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Harlequin Playing Cards

card deck

Though the history of playing cards goes back hundreds of years, novelty transformation decks were a relatively recent development. Transformation cards began as a pastime at the beginning of the 19th century, when people "transformed" standard card faces by hand with pen and ink. They often developed elaborate designs around the suit symbols printed on the cards, incorporating the symbols into the design itself. Spades became bodies; hearts became faces; diamonds, cuffs and collars; and clubs, fat noses. Many designs become so elaborate that the cards could no longer be used for games. Tiffany & Company of New York sent decks of these "Harlequin" transformation cards to its credit customers as gifts in 1879. Designed by C. E. Carryl, the humorous transformation deck was intended as a company advertisement.

  • Artist: C. E. Carryl
  • Manufacturer: Tiffany & Co.
  • Material: printed cardboard
  • Origin: London, England
  • Style: transformation
  • Object ID: 81.1212
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