October 2018



During the last weekend there was a large general collectors fair in Nieuwegein (Netherlands). This year there were 2 surprising, high quality items that Joop spotted. The first was a marble table top with a hand painted tromp l'oeil of playing cards on it. The price was rather high and Joop had to remind himself that we collect playing cards first and that artifacts with playing cards come second. The other surprise was a hand painted transformation deck, probably Dutch. The 52 illustrations must have been done by a professional painter, as they are all very delicate, detailed and the watercolor technique is of a stunning quality. Unfortunately the seller wasn't selling it until she had a better idea of prices. But... we have her email address!


For this month we chose a deck that had been on our wish list for years and was one of the about 350 reasons to buy the LB collection. The deck was supposed to be the highlight of the Dondorf decks, the ultimate example of the company's craftsmanship in design and chromolithographic printing. And it is!
The 100th anniversary deck is the most elaborate deck of the Dondorf company. It took 13 print runs to create this deck, so 13 times of preparing the stones and seeing to it that all the colors got in the right places. Each of the court cards doesn't just show a courtly figure, but presents a complete scene that fills up the background in soft colors. It shows the entourage of each of the courtly figures, but because it's done in hazy soft colors it emphasizes the courtly figure at the same time.

The courts are dressed in mediaeval costumes, that are richly decorated and show fine details. The printing was done on a smooth kind of card, but when you move your fingertip over the cards you can feel the "gold" details. Those must have been printed in the last run. It's not actual gold and when enlarged it looks like a combination of a somewhat darker bronze base with gold grains. In the light, under a certain angle the details look brighter, more gold like. However, under an other angle these details look mat and much darker and you can see that they are laying on the surface of the printed card. When you look at the crowns and see the measure of colored details within the "gold" layer, it speaks for the craftsmanship of the printers.
It is this quality of printing and design that has made the name Dondorf famous all around Europe and in some other parts of the world. We know Dondorf for their playing cards, but the company has produced bonds and banknotes as well as labels, postcards and all kind of printed matter. 



is an established story among collectors that this deck was -while celebrating their 100th anniversary- the deck that brought the Dondorf company down in 1933. It is true that in that year the Dondorf factory in Frankfurt am Main came in the hands of the Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkartenfabriken (VASS). But.....


is that the financial situation was so difficult that in 1929 the Dondorf board had already decided to split up the company in six parts and sell each of them separately. In that year the playing card manufactory was sold to Flemming & Wiskott AG from Glogau and the games publishing house was sold to J.W. Spear & Son from Nürnberg. Flemming & Wiskott kept the printing factory in Frankfurt and kept publishing decks under the name Dondorf. Even the VASS kept the name Dondorf for a while in their assortment.


On the aces the pips have a gold colored outline and are set against an embellished shield-like shape.


Although all the other courts have 2 individuals from their entourage in the background, the Jack of Clubs seems to stand alone. He is holding a fierce looking horned helmet and his world is one of banners and lances. There's only what seems to be a swan-shaped helmet and part of a shield with a swan on his left.

The title and maker of the deck are printed on the 4 of Hearts. The deck comes with 2 jokers and a bridge score card from 1932.

A reprint of this deck was printed in 9 colors offset by the ASS in 1975 and was published as "Gothic" between 1976 and 1983. It can easily be recognized, because a different non-figurative back design was used. Earlier this year a new edition was created by Lotrek Oath, a young graphic designer, who had already published some non-standard decks of his own design. This new publication wasn't presented as a reproduction, but as a digital restoration. We decided to buy the double deck and compare it with the original deck. If you're interested to see the results. It's only a CLICK away.