The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Ordinary playing cards

Card playing was wildly popular among the Russian nobility. The Imperial Playing Card Factory was established in St. Petersburg in 1817, but most playing cards were imported (and most of those from England) for decades. By the late 1840s, Russian production had skyrocketed and millions of packs were used each year.

Even a quick glance at these cards from the 1820s will give you a sense of how different the geographic playing cards are - both in purpose and design. These are based on the Paris design, which featured double-ended designs. Other than the Russian Imperial tax stamp on the ace of diamonds, you would hardly know that this deck was made in St. Petersburg (rather than any other European city at the time).

Playing card production was a thriving business, however, and there was an appetite for diversity, luxury, and national themes. The geographic playing cards at the center of "Deal" are only one example. Here is another, from the late imperial period. This deck plays on the "Russian" national style championed in art and architecture during the reign of Tsar Alexander III (1881-1894).

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