Monday, May 4, 2020

Fifty year old Nintendo Playing Card sample book

In the 1960s, Nintendo produced and sold hundreds of different playing card designs. When pitching these to prospective wholesale buyers and toy shop owners, the Nintendo sales departement used sample books that showcased the range of cards available.

While in later years Nintendo used printed brochures and leaflets to advertise their cards product - like this one from 1983 - the sample books used in the 1960s were more like albums, containing actual cards.

Not only did these show the cards in exactly the color, size and shape as they would be delivered, but it also provided a flexible sales catalogue, that could easily be changed to stay up to date as the product range evolved. This was vital in these playing cards heydays, when new designs were constantly added.

For Nintendo collectors and playing card enthusiasts, finding such a sample book is much like a holy grail. Not many were made, let alone survive fifty years on. They were intended for internal use by Nintendo only, and they are as rare as hen's teeth.

Some time ago, I was lucky to acquire two copies, with different content. In this post we will take a look at one of the two, and in a future post I will cover the other one.

This sample book dates from a time when Nintendo was still branding itself as Nintendo Playing Card Co., Ltd. Although no exact date of origin is known for this item, based on the contents these copies must be from the late 1960s.

It is possible that this particular sample book design was introduced some years earlier, and used for multiple years, changing the content over time.

Nintendo playing card sample book - front cover

The book measures 34.8 by 23.6 centimetres. It contains eight thick pieces of paper that hold cards on both sides, making a total of 16 pages.

The book contains real specimens of playing cards, which are glued to the pages. Most of the pages include eight cards, while some contain between five and seven cards. The total number of cards included in this sample book is 121. All cards are different.

For each card a name and product code is listed, together with a suggested retail price. The cards range in retail price from ¥250 and ¥300 for the simplest and smallest cards, to between ¥400 and ¥500 for the popular single deck licensed cards, up to ¥800 and ¥1000 for the most luxurious packaging and sets of two decks.

The first six pages of the sample book contain mostly abstract and geometric card designs, aimed at adults. The series with the various crests is called Young Men (ヤングメン).

The four cards at the bottom half of the page below are by Japanese artist Ado Mizumori (水森亜土), who remained popular for multiple decades. Over the years Nintendo produced many different playing cards with her designs.

In the 1960s, merchandise with figures from comics (manga) and television series became very popular in Japan. Nintendo acquired many licensed, from both American and Japanese figures like Spaceboy Soran (宇宙少年ソラン) and Space Ace (宇宙エース).

Cards with Disney figures were amongst the most popular sold by Nintendo. Around twenty different design are included in this sample book. Another popular figure was Popeye.

Other Japanse figures that emerged from the television sets were Ultra Man (ウルトラマン) and Captain Ultra (キャプテン ウルトラ). [As an aside, check out this cool Nintendo Captain Ultra bean racing toy.]

The next three pages include some more adult cards, with some very standard designs as well as some unusual shapes. The two cards in the lower richt corner combine western style playing card suits with pictures from traditional Japanse hanafuda (flower cards).

The final two pages contain some more licensed cards from Disney and Japanese television series, like Ultraman and Obake no Qtarō (オバケのQ太郎). The card case for these cards was even designed to look like a television.

Three cards from the popular televsion series Red Shadow (赤影) are the final cards in this sample book.

We conclude this post with the rather boring back of this wonderful sample book, included here for completeness sake.

Nintendo playing card sample book - back cover

If you want to read more about Nintendo's playing cards, check out these previous posts:


  1. Hey I'm so happy you're still updating this BLOG, Nintendo is an important part of my life. Thank you.

    1. Thanks! Although the frequency has dropped in recent years, I am committed to keep going!

  2. Any idea what site could potentially sell those antique nintendo playing cards? I managed to get a couple I wanted (Laser Clay and Toyopet). But I really want to get some Young Men decks.

    1. The best place to look are auction site; eBay outside of Japan and yahoo auctions in Japan. Another option is joining playing card collector groups on facebook.

    2. Thanks! Ebay it is then. Crazy enough I found Laser Clay Nintendo deck (my absolute favorite) on Abebooks shipped from England... Hope some Young Men deck pops up soon.