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Since we all know the current deck of cards, a conventional deck of playing cards seems to most of us to be fairly “normal” and “traditional.” On the other hand, a deck like this is anything from ordinary to individuals from the past!
Did playing cards always have numbers?
Playing cards did not always have numbers and it is actually a more recent addition to them. Numbers were added to playing cards in the late 1800s so cards did not have numbers for longer than they have had them.
The reality is that since their original origins several centuries ago, playing cards have undergone a profound alteration. With a voyage lasting hundreds of years, our modern playing cards have evolved to a deck of 52 cards with four suits in red and black.
Indeed, the key factors that formed the current deck were the various cultures and places that have traveled through to the present day with cards.
In this article I will look into the history of cards, with a special emphasis on geographical influences that have defined the current nature of modern cards.
Our historic whirlwind journey will start in the East, with a shroud of mystery as to the exact source of the cards. But we will go from there to Europe, with Italy and Spain, Germany in the East, France in the West, and England throughout the canal.
Finally, we will move across the Atlantic to the US, where the USPCC produces most of our decks today in the look we are all accustomed to.
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History of Playing Cards Design
The specific source of cards remains a topic of discussion among historians, and even the strongest ideas rely on supposition rather than evidence. There is clear historical proof that cards were published in Europe during the end of the 1300s and early 1400s, but how were they published?
They seem to be from somewhere in the East that gypsies, crucifixions, or businessmen may have been importing to Europe.
It seems commonly accepted that an early playing card form was produced somewhere in Asia, although we cannot be certain, to be honest. Paper is delicate and does not usually preserve well over the years, so there is no firm historical proof.
Education has established linkages between the 12th-century cards, suits, iconography, and ancient cards that may be introduced to Europe by Arabs in China, India, Korea, Persia, or Egypt. Some academics think that cards were invented around the 9th century AD in China under the Tang dynasty.
There seem to be some games using cards from this time, featuring images with coins that also emerged as icons on Western Europe’s cards later. If it is true, the origins of playing cards would be before AD 1000, and it would be seen as coming from tile games, such as dominos and mahjong.
Some people stated that the cards were first “play money” and that they were the stakes needed to play games and were later included in the games.
But we cannot even rest entirely convinced that playing cards appeared initially in the East, and it could even be that in Europe, after all, the earliest progenitors of the current card deck were made as an independent evolution.
Let us, therefore, go to the European region for the first confirmed reference to the cards that a German monk writes in a Swiss monastery on a Latin manuscript.
A German monk referred to the appearance of cards and several card games that might be played with them in a text in 1377. In the 1400s, cards regularly appeared with waffles as examples of denounced gambling operations, and it is evident that there was a deck of 52 cards, and it was utilized in that period.
The European decks had swords, coins, and clubs associated with the Egyptian playing cards from the Mamluk period. However, these suit signs are still used in Spanish and Italian card games.
The cards developed significantly differently in Spain, the courts of which were the king, knight, and knave, without queens. There were also 10 of Spain’s packages, and the lack of 8s and 9s produced in a 40 card deck in the Spanish national ombre game.
Hand-painted and magnificent luxury items found only in the top class were the first cards in European Italy. However, as card games became more popular and technologies were discovered to make cards more cheaply, they became more widely available.
A historian described the subsequent significant development of playing cards that took place in Germany as “a player cards invasion,” and soldiers were also helping their migration in rapidly spreading.
The Germans produced their own suits to substitute the Italians and establish themselves as a card-making nation.
These new suits represented an interest in rural life: acorns and leaves, hearts and candles; the last, hawk clowns and the popular rustic search of falconry.
Instead, the queen was eliminated from the Italian courts by a king and two squirrels, an upper man and an underground (under). The Two substituted as the top card an ace to make a deck of 48 cards.
Meanwhile, the French invented the iconography for the four suits that are used today, namely piques, trefles, coeurs, and carreaux in the early 15th century, and the characters of a king, queen, and knave were also popular court cards among the French.
But it was the French who came up with the brilliant idea of dividing the four suits into two red and two black suits, with simpler and clearer symbols.
This efficient procedure of production made Germany lose its dominance in the card game.
Only until cards immigrated to England did a standard design dominate the card industry. Due to hefty taxes in France, some influential card makers immigrated to Belgium, and there were multiple card factories and workshops.
They chose to use the titles hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs to describe the costumes allocated for them by the French. We got the Ace of Spades and double-ended cards because of the English people!
Americans initially imported the playing cards from England and only started publishing their own cards in the mid-1800s. They invented corner indices (numbers) on the cards for player’s ease which soon got very popular.
The introduction of the Jokers is the last invention that we received from the United States.
Apart from these modifications, America has not made any substantial alterations to the basic deck of cards, but it has become a significant player in the production of playing cards. For over a hundred years, the USPCC has purchased many other placard makers and is considered a manufacturer and printer of preference for many.
Did playing cards always have numbers? No! But it has a genuinely fascinating and long trip, one with many passionate performances over time.
What is the future for the destiny of the simple playing card, and what will mad for the form and substance of a “standard” deck?
What is our own era’s contribution? Only time will tell you.
But in the meantime, you may enjoy a modern deck since you know it has striking parallels with the European 15th-century play cards, and for more than 600 years, playing cards have been an essential element of life and pleasure around the world!