Sunday, December 27, 2020

Play your cards right

The 'Twixmas' period is the perfect time for having fun with family, when many of us dig out the packs of cards and challenge each other to a game. So we thought we'd have a root in our Toys and Games collection for some ideas to pass the winter evenings. From traditional trick-taking and trumps, to more obscure offerings, we found some real aces.


We are all familiar with the humble playing card thanks to a long tradition dating back to the 14th century when playing cards first arrived in Europe. They most probably came to the West via India and Egypt from China, where they were likely invented along with the pioneering of paper and printing. Originally lavishly hand illustrated, playing cards were the preserve of the rich until advances in printing technology made them cheaper and more readily available to the masses. The backs of cards were left blank until the 19th century. They were first decorated to avoid cheating by marking cards but manufacturers soon saw the advertising potential. Playing cards are often now produced as promotion items like this pack advertising Wakefield based brewery, Beverleys.


Playing cards advertising Beverleys Beers, John Waddington Ltd, c. 1950s - 1970s


The four suits we are so familiar with in Britain today originate from France. The global popularity of whist and bridge meant the Anglo-French suitmarks became the international standard, although national variations remain.

Trump indicator used in whist. Whoever played the highest scoring clubs card would have won the trick in this round. 

The tabs on this whist marker lift up to indicate the score. The large tabs are for points scored in the round and the smaller tabs for number of rounds won. This is an exquisite example of a Shibayama marker exported from Japan- it is lacquered and inlaid with precious stones like mother of pearl.

Bridge set in Bakelite case, Seaforth, 1930s - 1950s

There are countless games to be played with a standard 52 card deck, whether single player or for teams or large groups. But we have also found a variety of other card decks in the collection, some educational and some a little more frivolous.

Counties of England, Jacques & Sons 

Counties of England is a geographical variation on Happy Families. Players compete to complete a county by collecting all the appropriate town cards. The winner collected the most counties. Of course, the real victor is whoever collects Yorkshire!



Beat Your Neighbour is a catch and collect game- the aim is to claim all your opponents’ cards. Without looking at their hand, each player turns over a card in turn. If someone plays a Put card, the next player has to surrender that number of cards. If they do not turn over a Put card themselves, the previous player claims the pile. There are many varieties of Beat Your Neighbours card, each with different themed illustrations.


Snip Snap, Stanfield Holdings, 1970s

Snip-Snap is a matching game with a difference. It was designed to help the British adapt to the new decimal currency system introduced in 1971. Players won cards by being the first to spot pairs. They would shout ‘Snip’ for a matching pair of decimal coins or ‘Snap’ for two identical old currency cards. When a pre-decimal card is matched with its new currency equivalent, players must declare, ‘Snip-Snap!’ whilst being careful not to call an incorrect pair and be forced to forfeit a card to each of their opponents.

Pit, John Waddington Ltd

Pit is a trading game mimicking a corn exchange. The cards represent different crops (9 cards for each of the 7 grains) and players vie to be the first to complete a full set. Players trade cards with each other, declaring the number of cards they wish to swap but not revealing the commodity. The traders all shout out their offers at once resulting in a high energy, high volume competition. Each complete set has a different points value and the victorious trader is the first to reach 500 points.

Muggins, R&S, early 20th century
There are no winners as such in this game - rather the objective is not to be the Muggins, the last player left holding any cards. There are four packs of cards numbered 1-25 that are shuffled and shared out by the dealer. The aim is to reunite the cards into their four groups. Each player takes it in turns to discard as many cards as they can but cards must be played in numerical order, either ascending from 1 or descending from 25. If you don't have the next number in the sequence, you must instead accept a card into your hand from each of your opponents.

Muggins promises 'roars of laughter'. As a nation, we have been enjoying card games for centuries. Which is your favourite?  Let us know what you've been playing these holidays in the comments and over on social media.

If you'd like more inspiration for games to enjoy this Christmas, check out Old Fashioned Fun and don't forget you can browse our Toys and Games collection online

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