Historical Playing Cards


Perfectly at home in your waistcoat pocket, or scattered about your gaming table, these playing cards published by Harry Margary are a real talking point. Each card in each themed deck bears a different image taken from an original period engraving. Marvellous for distracting your competitors at piquet but just make sure you keep your own eyes on the game!

Each card measures approximately 3.9″ x 2.5″ (9.9cm x 6.4cm) (the Transformation cards are just a fraction bigger). Cards are made of thick white card, with image and characters on one side and blank white backs. Each deck of cards is supplied in its own handy white cardboard box.

The following editions are available: Arms Of English Peers; Marlborough’s Victories; Morden; South Sea Bubble; Transformation; Knavery of the Rump; Fortune Telling. Scroll down to read more about the history of each deck.

Arms Of English Peers Playing Cards

In 1644 King Louis XIV of France issued a licence to print certain educational cards. The resulting cards sparked off a great fashion which spread to Holland, Germany and England, and the most popular subject soon emerged as Heraldry. Brianville’s “Arms of the Sovereigns of Europe” (Lyons, 1659) was re-issued in tens of editions and was copied in five countries outside of France over a period of more than eighty years.


The English edition of Brianville may well have inspired the makers of the present pack to produce a domestic, rather than an international set of cards illustrating the arms of the peers of the United Kingdom. Although the cards are very rare, they must have achieved popularity as they are known in three different editions. The edition reproduced here was the third and published in 1688. Quite logically, the arrangement of the arms of the peers is made according to rank in each suit, the higher the rank, the higher the card value: archbishops and dukes are clearly superior to earls and barons, the arms of the latter being depicted on the lowest cards in all suits. The pack of cards reproduced here is from the Print Collection in Guildhall Library, London.

Marlborough’s Victories Playing Cards

Published in 1707, these are pictorially the most elaborately engraved set of playing cards ever issued, and demonstrate fully the adulation at that time accorded to the first Duke of Marlborough during his overseas battle campaigns. 

Although primarily intended as a compliment to the Duke’s successes, the pack deals with a variety of European political issues and includes several portraits of royalty connected with the campaigns. The spade suit comprises almost entirely a series of savage, not to say scurrilous, attacks upon the French king, Louis XIV.

Morden Playing Cards

Facsimiles of a deck originally published in 1676, these cards form a small Atlas of England and Wales (and the first Atlas to indicate roads!). 

Each card represents a County, as described in the Preliminary Card, headed “The Explanation of These Cards”. The King depicted on the cards is Charles II and the Queen is his wife, Catherine of Braganza.

“The 52 Countries (sic) of England and Wales, described in a Pack of Cards … Sold by Robert Morden at the Atlas in Cornhill, Will. Berry at the Globe in the Strand, Robert Green in Budge Row, and George Minikin at the King’s Head in S. Martin’s.” 

South Sea Bubble Playing Cards

Financial scandals and faulty projects were epitomised by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, as commemorated in this deck of cards. (An advertisement appearing in Mist’s Weekly Journal in December 1720 for “Bubble cards … tricks of Stock Jobbers … Humours of Change Alley” probably refers to the pack these cards are modelled after.)

What a unique contemporary record in cartoon form of’ the feverish activities of traders in stock! Speech balloons are used to report the speech of those portrayed and each card has a pithy verse describing the situation. (Some of these verses may not be suitable for children!)

The cards offer not only a marvellous record of’ fashions of dress of the period but also commentary upon those who were tempted and fell as a result of the apparent gold rush – cobblers, reverends, lawyers, “a Brisk Young Gentleman”, and so on. The difference that wealth made to the marriage market is dwelt upon at length: and one of’ the many interesting sidelights on history disclosed by this pack is that the status symbol most generally craved by the newly rich was as now a vehicle of transport; at that time a coach.

Transformation Playing Cards

These fascinating cards were first published in 1714. In addition to the usual suit and number markings, they bear figures and diagrams which can be used for fortune telling. A contemporary set of instructions for use is printed on two of the cards. (She’ll meet a tall dark stranger who’s accomplished at whist? You don’t say.)

Cards are made of thick white card, with image and characters on one side and blank white backs. Each deck of cards is supplied in its own handy white cardboard box.

Knavery of the Rump Playing Cards

In 1660 Charles II became king of England, after years of austerity under a Commonwealth government which had condemned unproductive forms of enjoyment, such as playing at cards. But it was not until 1679 that a pictorial pack of playing cards was published which satirised the personalities and events of Commonwealth rule. This is a facsimile of that pack. 

The illustrations on the cards offer a rare visual impression of the times. The satirical element involves presenting the personalities in various unfamiliar occupations and costumes, and we see not only the military warring factions, but the humbler souls of town and countryside in traditional dress, the waggoners, shepherds, corset-makers, carpenters and so on. 

Fortune Telling Playing Cards

These fascinating cards were first published in 1714. In addition to the usual suit and number markings, they bear figures and diagrams which can be used for fortune telling. A contemporary set of instructions for use is printed on two of the cards. (She’ll meet a tall dark stranger who’s accomplished at whist? You don’t say.)

Cards are made of thick white card, with image and characters on one side and blank white backs. Each deck of cards is supplied in its own handy white cardboard box.

Prices from £15.

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