L. P. Holmblad -Tarok

The text without illustrations.

Early Danish tarok decks

L.P.Holmblad and S.Salomon


Hans J. Hinrup


The earliest mention of playing-cards in Denmark dates from 1487, when King Hans (reigned 1481-1513), who was notorious for his gambling, again and again drew money from the Treasury to pay for his losses made in playing cards.

The earliest picture of playing-cards in Denmark is in a wall-painting in the manorhouse Hesselagergaard; it is from about 1538 and shows a nobleman fondling a lady(!) while playing cards in the garden.

The earliest existing pack of cards known to be printed in Denmark is a deck of Animal Tarok by the printer Jean Friedrich Mayer, who had the royal licence to print playing-cards from 1752 to 1783. He also printed a normal 52 card whist deck, as did his immediate successor Christoffer Ernst Süsz, who, together with a partner, also published a deck of Animal Tarok. From two contemporary printers of the time two whist decks are known.



The production of playing-cards by the Holmblad family started with the granting of a royal licence on September 30th 1820 to Jacob Holmblad (1791-1837). He published three whist decks and one more set of an Animal Tarok card, the last ever of this type to be made in Denmark. After his death in 1837, playing-card production was carried on by his son, Lauritz Peter Holmblad (1815-1890), and it was he who was the real founder and developer of the Holmblad Patterns. The royal licence to make playing-cards was formally transferred to him on December 24th 1841. In his yearly diary – he wrote only once a year – in 1887 he wrote: “The year that has passed has for me an not insignificant importance, as it is the fiftieth under my management; on the 17th of November 1837 my father ended his life on earth, and on the 18th of the same month I stepped in to head the then factories”.(1) Alas, card-making did not seem to be of the biggest interest to L.P.Holmblad. In all of his diary, running to about 150 pages, card-making is mentioned only three times and of these only one is of any significance and that is in 1865 where he writes: “The sole place to find consolation is in a quiet family life and in tending the factories in a satisfying way. Various improvements were introduced into my production this year, some in Copenhagen in my Card factory, such as a new printing machine, a lithographic press and a polishing machine, some in ..”(2) (”Det eneste sted hvor troest kan findes er i et stille familieliv og ved at roegte sine forretninger paa en tilfredsstillende maade. Forskellige forbedringer er i dette aar indført ved min fabrikation, dels i Koebenhavn ved min kortfabrik, som hurtigpresse, stenokopitrykmaskine samt polermaskine og dels ..”).

As a card collector it is of course disappointing, that playing-card producers do not wholly devote their life to printing decks and developing beautiful suits, but from the point of view of the producer, this trade is just as any other trade, one in which you put your efforts alongside all the other ventures you may be involved in. Nevertheless L. P. Holmblad stands as the most important card-producer in Denmark of all times. In his lifetime, the name of Holmblad became a brand name and on all decks, even today, it says ‘Holmblads Billeder. Eneret’ (Holmblad Pictures. Copyright), while on the Jack of Clubs ‘Holmblads Spillekort forretning’ (Holmblad Playing-Cards Shop). After 1890/92 the name S. Salomon & Co. was prefixed the Holmblad name, as the Book Printer S. Salomon (dates unknown) was the immediate successor and owner of the designs. Although the transmission of rights are somewhat unclear, Salomon’s name has survived the changing ownerships of the company through V.I.Jacobsen, Tage and Ingrid Aastrup, to the latest, Esselte/DYMO.


Tarok at this point had been known in Denmark from about 1750. There is little reason to believe that it was a game often played by common people because it is far too difficult. At that time, both whist and l’hombre were the most widely played games. To be successful, a playing card factory must base its production on the decks suitable for playing the most popular games which accounts for the manufacture of 52 card packs for e.g. whist. However there was perhaps a belief, that Tarok could gain a greater position. This may explain the publishing of the oldest Danish book on Tarok. It was published in the town of Randers in 1840 by the well-known printer J.M.Elmenhoff, it runs to 28 pages, has no author and carries the simpe title “Veiledning i Tarok” [Guide to Tarok]. In many places this guide presupposes a thorough knowledge of l’hombre, as for example in a sentence like the following: “if it was possible not to name the trump till after the bidding has ended, as is the case in Whist and L’hombre, then the interest of the game certainly would rise. In L’hombre, Boston and several other games, you know who is the common enemy, while in Tarok you must deduct this during the play if it was not revealed by the bids”. [“hvis det lod sig gjoere, som i Whist og Lhombre, at man ikke meldte Honneurerne foerend efter Spillets Ende, vilde Interessen derved unaegtelig forhoejes. I Lhombre, Boston og flere andre Spil veed Man, hvo der er den faelles Fjende; i Tarock derimod skal man slutte sig dertil af Spillets Gang, saafremt det ikke forud er oplyst ved Meldingerne” (p.14). This booklet on tarok only is one of a plethora of guidebooks on different games that were published  from as early as 1786 but especially after 1840 (3). In these booklets tarok was included but only in a secondary position. Just before ‘Guide to Tarok’ was published  Lauritz Peter Holmblad in 1837 had taken over all his fathers companies and it would seem probable, that his first deck of tarok was published concurrently with the abovementioned booklet on Tarok in 1840. This is the dating found in K. Frank Jensen’s catalogue.(4)

L P.Holmblad’s first deck of tarok is with completely new drawings, mainly with castles, churches and other prominent buildings in Copenhagen and environs, supplemented with sites and views of significance to the producer.

L.P.Holmblad was a student of polytechnics so it lay near at hand for him to choose these well known locations in preference of the former animal tarok pictures. K. Frank Jensen has tried to adduce arguments to prove that all the pictures have some sort of connection to L. P. Holmblad.(5) If these pictures were published at the end of L.P.Holmblad’s life it may have carried some weight but as Jensen sets the publishing date to 1840 this could not be the case. Holmblad would be too young, too little involved, – yet. A closer study of his life shows that his representative posts in society were initiated in 1846 but did not gain momentum till in the sixties and seventies (6). A first conclusion therefore must be, that we have to earmark the personal affiliation to just a few pictures.

Jensen dates the tarok decks to ca.1840, ca.1850-1860, ca.1860-1880 and a Salomon deck to ca.1905. There were four different series which he dubs LPH1 to LPH3 + Salomon.

LPH1 is very special, being the first series, and being the only one with single pictures. Already around 1820 Jacob Holmblad had been the first to introduce the double pictures, but here L.P.Holmblad allows six tarok cards to be full size. These six (nos.VI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX and XXI) are all with towering buildings, those of four churches, the Stock Exchange and a royal castle. The experiment was short-lived. All subsequent decks had double pictures.

Tarok no.III shows the Catholic Saint Ansgar Cathedral. This church was built by the German architect Gustav Friedrich Hetsch and was consecrated 1st of November 1842, which pushes LPH1 at least two years forward.

Tarok nos.XII and XV depict Thorvaldsen’s Museum. This is the only building with two cards depicting it, and the only one showing an interior, the inner courtyard. With hardly any archival material left from the card-factory exactly these two cards are vital in fixing the time of production.

Bertel Thorvaldsen (1768-1844) is one of the most famous Danish sculptors. A great part of his life he lived in Italy where he gained European reputation. At his height he was several times asked to accept the hospitality of different Royal Courts, with the implied offer of having a museum built for his works. However, he expressed a wish to have his works return to Denmark. Unfortunately Denmark was not in an economic position where such a wish easily could be

fulfilled. The national bankruptcy of 1813 was a thing of the recent past, and it was followed by a series of  company bankruptcies. Between 1816 and 1820 there were 248 such in Copenhagen, and in the beginning of the 1830ies an average of 13 per year added to the general economic cautiousness of the time. Many solutions were sought, and again Gustav Friedrich Hetsch was involved. He actually proposed to demolish the half-built Marble Church (7) and build the museum on that site.(8) This was seriously considered when under pomp and circumstance Thorvaldsen arrived in Copenhagen on the 17th of September 1838. His presence invigorated more plans until finally the king placed a location close to Christiansborg Castle at disposal for a museum. The chosen architect was a another favourite of the time,  Gotlieb Bindesbøll (1800-1856), a close friend of Thorvaldsen.  At the end of 1839 the construction began. In March 1844 Thorvaldsen died. His body lie waiting in Copenhagen Cathedral, Vor Frue Kirke, till it was transferred to its final resting place, his museum, a week before its opening on the 18th of September 1848. His coffin was placed below the inner court of his museum, and it is this inner court that we find on the Tarok no.XII with the tombstone clearly visible. Together with the finished building on Tarok no.XV this then dates LPH1 to be published at the earliest late 1848.

But even this is not the latest dating we can find.

LPH1 no.V shows the home of L.P.Holmblad and part of his glue factory. It is an exact copy of a painting by the artist F. C. Kiærschou (1805-1891). The original we find in the premises of Amager Bank. It is not dated, but in L.P.Holmblad’s diary he writes in 1851 that it depicts the new premises built in 1850.(9) In the same redecoration-process he mentions that he has bought several pieces by Thorvaldsen at an auction in Thorvaldsen Museum.

The final date for LPH1 therefore at the earliest can be late in the year 1850. This fits with a general assumption, that he just must have concentrated on keeping the production running in the first years after taking over in 1837. We must remember that he was still a young man and with no intimate experience in the diverse productions which he so suddenly was given charge of. Furthermore he had been a student in the previous years. Year by year he grasped the techniques, modernized the different companies and took in new production methods.

At first he worked within the privileges given to his father, but with the licence of 1841 he was finally on his own with respect to Card production.(10) Here he continued a production of the basic patterns with a gradual sophistication in printing techniques, but in 1847 the card production was seriously threatened, as a previous embargo on foreign playing cards was repealed. The animal tarot from his father’s time seemed no match to foreign patterns, and it is quite plausible, that this gave him the idea to have a new deck made.

A recent spectacular find gives us insight into the artistic process behind this and other early Holmblad decks. At a book-auction  in Copenhagen in December 2001 this author bought 60 original drawings from the Holmblad factory. They are drawings in pencil and in ink, and with a few annotations in Danish or German scribbled in pencil on them. Some of them have a tentative suit, but in many cases this was changed in the printed pack. From LPH1 we find four Kings, one Queen, three Knights and six Jacks! Four of these jacks, – two spades, one heart and one club, – seem to have been sketched at the same time as they are similar in paper and with the same border. Three of  them are fully detailed, but the spade and the heart has a short note saying ‘rejected’ [falder bort], while a scribble on the less detailed second spade says: “This one probably should be used rather than the other Jack of Spades” [Denne boer vel hellere bruges end den anden Spader Bonde] – in the end it was used for the Jack of Hearts! Another full sketch was made with a jack holding a bugle. This card has the comment: ”I think this one should be used instead of the other Jack of Hearts. The whole figure should raised a bit and a piece added at the bottom” [“Denne synes mig boer benyttes istedet for den anden hjerter bonde. Hele figuren haeves blot lidt og der tilsaettes et stykke for neden”].The last Jack we find in a quick sketch only.

LPH1 is stencil-coloured. The colours are pastel-like, delicate with an almost hesitating touch that gives the figures a sympathetic and gentle look. The look gets harsher for every new pack, ending with the Piatnik-produced Salomon pack where the contours are sharp and all faces have stark shadows. This notwithstanding it is always a beautiful pack. There are also direct changes from LPH1 through LPH2/3 to Salomon with a major one on all the Knights. In LPH1 they all look to the same side as their horse, while in the following editions the Knight and his horse look to each their side in Spades and in Clubs. Another obvious difference we find in the horse-reins. In LPH1 to LPH3 they are black, while with Salomon they are yellow. Further on we find the Queen of Spades wearing a nice summer hat on LPH1/2, but only with a small bonnet on LPH3 and Salomon. Similarly her dress has been changed.

If again we focus on the published packs, then we find the roman numerals IV and XIV on LPH1/2, while the same numbers on LPH3 are IIII and XIIII. Finally there is the change in the producer’s name, this we find on the Jack of Clubs. On LPH1/2/3 it says reverse-wise “L.P.Holmblads Fabrik i Koebenhavn/ L.P.Holmblads Fabrik i Koebenhavn”, but on Salomon there are two versions, one having “S.Salomon  & Co. Kjoebenhavn/“S.Salomon  & Co. Kjoebenhavn”, and another with “S.Salomon  & Co.Kjoebenhavn/Holmblads Spillekort Forretning”. Jensen dates this last change to around 1905.

This brings us back to the question of dating the different versions.

A close scrutiny of all the tarok cards shows us that every one of them has very minor changes when compared to the earlier edition, a tree may be bigger, more persones may stroll on the street, windows and roofs and shadows change. This is of no help, but then there is a complete change of motive on some cards.

There are no major changes from LPH1 to LPH2. The single pictures are made double, but there is no clue as to the date, so for the time being we just know that it is some years after 1852.

LPH3 has new pictures.

Tarok no.III now shows an Observatory built by Chr.Hansen between 1859 and 1861. This gives us the earliest date to be 1861. Tarok no.IIII shows Copenhagen University with the addition of a University Library built 1857 to 1861 thereby supplementing the above dating. The Tarok no.V gives a new view of the Glue Factory. Glue of course is an integral part of the card production but depicting it I more see as an indication of Holmblad’s love to this part of his businesses also encompassing soap, oil, candles and sealing wax. This was where he lived, this was where he made the greatest technical advances, and it was from this vantage point of his that he viewed Copenhagen as seen on Tarok no.XIII. The card factory is on no.II and contrary to no.V and other pictures it is devoid of people and of action. Even when the cards of LPH3 were made livelier with more people and horses and boats, the factory was still just a square building, no more. From LPH1/2 to LPH3 it has two signboards  replaced with four on the outer wall. Hurray! But the Glue factory, … the Glue factory offers a dating. Hurray! It had a new warehouse built in 1869 (11), and that warehouse is prominently placed in the picture. This pushes the date of LPH3 to at least 1869 but we must go further, because the New Customs Building on Tarok no.VII was not opened till 1876 (12). On LPH1 no.XI a bathhouse, The Rysensteen Bath, was replaced on LPH3 with the new National Bank. It was in opened in 1871, within our present limit. The view from the Glue Factory onno.XIII was replaced by the new Industrial Exhibition Building from 1872. This is a milestone in the history of  the Holmblad Factories, as he exhibited several of his products at this national event. Here in 1872 we are given the sole example of a transformation-card in the history of Danish card-making! Several small pamphlets were issued for visitors who seemingly were in for some fun. Many of the pamphlets are full of cartoons and stories about Copenhagen, and in one of them there is a cross-looking transformation-card “queen” of Clubs wearing a bonnet.(13)

We end up with LPH3 being printed about 1876.

The pictures of the Salomon Tarok differ ever so slightly from LPH3, mainly it is discernible in the outline of trees, but there are two major changes. First of all the card factory has been replaced by the Salomon retail store. Secondly we now have a new printer of the deck, Piatnik of Vienna, and it is their factory in Hütteldorfer Strasse we find on Tarok no.5. This factory was built in 1891 giving the earliest date possible. A lilac-coloured tax stamp on the Ace of Diamonds had already fixed 1890 as the earliest year. Until then the tax stamp had been red. The final clue at the moment is given by Frank Jensen who has found an advertisement from 1892 stating that Salomon now had the full rights to the Holmblad Patterns. S. Salomon therefore published his own Tarok deck from 1892 till 1906 with his own name on the Jack of Clubs and with the former LPH3 reverse pattern of blue dot-leaves. In 1906 the new owners again inserted the ‘brand’ name of Holmblad in the Tarok and even saluted the Holmblad family by having a beautiful blue Jugend-design, purely Viennese, made for the reverse with the letter ‘H’ prominently in the center field.

Thus ends the Holmblad-Salomon Tarok series.

The Danish card-player and the Danish card-collector is in an enviable position. We have had a very old card-factory, whose designs are in use even today, and we have another newer factory whose designs also have been available intermittently for the last 50-odd years. These two main companies are Holmblad and Handa. The Danish card-player has always been in a position to choose among two sets of well-known pictures, according to his like, and the card-collector has a long span of time where variants surface now and then, and where small developments in printing techniques, in card quality, in the pips, and in general in the design add flavour to the haunt and hunt of decks.

At the same time Holmblad and Handa have published special editions of totally different patterns that give further  pleasure in collecting, registering and displaying. Here we just show a small series of the Holmblad Pattern A covering a span of about 150 years.

Apart from the two main factories there have been a fair number of smaller firms that have published decks over shorter spans of time. Here we may add, that all factories have had decks printed abroad with Danish pips or with Danish boxes. These decks have been printed by Wüst, Dondorf, Genechten, De la Rue and Waddington just to mention a few. Add to this a small amount of wholesalers who have imported decks for Denmark, so you may understand, that collecting Playing Cards in, from and to Denmark is a pleasure as big as that of other more well-known card-producing countries.

The Holmblad factory was presented to the IPCS in a speech at the convention in Stockholm, Sweden, 1993 by K. Frank Jensen. He is well known to the audience of the IPCS, and I would like to acknowledge that serious Card Collecting in Denmark is deeply indebted to K. Frank Jensen. Not because of a dull seriousness in collecting, but because of his love to its history, to the designs on the cards, to the development of the techniques, but first and foremost for his great effort in publishing the basic catalogue on Danish Playing Cards. This catalogue merges an earlier catalogue with in all four additions (14), and in a way it is a tribute to the IPCS, as K. Frank Jensen undertook the work with the revision, merging and expansion of the former catalogue so as to be able to present a final version at the Stockholm Convention in 1993.

This catalogue is the basis, and onto this we measure and register our own collections. His catalogue was the first and it is only natural that we can correct it here and there, but we only adjust and polish a little. We eagerly check to see if we have found new varieties, new designs, new datings or even new card producing factories. Luckily we do. Even with Holmblad.


1) Published in “Liimfabrikken paa Amagerbro. Et industrieventyr fra forrige aarhundrede efter Lauritz Peter Holmblads optegnelser”. Cph.1996, p.95  [’The glue factory on Amagerbro. An industrial adventure from the previous century, after the records of Lauritz Peter Holmblad”].

2) ibid. p.77

3) Samples of booklets:

Jo. Chr. Melbye: Nye og fuldstændig Dansk Spille-Bog : indeholdende rigtig og tydelig Underviisning i de brugeligste Kort-Spil, saasom L’Hombre, Quadrille, Cinquille, Piquet, Reversy, Tresett, Taroc, Whist o.a.fl. samt grundig Anviisning tilBillard- og Schach-Spil, Verkehr, Trictrac, Toccategli o.s.v. [The new and complete Danish Playing-book: Including correct and  clear instruction in the most widely used card-games, such as L’hombre, Quadrille, Cinquille, Piquet, Reversy, Tresett, Taroc, Whist a.o. as well as a thorough guidance to the plays of Billard, Chess, Verkehr, Trictrac, Toccategli etc.]

(Cph: Faber og Nitschke , 1786 ), XVI, 248pp

(tarok pp.115-126)

  1. A. Jørgensen: Nyeste Dansk Spillebog, indeholdende rigtig og tydelig Underviisning i L’Hombre-, Boston-, Whist-, Taroc-, Frantshuus-, Piquet- og alle andre brugelige Kort-Spil, samt grundig Anviisning til Billard- og Schachspil … osv. 3. forøg. og efter nuværende Tids Spillemaade forbedrede Opl. [The newest Danish Playing-book, including correct and clear Instruction in L’Hombre, Boston, Whist, Taroc, Frantshuus, Piquet and all other used Card-games, as well as a thorough guidance to the games of Billard, Chess .. etc. 3rd augmented and revised edition in concurrence with the present ways of playing]

(Cph.: Schubotske Boghandling. 1829) 344pp

(tarok pp.158-185)

4th augm ed. 1868 187pp.

Sp.M. Basta: Anviisning til at spille L’hombre, Whist, Boston og Tarock . [Guidance in the Play of L’Hombre, Whist, Boston and Tarock]

(Cph.: H. C. Klein. 1843), 132pp

(tarok pp.113-132)

New editions with changes: 2nd ed. 1846.  3rd. ed.1874. 4th ed. 1889,  5thed.1893

Martin Schwartz: Ny og fuldstændig dansk Spillebog eller grundig Anviisning til alle nu brugelige Kortspil, saasom: Whist, Boston, L’hombre, Tarok, Solo, Quadrille …… tilligemed Lovene og Reglerne for samme : Udarbeidet efter de bedste og nyeste Spillebøger.  [New and complete Danish Playing-book, or thorough Guidance in all currently played Card-games, such as Whist, Boston, L’Hombre, Tarok, Solo, Quadrille … as well as the adoining laws and rules. Based on the best and newest Playing-books.]

(Cph : P. G. Philipsen. 1847 ), 202pp

(tarok pp.175-186)

3ed. with new title: Nyeste og fuldstændigste dansk Spillebog.  [The Newest and most Complete Danish Playing-book] (Cph. 1863) 88pp

4) K. Frank Jensen: “A Collectors Guide to Playing Cards in Denmark” (Roskilde: Ouroboros. 1993), ca.300 p.

5) K. Frank Jensen: “The World of L.P.Holmblad, Danish Cardmaker. Presented at The Convention of The International Playing Card Society, Stockholm, Sweden 1993”(Roskilde 1993), 24 p.

6) Sofus Elvius and R. Hiort-Lorenzen: Dansk Patriciske Slægter.[Danish Patrician Families] (Cph.1891) vol.1 pp.156-157.

7) A magnificent church in the centre of Copenhagen that on grounds of economical difficulties was under way for more 145 years! The construction had begun in 1749, was put at a standstill in 1770, restarten in 1874 and finally consecrated in 1894.

8) Chr.  Bruun and L. P. Fenger: Thorvaldsens Musaeums Historie.[The History of Thorvaldsen Museum] (Cph.1892), p.15 and passim

9) ‘Liimfabriken’ pp.33 and 43-44

10)  According to archival material in private ownership he earlier in 1841 had achieved licence to produce glue (Sept.25), soap, sealing wax and chocolate (Nov.30), and in 1842 candles (Juli 16).

11) ‘Liimfabriken’ p.34 and pp.81-82

12) J.P.Trap: Statistisk-topographisk Beskrivelse af Staden Kjøbenhavn.[Statistical-topographical Decription of the Town of Copenhagen] (2.ed.,Cop.1880), p.51

13) ”Humoristisk Veiviser for den Million Fremmede og andre vilfarende Reisende, der besøgte den store nordiske Industriudstilling I Kjøbenhavn 1872” [Humorous Guide for the Million Foreigners and other lost Travellers, who visited the Great Northern Industrial Exhibition in Copenhagen 1872] ) (Cop.1872) p.44

14) K. Frank Jensen:  “Playing cards in Denmark – an illustrated guide” (Roskilde : Ouroboros. 1984). 167 pp., + Supplement 1-4. 1984-88