Playing Cards: Germany (Spielkarten)

Scharfskoph Deck

This German deck pictured on the left was donated to the collection in 1976. A rectangular box (not pictured) that holds the cards is made of clear plastic. The top of the box is 1.9cm thick x 6.2cm wide x 10.6cm long. The bottom of the box is 1.7cm high x 6.1cm wide x 10.3cm long. Vertical sides along the length have a small semicircle made of raised plastic lines. The center of the top underside has the manufacturer's logo engraved into the surface. The cards were manufactured by Altenburger und Stralsunder, Stuttgart, Germany.

This is a 36 card deck used for playing the game of Schafkopf (sheep's head). Each of the cards are 10cm long x 5.2cm wide. Each back (upper left) holds an elaborate green and white design with a shield in the center. The pattern is known as a "Bavarian" regional pattern.

There are four suits:

There are 12 face cards, 3 in each suit, which include a KING (K), an OVER-KNAVE (Ober), and an UNDER-KNAVE (Unter). There is no queen. Before indices were used, the denomination of earch card could be read from the position of the suitcolor - at the top as in the first two rows, or in the middle as in the bottom row.

Each suit includes an ACE. An example from the "hearts" suit can be seen in the sixth row, second card under the card back. Each ACE is elaborately printed: the Ace of Hearts has the manufacturer's logo and a cupid. Not in the photograph: the Ace of Acorns has a little boy sitting on a barrel holding a tankard; the Ace of Bells has a boarhound leaping upon a quarry; the Ace of Leafs has a large elaborate sceptor. Number cards are from six through ten. All cards are double-headed. (The entire deck is not pictured in the photograph.)

Skat Deck

The 32 card deck pictured at the right is for the game of Skat. Not all the cards are pictured. This is a modified humorous version of a standard pattern that is known as the "North-German" or "Berlin" pattern. This regional pattern uses the French suitcolors.

The deck was manufactured by Pelikan, Germany and donated to the collection in 1980. The box pictured on the upper-left is 3.7cm long x 2.6cm wide x 1.2cm thick. This small deck is used for playing the game while traveling.

The 32 cards are each 3.5cm long x 2.5cm wide. Each suit includes a KING (K), a QUEEN (D), a JACK (B), an ACE. The numbered cards are from seven through ten. Suit symbols are in the French-English style - spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs - rather than in a traditional German style. However, the card symbols appear on all four corners of each card.

Also note that the face cards have stylized cartoon-like designs.

Patience Deck

The contemporary German deck pictured on the left was acquired in 1975. It is a reproduction of a deck first made by Schmid Spielkarten in Germany in the 1920s. The case is 2cm long x 5cm wide x 4cm thick and is made of soft plastic. A small strip on the front holds down the top flap. There are two decks in the case which is pictured at the bottom of the photograph.

Cards are 2.25cm wide x 3.5cm high. In general, these cards are smaller than other decks, and are intended for use in playing a number of "solitare games", but they can still be used for a range of playing card games. There are 52 cards in each of the decks.

The French national suit symbols are used rather than the traditional German symbols. Numbered cards are marked in all four corners. However, face cards are marked with "K" for king, "D" for queen, and "B" for jack or knave. Face cards are doubled headed and are stylized portraits of historic personages. There are two jokers in each deck. Each joker is pictured as a jester (last row, lower right).

17th Century Deck

In the 1970s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), reproduced various cards made in Germany before 1700. This reproduction double deck sold in the Met's Gift Shop and was purchased in 1981. The reproduction took into account that the cards would for the most part be used in North America, and thus were designed accordingly.

The double box is 9.5cm long x 13.5cm wide x 1.75cm thick, and is made of cardboard with a type of flocking on the top. The top pictures the backs of both decks enclosed in the box. Each deck includes 52 playing cards, two jokers, and an information sheet.

Each of the cards is 8.75cm long x 6.25cm wide. While the suit symbols on the reproduction are not typically German, the other aspects of the cards are traditional. The aces have a colourful parrot sitting on a sapling. Supposedly, the parrot represents "conjugal fidelity" according to the information about the decks included in the box. Cards 2 through 5 have a snake coiled at the base of a flowering tree - representing "malice and jealousy". Face cards have figures dressed in 17th century theatrical costumes. Each of the four suits includes 13 cards, or which three are the face cards; numbered cards are Ace through ten.

Information about other German decks in the collection can be found on the "Fortune Telling Deck" page.

NOTE: This page was originally created and posted on the Web on February 28, 1995. Subsequently it has been modified and periodically updated. Last update: June 13, 2010