Rolling papers to playing cards in Trieste
There was always a certain routine to the end of a festive family dinner in my house. After drinking coffee and liqueur, we moved on to telling stories that everyone had heard before, but still managed to make us laugh. Finally, my grandpa would reach for a box of cards that he kept just above the liquor cabinet. While I was to young to understand the rules of games like bridge, briscola and scopa, there always seemed to be a few stray cards that I was allowed to hold on to while the adults played. Like all things adult, those cards seemed so mysterious and luxurious from my child point of view. I admired the intricate design on the back of the cards, made up stories with the figures on the front, and wondered about their name – Modiano playing cards.
It was only as I got older that I realized Modiano playing cards could be found in pretty much any country I visited. In fact, while Modiano playing cards were born in Italy, they have a very international pedigree. Saul David Modiano moved from Salonicco in Greece to the northern Italian city of Trieste in 1868. He soon started a company that catered to the high demand for cigarette rolling papers.
In an industry dominated by German and Austrian companies, Modiano rolling papers stood out thanks to their beautiful packaging designed by young up-and-coming artists who were representatives of the liberty and deco art movements then in vogue. Building on the success of this artistic collaboration, in 1884 Modiano opened a lithography studio that expanded the company’s production into art prints and playing cards.
Because of the design and high-quality printing, each Modiano product was a little artwork in its own right. It was an accessible way for the public to own a lithograph print of some of the leading artists of the moment. While many of these artists were from Budapest, Modiano’s vast advertising campaigns enlisted the talents of some great Italian illustrators and artists such as (Glauco Cambon (1875-1930), Argio Orell (1884-1942) and Cesare Cuccoli (1912-1978).
Modiano makes every kind of playing card you can think of, from traditional Italian regional playing cards, such as Napoletane, to contemporary games such as Uno and Texas Poker. Although a lot has changed since the family dinners of my childhood – for example, my nephews have to help clear the table along with my nieces – one thing that hasn’t is that we still reach for a box of Modiano playing cards.