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|~~ Gallery 3 ~~
Sizes, Shapes and Colours
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patience and jumbo decks
shapes and colours
The traditional shape of playing cards is rectangular, and most decks have a standard size (about 6.5 ´ 9 cm, or 2½ ´ 3½ inches). Some regional patterns have their own specific sizes, which compared to an international Bridge deck may look slightly thinner, or longer, or shorter, etc., but they are still regular-sized decks.
The editions dealt with in this gallery, though, differ from the ordinary ones either because they are considerably smaller than the standard or (in a limited number of cases) because they are much larger. The scheme on the right roughly illustrates their proportions.
Other differences may concern the shape of the cards, or even the traditional colours of the suits; this page describes miniature editions; other sizes are described in page 2, and fancy shapes and colours in page 3.
1 - miniature decks
2 - patience decks
3 - regular decks
4 - jumbo decks
the white dots on one side of each picture are centimetres, which show the actual size of the cards
REFERENCE1 cm. = 3/8 inches
1 inch = 2,5 cm.
international pattern, recent editions from Japan (left)
and Hong Kong (above and in the small box bound to the keyholder)
Miniature cards are about half the size of a regular deck; some tiny editions are even smaller than this. The earliest samples known date back to the *** century; all of them were printed in Spain. Gradually, some editions, yet in fewer number, began to appear in other European countries, as well. Also during the 1900s, despite mass production techniques, the number of miniature editions printed by the many manufacturers remained rather limited, with the only exception of mini-decks featuring the standard international pattern.
But for the hands of a child these editions are surely more proportionate: in fact, they were originally devised for very young players, either to mimic adults, or to play actual games with them. In times when cards were hand-made, only children of wealthy families may have been able to afford mini-decks. This gives reason for the luxury finish that some of the extant samples boast. In time, rich editions were replaced by much more popular ones, that everybody could afford, yet made in a much more cheaper way.
Decks of this size are rather uncomfortable to shuffle and handle, so they are often considered only collectable items, or fancy gadgets (a typical variety are the decks housed in small plastic holders bound to keyholders).
international pattern, from Italy
The tradition of letting children play with miniature cards remained entrenched in southern Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain, and in countries with a Spanish cultural background (central and south America). Particularly in Italy, most editions clearly state this purpose on the box, or the wrapper.
left: "Small Playing Cards
for Children", by Stella
right: "Small Playing Cards",
by Nannina (Italy, 1960s);
"Small Playing Cards",
by Modiano (Italy, 1960s)
In countries where regional patterns are used, not only mini-decks featuring the international pattern are available, but often also editions with local designs. Instead fancy patterns, so common in standard-sized editions, are never printed in miniature versions.
left: Castilian pattern, by Comas (Spain) and Catalan pattern from Argentina (unknown manufacturer);
right: Tuscan pattern by Dal Negro (Italy) and Genoese pattern by Masenghini
In countries where a monopoly tax used to be imposed on regular playing cards, mini-decks were exempted from such duty (whereas patience-sized editions, described in page 2, were subject to bear the same tax stamp as standard decks). This clearly shows how mini-editions have always been kept in a different consideration, almost as if they were toys rather than real decks of cards.
Sicilian pattern by Stella (Italy), 1970s
Neapolitan pattern: a 1960s edition by Tre Stelle (Italy)
and a recent one by Masenghini (Italy);
the old edition has reversed subjects (left-right)
The quality of most mini-decks used to be, and sometimes still is, rather poor: made from thin pasteboard, with no coating, square corners, and often a not very accurate print, either, with slightly off-centred subjects. This made them particularly ephemeral, explaining why very few old samples have survived, and probably although why not many playing card collectors have an interest for this particular branch of the hobby.
In recent years several manufacturers have considerably improved the average quality of their mini-decks; however, this kind of product is rarely made with the purpose of lasting very long.
tiny Swiss-suited (left)
and French-suited (right)
by Editoy (Switzerland)
Piacentine pattern: a 1960s edition by Modiano (Italy)
and (bottom row) a recent one by Masenghini (Italy);
the old edition has obsolete single-headed courts
Despite their humble nature, sometimes mini-decks too may be of some interest to the 'serious' collector. For instance, some old editions may bear obsolete patterns, such as the one shown on the left. Another peculiar sample from Italy is the one below: this bizarre edition looks like a medley of regional patterns, as it is not fully consistent with any of the official ones known, but apparently borrows from some of them several typical details, mixed up in a unique design.
hybrid regional pattern by Stella (Italy),
late 1940s - early 1950s
Lombard pattern, by Stella (Italy, 1940s-1950s)
and Trevigiane, by Masenghini (Italy, recent edition)
A picture of an uncut sheet of Italian mini-cards by the obsolete manufacturer Pignalosa is shown in gallery 13, page 2.
enlargement of the Tower
Also miniature editions of tarot decks exist. One of the smallest ones ever made is this classic Marseille pattern by Il Meneghello (Italy), measuring 1.4 x 2.5 cm. (½ x 1 in.), but still showing a reasonably sharp detail, as the enlargement on the left clearly shows.
a sample of the mini-Tarot, and its package
The deck is housed in a cute mini-folder of thick cardboard, bound by a string.
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