Playing cards with the Habsburgs


Emperor Franz Joseph as King of Hearts, Empress Elisabeth as Queen of Hearts. Playing card games with crowned heads was the successful idea of the Viennese playing card company Piatnik.

In 1850 the playing card manufacturer Ferdinand Piatnik, a staunch supporter of the Austrian Imperial Family, brought out a set of tarock (tarot) playing cards called ‘Scenes from the History of the Fatherland’ depicting five hundred years of Habsburg history in pictures and text. The set also contained cards on particular individuals bearing additional information, and an accompanying leaflet allowed the players to further expand their historical knowledge.

Another special pack was the 1898 edition known as the ‘Imperial Jubilee Cards’ produced to mark the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph. Franz Joseph, Elisabeth and their children were depicted on the ‘king’ cards; the Imperial couple as King and Queen of Hearts, Emperor Franz II (I) and Emperor Ferdinand as Kings of Spades and Clubs respectively, and the three daughters of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth as Queens of Diamonds, Spades and Clubs. Today originals of these cards are very hard to find (although there have been modern reprints). Presumably Emperor Franz Joseph had most of them to be bought up and pulped as there was disapproval of the way the hierarchy had been portrayed. The appearance of a monarch on playing cards for the common people may also have been considered inappropriate by the Imperial Household.

Anita Winkler