A Quick History of Playing Cards

Most of us can quickly recognize a modern deck of playing cards, understand the values given to each number and face card, as well as easily identify the symbols for each of the four suits. Playing cards have been around for a very long time and have evolved a lot in their history. Let’s have a look at the history of the playing card, where it comes from, and how it became what we know today.


The First Appearance of Playing Cards

While there is a lot of debate and disagreement amongst history scholars about the exact origins of the playing card, there are plenty of confirmed records of their use throughout the last few hundred years. It’s known for sure that these cards were in reasonably common use by the 1400s in Europe, but the exact origins are a rather interesting mystery.

If we want to look back to the first of these records of the playing card, scholars believe that we’d need to travel east and back around the 9th century. It’s believed by some that playing cards were invented during the Tang dynasty, and used for drinking games, rather than the games we know today, like those we play when we log in to play in a casino online for real money. If this origin is indeed correct, it makes the playing card more than 1000 years old.

The European Evolution

Much stronger records start to appear around the 14th century in Europe, such as those discovered in a manuscript from 1377 found in a Swiss monastery, written by a monk called Johannes. This record makes distinct references to playing cards and even describes some of the games that are played with them. In the 1400s is when records of the modern version of the playing card started appearing, and the 52-card deck is referenced.

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This is also where references to four suits and face cards start to appear, though in Italy the four suits are swords, clubs, cups, and coins. These hand-painted cards started to spread around Italy and Spain quickly, and soon versions started popping up in other countries. In Germany, for example, the suits on record are acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells, though the card decks were only 48 cards, with the 10 cards absent from this version.

The French Influence

It was in the 15th century and thanks to the work of the French that we have the deck of cards we see most commonly today. The hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades were the suits that were used on the French versions of playing cards, as were the king, queen, and knave cards – known then as the court cards. The biggest contribution the French made to the playing card, however, was the division of the deck into two red and two black suits, making it possible to create them with stencils, speeding up manufacturing significantly. 

Playing cards have an interesting history, and much of the very beginning of their creation remains hotly contested. One thing is for sure though. We can certainly be thankful for those who created them in centuries past.

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