Playing Cards

I have always been fascinated by playing cards, not just by the possibilities of endless hours of fun, but by the artwork.

Today I found a very old set ensconced in a leather travelling case, and was very excited when the first joker jumped out at me. I think the black cat is hilarious (note the ribbon on his tail – very apposite for these times), but then so are the other two – a lovely take on Punch and Judy, and then the balancing act.

As a child I was always intrigued by the upsidedown patterns of the people cards. I believe there is a special name for them but I can’t recall it just now. I think I have always admired the cleverness of the artists – it looks so difficult, but maybe not. But who are the artists? How can one find out?

The King of Clubs (is this ironic?) has a very short sword here. He is holding it very carefully. Maybe he doesn’t feel the need to use it much, as his wife, his dear Queen, is looking very prim. He is also clutching his shield to his chest. What is he afraid of? Anyway, he has his son Jack to defend them both if need be. He looks as if he is spoiling for a fight but trying not to show it too much. Who is the queen waving her flower at? Perhaps I am wrong about her.

Ah, the Diamond family. Hard as nails, of course. He just has a sceptre. Does he stare at everyone in this stern manner? Queenie looks a bit fed up, if I may say so. She’s waving that flower with its very anticipatory stamens in a very unsubtle way. Her modest top seems to belie a passionate spirit. And the Boy – a scholar’s hat and a lance all for show. He seems to have given up on his parents.

Hallo Spades. Their little kingdom is obviously a friendly one. but cold. They’re all so wrapped up – both physically but in themselves, too. Daddy King is thoughtful and a little bit cuddly. Mummy Queen looks towards him fondly, while sniffing the flower he has just given her. (Nothing untoward in this family, I am sure) And the Valet – he will do what needs to be done, whenever. Whatever. You can see it in his eyes as he looks to the future.

And last but not least, the King and Queen of Hearts, if not minds. With their offspring. the King is opulent and rich. He knows he’s the top dog as he clutches his huge orb in his right hand, and raises his not very mighty sword with his left. He is swathed in ermine and lace and huge crosses. What a splendid figure he cuts! His young queen, with her rose, all ready for love. She is decorated with pretty ribbons and jewellery and looks quite content. And the Knave – ruffs and buttons and lance and sword – he’s just waiting for the action.

Or maybe you know better.

4 comments on “Playing Cards

  1. Fascinating subject Basia – I never thought about them, but as a child I too was amazed at the design and the faces top and bottom.


  2. Thanks for the reminder, Tony. Of course I knew the word; it just didn’t appear in my brain. The cards themselves are German or Austrian. So the B stands for bube. Boy in Polish the Jack or knave is walet , valet


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