playing cards

Playing cards are a set of cards with symbols on, known as a deck, that are used to play an incredibly wide variety of games. The cards are typically about 5cm by 8cm in size, allowing a number of them to be held easily in the hand.

The earliest record of playing cards in Europe is 1377, but it is likely they were invented in China, where paper was invented. The original images on the cards were coins. The Islamic empire added cups and swords, as suit symbols, and court cards. kings and their knights, servants, etc.

The standard English deck has 52 cards, divided into four suits, spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. Each suit has 13 cards, numbered from 2 to 10 and then the court cards, Jack, Queen, King, Ace. The Ace can also be counted as card 1.

Playing cards can be used to play games such as Poker, Bridge, Rummy and Solitaire. The Jacks, Queens, and Kings are known as face cards or court cards because they contain a picture on them as well as a value. As a general rule, each card in a suit has a greater "value" than its predecessor, with the Ace frequently used as both the highest and lowest card, while no suit outranks any other. However, there is no actual standard value associated with any card each card game has its own separate rules for card and suit values.

The earliest documented use of playing cards was in eastern Asia and used in the game of dominos. Instead of mixing up the dominos and allowing the players to choose them, the paper dominos were simply shuffled and dealt. The use of decks with four suits is believed to have started in the Middle East (coins, cups, swords, and sticks), and later imported to Europe in the late 14th century. The Middle Eastern coins became diamonds, the cups (a symbol for love) became hearts, swords became spades, and sticks/staves became clubs. At this time, all cards were hand painted and owned only by the most wealthy. With the invention of woodcuts, playing cards were able to be mass produced.

France provided the concepts behind today’s deck of cards. The use of simple shapes and colors allowed for increased popularity of various games. The original face cards actually represented historical figures (see below). France exported their popular playing cards throughout the world, with shipments eventually making it to the American colonies.

Additional practical improvements were made to the deck in America including the use of double headed court cards (so you wouldn’t have to flip your cards over to view the pictures), varnished surfaces for easy shuffling and dealing, card marking, and rounded corners. Some sources state that the Joker was also introduced in America, while other sources say that is was part of the original French deck. Strangely enough, American sources attribute the Joker to the French, and French sources attribute it to the Americans. No one seems to want to claim it.

Historical Figures in the Deck

The original French cards were actually named and designed after popular historical figures. It should be noted that today’s cards no longer hold any strong relation to these people. Representations have changed due to copying, differing artist renditions, and company branding that little remains linking them to this history.

King of Hearts Charlemagne

Queen of Hearts Judith (from the Apocryphal Book of Judith)

Jack of Hearts La Hire (common name given to Etienne de Vignoles, a famous French warrior)

Not belonging to any suit the joker is most assuredly a card imported through the influence of Tarot’s The Fool. The Joker is most commonly used as a wild card or as a trump card. While it is not part of the standard deck of cards, it has uses in numerous games and therefore in included by most manufacturers. It is the most commonly collected card by those who. well, collect cards.

Ever wonder why the Ace of Spades is different than the rest of the Aces? It’s a tradition held over from when there was reason for the distinguishing mark. Cards were seen by Kings and Queens as a source of income for their kingdom. As a result, consumers were required to pay a tax for each deck of cards purchased. Because the Aces have the most "white space", it was relatively easy to stamp the card with the seal indicating the proper fees had been paid. Over time, it simply became customary to stamp the Ace of Spades. The mark is still on our cards today simply out of tradition (plus it gives the card manufacturers a place to put their name and trademark information).

Probably the most common playing card manufacturer (at least in the US) is the United States Playing Card Company. This company is the maker of Bicycle brand (aka Rider Back) cards, Bee brand cards, and Aviator brand cards. Because of the pattern on the back of the cards, Bees and Aviators are well known by magicians and those that cheat at card games because they can easily bottom deal and perform other slight of hand tricks without the viewer/player noticing. There are 365 days in a year. Sue me. It’s still cool. Maybe if you add 1 to 364 for the joker.

Gin rummy, draw poker, blackjack, go fish, crazy eights, canfield, baccarat, war, five card stud, aces and kings, Texas hold ’em are thousands of games that can be played with a standard deck of cards. In fact, cards may qualify as the most versatile amusement that humans have ever created; but who first thought of putting numbers on pieces of paper and playing games with them? And how did they reach their current form?

There is a quaint legend from India regarding the origin of playing cards. It seems that a certain maharajah had a compulsive problem pulling his beard. So, in order to give him something else to occupy his hands, his wife invented playing cards.

While historians can not seem to agree on the exact time or place that cards were invented, they have pretty well narrowed it down to either India or China, sometime before the tenth century CE. Between the death of Jesus and around the ninth century, simple gambling games were developed in China, played with paper money. This land also had games such as mah jongg and dominoes, which were played with ivory or wooden chips. Many historians believe these playing pieces evolved into paper cards, perhaps inspired by the paper money games. There is also a Chinese card game called keu ma paou (chariots horses guns) which is based on a board game of the same name. Some scholars opine that this game may have inspired the creation of playing cards.

A few scholars have advanced the idea that playing cards may have evolved from the same source in India as the game of chess. Early Chinese decks seem to have included three court cards: king, viceroy, and deputy (some sources call the latter two ‘deputy king’ and ‘second deputy’). These became king, queen, and knave (or knight) which could imply some cross pollination. Other parallels are not so convincing, however. A deck of cards has ten (rather than eight) minor (numbered) playing pieces and three (rather than eight) major pieces. Card games also lack castling, en passant capture and zugzwang, which is also rather unlike chess.

By the 12th century, people throughout India, Persia, and the Middle East were playing card games. The first recorded reference to playing cards in European history was in 1377 by a German monk. A century later, in a 1480 history of the town of Viterbo, Italy, historian Giovanni Covelluzzo said:

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