Playing-card review 6: Wilhelm Tell cards

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 Wilmos back

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.

Wilhelm Tell Wilmos Wilhelm Tell Wilhelm Tell Wilmos Summer Wilhelm Tell Wilmos 7

Magyar karty back

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.

Magyar karty King of Acorns Magyar karty VII of Hearts Magyar karty Osz

Doppeldeutsche back

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.

Doppeldeutsche Wilhelm Tell Doppeldeutsche Sommer Doppeldeutsche VII of Hearts

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.

Playing-card review 6: Piatnik Tarocks

Piatnik makes some very beautiful 54-card Austrian-style Tarock packs with French suits . The first of my playing-card reviews covered one of them; here are the rest. Start with that review, because the packs are actually all exactly the same on the front. What differs is the back and the presentation.

Two of the packs have two-part boxes while the rest are in tuckboxes. The two-part boxes are very nice. The material is thick and the boxes are very sturdy. They are easy to open; too easy, actually, so when traveling, the box needs a rubber band or something to keep shut. The tuckboxes look less impressive, but are more functional.

Piatnik No. 1903 Luxus Tarock has a shiny golden box with blue decorations and text; whether it says “Luxus” or “Kitsch” is a question of taste, I suppose. The back of the cards repeats the same blue-and-gold theme. Piatnik No. 1905 Jagd Tarock is a pack for hunters, as the name says (“Jagd” means “Hunt”). The box is simple green with some ornaments and the back of the pack has a painting of a deer.

Piatnik No. 1906 Persisches Allerfeinstes has a Persian theme, all swishy ornaments typical to Arabic art. The name claims high quality (if I understand the “Allerfeinstes” correctly), but the cards are of the same quality as other Piatnik cards.

Piatnik No. 1909 Kaffeehaus stands out. The cards are very large. It doesn’t appear so in the thumbnails below, but you can compare the actual images. While the regular Tarock cards are large, 63 x 113 mm, Kaffeehaus cards are huge: 74 x 129 mm. Why is that so, I don’t know, but apparently some coffee house card players in Austria have preferred these larger cards. Piatnik also has Kaffeehaus Doppel-Deutsche cards. Other than the size, there’s just one difference: the frame around the face cards is slightly more decorative than the simple thin line in other Piatnik Tarock cards.

Piatnik No. 1934 Blitz, No. 1935 Ornament and No. 1936 Karo are all very basic packs in standard tuckboxes, with different backs. These are common back patterns, too, for Piatnik, particularly Karo and Blitz (Kaffeehaus is Karo with slightly different colours). The different Ornament packs (Schnapskarten, Preference) have different ornament patterns, but are otherwise similar to this Tarock pack.

So, all are very good choices if you’re looking for a Tarock pack. If you need really, really large cards, Kaffeehaus is the way to go, but all of these are large enough for people with weaker eyes. Luxus and Jagd have the boxes, which are nice unless you plan to carry your cards around with you. The rest is just a question of taste; I myself prefer Blitz and Karo.

Top row: 1903 Luxus, 1905 Jagd, 1906 Persisches Allerfeinstes, 1909 Kaffeehaus. Bottom row: 1934 Blitz, 1935 Ornament, 1936 Karo.

Piatnik 1903 Tarock back Piatnik 1905 Tarock back Piatnik 1906 Tarock back Piatnik 1909 Tarock back
Piatnik 1934 Tarock back Piatnik Nr. 1935 card back Piatnik 1936 Tarock back

Playing-card review 5: Tarock and Schafkopf

ASS Tarock pack back

Piatnik Tarock/Schafkopf back

ASS Tarock Schafkopf Club and Piatnik Schafkopf Tarock (no. 182211). These packs (ASS on left, Piatnik on right) have the same Bayerisches Bild pattern with 36 cards. The Bavarian pattern has suits of acorns (Eichel), leaves (Graß), hearts (Herz) and bells (Schellen). The face cards have a king and two officers, Ober and Unter. While the pictures in both packs are clearly renditions of the same pattern, the quality of the drawings is substantially different.

The pip cards look pretty much the same, there are some differences there but which one is better is very much a question of taste and almost arbitrary. However, the face cards and the decorative aces (or twos, actually) are done in different styles. Piatnik has a lot more detail, fine lines and softer colours, while ASS has stronger pictures that look almost crude when compared to those in the Piatnik pack. My personal opinion is clear: Piatnik is much better. Even in the pip cards, I prefer Piatnik’s colours, which are slightly deeper and less bright.

Both packs are excellent in production quality, though. The material is strong and durable. The cards are quite a bit taller than standard playing cards (10 cm or 4″ tall, compared to a more typical 8.5 cm) but only slightly wider than usual. Thus, the cards appear tall, which is actually quite nice. All cards have indices — both suit and number — and the tens also have a large “X” in the top middle. Despite indices, Obers and Unters also have the suit symbols in the right place (up in Obers, down in Unters). All cards are double-headed.

The highlights and identifying features of the pattern are the seated kings and the decorative twos or aces (despite having indices “A, the aces clearly have two suit symbols, betraying their origin as twos). The ace of acorns features a naked cherub sitting on a barrel hoisting a tankard, with plants that look like hops. The ace of bells has a dog fighting a boar. The ace of leaves has a decorative cup with roses and the ace of hearts has Amor with his arrow.

Like the name says, these cards are used for Tarock and Schafkopf. For Schafkopf, though, the players need to toss away the sixes, and according to Card Games, these days many use 24 cards, which would make 24-card Schnapsen pack more attractive for Schafkopf. Bavarian Tarock, however, uses all 36 cards, and is a rather fine game.

Top row is ASS, bottom row is Piatnik.

ASS Tarock pack ace ASS Tarock pack six ASS Tarock pack ten of leaves
Piatnik Tarock/Schafkopf ace of acorns Piatnik Tarock/Schafkopf king Piatnik Tarock/Schafkopf unter

Dal Negro Salzburger back

Dal Negro Salzburger 24/D. This is a related pack from Italy, the only Italian regional pack with German suits. It is also known as Salisburghesi or Einfachdeutsch. The pack is used in Northern Italy, in the German-speaking regions. The pack often has 36 cards: Ace, King, Ober, Unter, 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 in every suit, but this pack from Dal Negro has also fives to make 40 cards (according to Andy Pollett, this is a standard practise these days). Italian-speaking people in Alto Adige use this pack to play Tressette.

This pack also has a WELI card, that is, the six of bells has a large “WELI” text in the top, an acorn and a heart and a fountain in the bottom. This card is used in some Tyrolean games played with a 33-card pack (number cards 7-10 in every suit and WELI).

The pattern is not the same as in the Schafkopf / Tarock packs described above, but very close. The kings are also seated, and the twos (or the aces) have mostly the same pictures. However, these cards are single-ended (thus the name Einfachdeutsch; the Bavarian pattern is known as Doppeldeutsch in Austria, where this Salzburger pattern is also used). The court cards are rather beautiful, and the number cards have all sorts of little drawings (animals, hunting scenes, farm life) in the bottoms under the pips.

However, the double-ended cards are much better for playing games, which is the very reason why the Doppeldeutsche pack is double-ended these days. Add to that the lack of indices, and this pack becomes less attractive for games. The only way to tell Obers from Unters is to look at the location of the suit symbol in the card.

Thus, the pack is mostly interesting for art or authenticity — if you’re looking for a pack to play with, I would suggest one of the above Tarock packs.

Dal Negro Salzburger Ace of Acorns Dal Negro Salzburger king of hearts Dal Negro Salzburger WELI

Playing-card review 4: Piacentine and Napoletane by Modiano and Dal Negro

This time I’m taking a look at some Italian regional packs. I happen to have two copies of the Piacentine pack by different makers, which offers some comparison possibilities. Italy has 16 different regional packs, which are divided to four different styles: northern Latin suits, southern Latin suits, French suits and German suits. Both Piacentine … Continue reading Playing-card review 4: Piacentine and Napoletane by Modiano and Dal Negro

Playing-card review 3: Doppelkopf packs by ASS and Piatnik

This time I’m taking a look at some Doppelkopf packs. These packs have 48 cards, but they are actually made of two 24-card packs. Thus, the packs have A, K, Q, J, 10, 9 in each suit twice. Doppelkopf is a very good game, developed from Schafkopf. In Doppelkopf, or Doko as it’s also known, … Continue reading Playing-card review 3: Doppelkopf packs by ASS and Piatnik

Playing-card review 2: Modiano Tarocco Siciliano, Noblet Tarot de Marseille

This time I’m taking a look at some Tarot packs that are perhaps better suited for enjoyment as art, not as playing-cards. Modiano Tarocco Siciliano. The first thing one notices is the small size. The cards are as wide as typical Bridge cards, but even shorter. Thus, they are a lot smaller than Tarot cards … Continue reading Playing-card review 2: Modiano Tarocco Siciliano, Noblet Tarot de Marseille

Playing-card review 1: Piatnik 1935, Carta Mundi Versailles

As a new feature I’m going to review playing-cards. There are quite a few different packs available and finding information about them is hard. So, here’s something and more to come, especially if I get any encouragement. Piatnik Tarock 54 Blatt Nr. 1935. This is an Austrian-style 54-card Tarock pack. That is, 22 trumps and … Continue reading Playing-card review 1: Piatnik 1935, Carta Mundi Versailles