Chinese Ladies Playing Cards China c1910s M. Sternberg Vintage Postcard
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The History of the Deck of Playing Cards

No matter where you go on the planet, there are a few things that will remain the same and instantly recognizable. The chess board, for example, will always consist of 64 equal squares, which will always be arranged in eight rows and columns, while alternating black and white. In that same vein, playing cards will always be the same, no matter where you go. 

The back of the guards and the decorations that accompany them aside, it will almost universally be the case that playing cards will feature numbers from 1 to 10 and three court cards in four different suits. The suits will most commonly be the clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. In different countries, the court cards will go by different names, but in most of the world they are known as Jack, Queen, and King. Many decks will also come with 2 to 3 wild cards in the form of the Joker. 

But where did this formation of the deck of cards come from? Certainly, the question has been asked many a time. And in this article, we are going to answer it.

History of Playing Cards

We said we would answer the question, but the truth is that the question has no concrete answer. The reason for this is simple. Nobody is certain where playing cards originate from, however, there are some theories and a ton of research. So, let us look at a few of them. 

The most common belief is that playing cards first were found in China. Today, China is home to one of the biggest gambling destinations in the world, Macau. The casinos in Macau attract crowds from all over the world. Tourists love to spend their time playing poker, pai gow, and blackjack. Many are saddened to leave the great city. However, in 2022, it is no longer necessary to travel all the way to Macau to get the best gambling experience. Thanks to live blackjack casino websites, gamblers can get a fantastic experience from their very own home. 

But, back to the cards that we use to play blackjack with. It is the most common theory that cards were invented during the Tang dynasty around the 9th century. The first cards were created using woodblocks, and featured etchings and wood printings to depict the symbols. Of course, back then, the symbols were not the ones that we recognize today.

Where Did the Suits Come from?

It would not be for the next 500-600 years that the suits we recognize today first developed. For the suits, the country of origin was France. But how did playing cards reach France all the way from China? Well, the game followed a track from China, all over Asia, eventually reaching the Middle East. From the Middle East, it got to Egypt, and from Egypt it was adopted by trading Europeans, who eventually brought it to Spain, Italy, and France.

And it was in France that the suits we recognize today were created. Originally, the four suits represented the four different casts that made up society. The spades (in French called piques meaning spears) represented nobility, the clubs (called trefles in French) represented the peasantry, the hearts represented the clergy, and the diamond, perhaps rather predictably, represented the merchant caste. During this period, different countries had different suits, such as the German deck that used roses, bells and acorns, or the Latin set which depicted swords, coins, and cups. However, it is the French suits that we still remember and play with today.

Closing Thoughts

From France, the deck of playing cards spread to England, and it was during the colonial period that the English shared the classic French deck with the rest of the world. Today, cards look relatively the same wherever you go, with minor aesthetic differences.

About the author

Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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