the wrapper is to be destroyed Penalty £20 if retained for use again". On this wrapper you can also see another penalty of £5 which was imposed if the seller did not mark across the wrapper in ink his name when selling the cards.  I have not seen many wrappers with ink annotations and would suggest that this requirement was often ignored.