House of Cards | London Metropolitan Archives

Clerkenwell’s London Metropolitan Archives holds many treasures, including probably the UK’s largest collection of antique playing cards. Around 90% of the 12,000 packs are stored on behalf of The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards and the rest belong to the City of London. The LMA’s Jeremy Smith gives us a behind-the-scenes look

Morden’s Map Cards

When: 1670s

“Each Morden’s Map Card shows a county and key facts about it.They were produced by Robert Morden of Cornhill in the 1670s and indicate, with amazing detail, contours of the land and road links.”

Redmayne’s Cards

When: 1717 – 1731

Redmayne’s Cards are also map cards, “with smaller maps but more information,” says Jeremy. “They seem to have been the speciality of London shopkeeper John Lenthall, who was advertising them from 1717 to 1731.”


Austrian Tarock Cards

When: 1906

“Tarock is an Austrian card game. These colour lithograph cards are by the artist Ditha Moser. She was a member of, or in the circle of, the Vienna Secession movement. The bold designs are supposed to be suggestive of the artist’s childhood, and perhaps of wooden toys.”


Nõ Karuta (Japanese Drama Cards)

When: circa 17th Century

“The cards, from a pack of 100, form matching pairs depicting actors in costume,” says Jeremy. “The figures are thought to derive from the ‘Noh’ tradition of musical drama and the text is the characters’ catchphrases. These cards are exquisitely hand-painted with gold edges. They were probably produced in the 17th century, making them the oldest of the Japanese packs in the LMA collection.”


Stock-Jobbing Cards or The Humours of Change Alley

When: 1720

“Each scene in this 52-card pack satirises the follies of the speculators in the South Sea Bubble episode,” says Jeremy. The episode was the economic crisis of its day, as investors in the South Sea company faced ruin after their shares collapsed, and the founders were implicated in insider dealing. “The pack of cards was published in 1720 by Emanuel Bowen and sold by John Bowles from his shop in St Paul’s Churchyard.”

Beggar’s Opera Cards

When: 18th Century

“The words and music on this card are taken from John Gay’s hugely popular Beggar’s Opera.

“Beggar’s Opera cards were first published in 1728, when the production was first staged, but according to the tax stamp this particular set of the cards was issued in the 1750s.”


Transformation Cards

When: 19th Century

“These inventive cards appeared in England and Europe around the start of the 19th Century,” says Jeremy. Transformation cards, were all the rage with Victorian collectors and “incorporate the suits as part of a larger pictorial design.”

First… “An example from Fuller’s Transformation Cards produced in London in 1811. Each card seems to humorously represent a particular occupation or station in life.”

Second…“Fores Transformation Cards date from 1805 and show a diverse mixture of character types featuring the playing card suits, including a gardener, a farm girl, Hercules, Venus and, in this case, a sultan.”

Third…This humorous set, depicting hearts as sporrans is “interesting because it is hand drawn and no printed version is known. It was made in the 1820s and may come from Ireland.”

Fourth…The set showing clubs as soldiers’ headdresses are “Maclure MacGregor Macdonald Transformation Cards produced in England in the 1860s.”


Dante Gabriel Rossetti Cards

When: 19th Century

Rosetti, better known as a painter and poet, also turned his hand to playing card designs. “The designs were made when Rossetti was very young,” says Jeremy. His cards “are broadly satirical,” and poke fun at the preoccupation with money in early Victorian society. “The five designs were made onto one lithographic printing plate ready to be cut up after printing – but this is an uncut sheet.”


London Olympics Card

When: 1948

This card shows an unknown athlete running into Wembley Stadium with the Olympic torch during the London 1948 games. “Every year since 1882, the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards have produced a commemorative pack featuring a subject from the year or year just gone by. They favour things like anniversaries, royal events, sports events and discoveries.”

Queen’s River Procession Card

When: 1953

These commemorative cards are another of the Worshipful Company’s annual packs. They depict the Royal River pageant on July 22 1953, held six weeks after Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation. “The card shows a view from Waterloo Bridge towards the City,” says Jeremy.