Wilhelm Tell cards are fairly common in the Central and Eastern Europe: Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, western Romania and southern Tyrol. It is a rather beautiful pattern, full of interesting details. The pack has the German suits: hearts, acorns, leaves and bells. Generally, as far as I know, the packs have 32 or 36 cards: 2 (functioning as an ace), king, over, under, 10, 9, 8 and 7 in each suit.
The overs and unders are characters from the William Tell legend (particularly the William Tell play by Friedrich Schiller), hence the name. The over of acorns is Wilhelm Tell himself. The kings are anonymous. The aces feature the four seasons, which is why this pattern is also known as Four Seasons.
The pack was invented by Schneider József, a master card painter from Pest, in 1837. Hungarian Schneider chose the Swiss revolutionary Tell, because using Hungarian characters in the pack would’ve drawn too much attention from the government censors. Funny enough, this pack is not used at all in Switzerland, even though Tell is a Swiss character.
At least Piatnik sells these cards as Doppeldeutsche (Schnapskarten and others), magyar kártya, Mariáš Dvojhlavý or dvouhlavý and with other names, in various pack sizes (24, 32, 33).
Wilhelm Tell Wilmoś (no. 2867) from Piatnik Editions is a reproduction pack. The box attributes it to Salamon Antal, Keczkemet. Keczkemet is in Hungary, near Budapest. There are no dates in the cards or the box, so I have no idea how old this pack is. I would appreciate even short historical notes in these historical reproductions, because there’s very little information available in the Internet.
Anyhow, it is a neat pack. The cards look very old: the colours are unprecise, the background is brown and spotty, but the pictures have some character and style. Of course the material of the cards is excellent, they just look old and worn.
It’s fun to compare the cards to the newer versions: obviously they are in the same tradition. The court cards are different, but the smaller pictures in the number cards are more alike in the old and new packs. The new packs are better for playing, but for artistic reasons this pack is well worth having (and it’s possible to play games with it, too, no problem about that).
The name, by the way, is cleverly German-Hungarian: William Tell is Wilhelm Tell in German (and in Finnish, too) and Tell Wilmoś in Hungarian, as Hungarian names are written with last name first and first name last.
Piatnik magyar kártya (No. 1812 for blue, 1813 for red and 1816 for mini version) is a modern Hungarian version of the pack with 32 cards. Magyar kártya means “Hungarian cards”. The cards have texts in Hungarian, so Spring is Tavasz, Summer is Nyár, Autumn is Ösz and Winter is Tél. All the names have their Hungarian forms, as well.
The pictures have mostly the same topics as in the old version, but these are different pictures. Funny detail: in the seven of Hearts, there’s a rider wounded by an arrow. There are two bushes in the bottom corners of the card. In the old version above and in the modern pack with German texts, there’s a small dude in one of the bushes looking guilty. In this version the dude is missing.
It’s interesting, these small details, how the pack has certain standard topics: 8 of Hearts shows a man standing in a small boat, 8 of Bells is the Tell family, 9 of Bells has a wooden fence and a stick with a hat and so on. It’s a standard pattern, but with individual variations. The pictures are detailed and rather lovely. (Actually, Richard Heli’s Customs: Card Games of the Donauschwaben in 18th- and 19th-century Hungary has explanations for the different scenes.)
This Hungarian pack, apparently the traditional standard pack used in Hungary. It’s a practical pack; even though it’s pretty, it’s also good for games. Of course, it’ll take some getting used to, since there are no corner indices. Number cards have Roman numerals. In the court cards, Over and Under are indicated by the location of their suit symbol (top for Over, bottom for Under). Kings have crowns and horses, and no names. It’s slightly confusing at first, but it’s easy to learn.
The Hungarians use these cards for Ulti (one of the most complicated versions of Marriage games), Zsírozás (interesting variant of Finnish Ristikontra), Preferansz (the local variation of Preference) and many others.
Piatnik Doppeldeutsche (No. 1883 for red Blitz back, 1884 for Karo back pictured here, 1846 for the extra-large Kaffeehaus version and 1808 for Ornament back pictured above; 1885 for Blitz with 36 cards and 1886 for Karo with 36 cards), Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten (No. 1756 for red Blitz back, 1760 for Karo back and 1730 for Ornament back), Mariáš dvouhlavý (No. 1848) or Mariáš dvojhlavý (No. 1809) — whew! So this is a fairly common pattern! This is the German version, with all the names and seasons in their German form. It is used in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and probably other places as well.
The Doppeldeutsche packs have 32 cards (A, K, O, U, 10, 9, 8, 7), except for the ones with 36 cards (adding sixes). Doppeldeutsche Schnapskarten has 24 cards (just A, K, O, U, 10, 9), even though Schnapsen is, as far as I know, these days usually played with just 20 cards. Mariáš packs have 33 cards: the regular 32-card pack and the six of bells with acorn and heart symbols and the text “WELI”. This is generally an Austrian feature, I believe, but apparently it is used elsewhere as well.
One would think that the Hungarian and German versions of the pattern are the same except for the texts, but that is not correct. As I said above, the patterns differ. They look the same, but they are different — the devil is in the details, there are subtle differences. Otherwise this is the same, all the basic features of the packs are the same.
I have the Slovakian Mariáš pack and the Schnapskarten pack (and two copies of the Hungarian pack — accidentally — and the historical reproduction pack), which gives me a nice selection of these Wilhelm Tell packs. I’ve found these packs intriguing and interesting: the way the cards tell a story and feature named characters is very charming. These are also very good playing-cards once you get to know them.