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Suit System:Swiss
Recommended Name:  Swiss German pattern.


The Swiss German suit system is nowadays foünd only in one pattern. The first distinct pattern with these suit signs seems to have originated in Basle around 1530. The design of the small sized Basle cards is considered the precursor of the Swiss German pattern. This is obvious in the numeral cards, especially in the 10s and deuces; the under of bells was already a jester. But it is equally obvious that the 16th century courts look very different from their modern successors. We do not know when and where these major modifications occured.

One reason for our ignorance is the lack of Swiss pattern cards from the 17th century produced in the country. All of the surviving examples were made in Epinal, Lorraine; their size and designs are already closer to the modern ones. The Epinal kings are no longer seating on chests, but on royal thrones, and most of the figures show the postures they still have nowadays. The main differences to the modern pattern are to be found in details of clothing and accessories.

Around 1700 cardmaking in the country started up again. The Epinal type continued to be produced, but a new type of design was used in a pack by Rochus I Schär, Baden, dated 1743. The main characteristics of this "Schär type" are the designations König, Ober, Unter (later Under) on the respective court cards. A significant detail is the jester's three-pointed cap. The Epinal jester had a cap without points, the bells being fixed directly to the cap. The Schär type became dominant, but Hurter in Schaffhausen still made both types by 1850; the last example of the Epinal type seems to have been produced around 1926 in Altenburg.

Double-headed versions were created by David II Hurter and Robert Wyss of Mümliswil as early as 1860. The standard pattern of the 19th century, though, was a single figure pack of the Schär type, developed by the cardmakers of Schaffhausen.

Around 1880, Bühlmann of Hasle created a slightly modernized single figure pack. This novelty from a small rural factory had no chance of becoming the prevailing pattern. Around 1920 Müller introduced a double figure pack; his artist J. Peyer chose Bühlmann's modernization for redrawing. This was to become the current Swiss pattern. For decades the single figure pack (based on the Schär type of Hurter/Müller) and the double figure pack (based on the Schär type of Bühlmann) were used side by side. Production of the single figure pattern ceased by 1960.

The pattern resisted further attempts at modernization. Neither the artwork by Egbert Moehsnang (1982) nor the 3D design by Inauen (2001) were accepted. The version by Piatnik, Vienna, is based on the old Hurter/Müller single figure pack.

Characteristic features

The most characteristic feature is the Swiss suit system. All courts are male and bear their rank in full written form: König etc. Five of the Obers and Unders are smokers. The Under of bells is a jester, the Under of shields holds a letter. The 10s show a banner with the suit symbol on it.


36 cards: Deuce, King, Ober, Under, numerals 10-6. The older pack with 48 cards (no aces) is still produced in small quantities for the game of Kaisern.

Some makers

Rochus Schär, Baden, and his descendants in Mümliswil, 18th century.

David Hurter father and son, Schaffhausen, first half of the 19th century.

Joh. Müller and descendants, Diessenhofen, later Schaffhausen, 1835 until now.

A. Bühlmann, Buttisholz, later Hasle, c.1860-80.

In the 20th century, all Swiss and many foreign makers produced the pattern

Some references

Walter Haas: Jasskarten ausländischer Fabrikanten 1: Deutsche Farben, in: Cartophilia Helvetica, 1/1997, pp.14-17.

Detlef Hoffmann: Schweizer Spielkarten 1: Die Anfänge im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert. Schaffhausen 1998.

Max Ruh: Schaffhauser Spielkarten. Zürich 2005.

Schweizer Spielkarten, Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Zürich. Zürich 1979.

Swiss German Pattern

Illustration of Swiss German pattern (jpg 960 x 1146)
Upper row: Epinal type, Franz-Leonz Schär, Mümliswil, c.1775;
middle row: Schär type, David II Hurter, Schaffhausen, c.1850;
bottom row left: A. Bühlmann, Hasle near Burgdorf, c.1880;
bottom row right: J. Müller, Schaffhausen and Hasle, c.1925.

The International Playing-Card Society 3/2007 WH

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