John Waddington was an interesting fellow.
Based in Leeds, England, John Waddington Limited got its start in the very late 19th century as a printing business, primarily focused on printing for theaters. After the first World War, they got into the business of printing games, specifically the board game Cluedo, as well as harnessing the sudden demand for card decks. By the second World War, they became the UK publisher of Monopoly, which they famously put towards the war effort as an escape aid for the British Secret Service. The Monopoly deal was an exchange, as Parker Brothers also became the US publisher of Cluedo!, a game that originated under the Waddingtons brand. The actual history of the company can be seen in more detail at The World of Playing Cards, so I’ll refrain from quoting too much of it. What I’m more interested in today is this specific deck, of a kind not often seen by other manufacturers. I speak of the round cards, specifically the Waddingtons Rondo.
I did once write about another deck of round cards from Knight Brand, but compared to the air-conditioner deck (undoubtedly given away as a free promotion, now that I think about it), there is something so rich about the Waddingtons Rondo. Perhaps it’s the box design, both understated and elegant with its subtle wavy texture and gold-foil-print inscription. The box opens not with a flap, but with a detached lid. The card-back design is a complex-looking array of gears over black background, printed in white and metallic bronze tones, evoking the workings of a pocket watch, if not a full-size clock. (Such as, appropriately, Big Ben.) Even the faces of the cards, despite being derived from the classical French designs, take on a high-society feel. The paper on which the cards are printed doesn’t feel like cheap card stock at all; viewed in the proper light, one can discern an intricate series of perpendicular fibers, providing both strength and texture to the paper. The printing quality is quite precise for a deck of this age – I’m sure Mr. Waddington would have it no other way – and I particularly love the fact that the suit and rank indicators are printed six times around the outer edge of each card, ensuring that they’re always readable regardless of the card’s rotation.
The World of Playing Cards says that the round cards began being manufactured in 1929, but the Rondo deck I have here probably dates much newer, sometime after the 1950s (since it includes 2 Jokers) but before the 1970s (since the Ace of Spades does not include the Welsh leek in its design). I do wish that I owned an older set (think of the bragging rights!), but this is already a really cool vintage to own. I don’t really play with these, because somehow I feel even more guilty playing with these than I do about the air-conditioner deck. I feel like my greasy fingers will wear them away, even though they’re really quite solid in construction. I suppose I could alleviate those fears by the fact that I own two of these decks (whether through the goodness of the eBay seller’s heart, or a packing error…). All the virtues of round decks still apply, such as more compact tableau piles, but also the drawbacks of more difficult fanning and trickier shuffles. I don’t hold those against the deck. It’s just a different sort of deck, for a different sort of player.