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The history of playing cards

April 13, 2012  by: Sarika  Points: 12   Category: Others  Earning $0.30   Views: 958

This article sheds light on the origin and history of Playing cards


The game of Cards

I cannot remember exactly how old I was when I learned how to play cards. I was taught by my maternal grandmother about the different suits and sequences and how to play a particular type of game called “Rummy” in which one has to arrange the cards in a hierarchical order. Then at that time I had no idea that the cards I am holding in my hands have centuries of history to boast and an adventurous journey to envy. It is uncertain as to where the first playing cards originated but most scholars believe that they were invented in the East in as early as 9th Century AD. Both India and China have their claims as both countries have their own versions of ancient playing cards.
Memoirs of many ancient writers and travelers refer to a game called “leaf game” existing in ancient China and played by royalty. However, there are suggestions that the first cards might have been actual currency notes which were used both as game cards and stakes. Later the currency notes were replaced by so called “Money cards” which had 4 suits of 30 cards each. The first ever deck of printed cards was Chinese “Domino cards” which depicted all the 21 combinations from a pair of dice.

Playing cards from India had distinctive features like they were round in shape and were hand painted. The so called “Dasavatara Ganjifa” cards had 10 suits with 12 cards each based on 10 different avatars of Hindu mythology God Vishnu. It is unclear whether these cards were used in religious rituals or were used for recreation. Being hand-made, the cards were expensive and initially only the upper class society has access to the game. With the increasing popularity of the game and the demand, methods were developed to produce inexpensive cards.

It is debatable as to how cards reached Europe. Some believe that Arabs and Saracens introduced them in Italy while others suggest that Marco Polo brought this game with him from his travels to East. However the most accepted one is that Mamluk Egypt introduced the playing cards is Europe around 14th Century. A typical Mamluk deck consisted of a total of 52 cards of 4 different suits - Polo sticks, coins, swords and cups. Each suit contained 10 “spot” cards identified by a number of symbols and three court cards namely, king, viceroy or Deputy king and Second or Under-deputy king. Soon after their introduction in Europe the popularity of the game spread like a jungle fire. The first documented ban on the use of playing cards was put in 1367 in Bern, Switzerland.

Earlier playing cards from different regions had different number of suits with specialized symbols which were difficult to understand and sometimes made the game very confusing. Years of experimenting and influence of cultural diversity gave rise to 3 individual suit systems across Europe each having 4 different types of suits – “Italian and Spanish suit”, “Germanic suit” and “French and English suit”. Modern day commercial pack of cards contains 52 cards plus two jokers. The origin of joker might have its roots in the mixing of Eastern playing cards with the earlier existing Tarot cards. The fool or Jester is sometimes considered to be the ancestor of joker. The invention of reversible court card is attributed to the French manufacturer of Agen in 1745. Initially though banned it was later adopted all over the world.

Due to the fact that the cards were handmade and painted individually they were considered to be the piece of art and were affordable only by the royalty or by the rich. With the introduction of Woodcuts, which were used to transfer the prints, the production cost of cards dropped down and they became available for the masses. The masters of playing cards were busy in Germany with the newly developed print making technique of engraving as early as 1430. The earliest available record of European woodcut is 1418.

With the improvement of printing and engraving technology and the introduction of new and fast machines the production of cards was not a problem anymore. With moving times the back side of the cards has been used for advertising, spreading knowledge, political propaganda, spreading religious views, promoting products and also to produce erotica. With the evolution of cards over time, the number of card games has also increased in number. Some of the most popular card games include Poker, Solitaire, Spades, Black-jack, Bridge, Hearts etc. A modern day deck/Pack of card holds 52 cards in total with 4 different suits having 13 cards each. Aging seems to have only added to the versatility and popularity of the card game which can be estimated by the production of 100,000,000 decks of cards annually by the largest producer of playing cards, The United States Playing Card Company.

For more information on playing cards and their history please refer to http://www.wopc.co.uk/


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