• 99075-000_1603672.jpg QUARTETTSPIEL 1976, © Technisches Museum Wien
  • 99050-000_1603790.jpg QUARTETTSPIEL 1927, © Technisches Museum Wien
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Quartett

Quartets

They’re a familiar sight in the 1970s: young people, mostly boys, armed with a small (or not so small) stacks of playing cards, quizzing one another on technical data about cars, motorcycles, locomotives, ships, aircraft, and spacecraft. Whoever has the higher value takes that particular round, the aim being to get hold of all the cards. They’re able to spend hours playing the game. The way they appear together as a group is certainly comparable to the way young people look today when they hang out together playing with their smartphones.


But the phenomenon of Quartets playing cards is by no means a passing fad or, in terms of themes, limited to cars or aircraft. People have played Quartets since the mid-19th century and done so in different countries, according to different rules, and for different purposes. Sometimes these playing cards are part of some lofty education policy; at other times they serve as an indicator of a conventional fetishism for commodities and order; and at other times still, they are the expression of a playful and subversive critique of society.

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