Playing Card Deck

Playing Cards - A Fascinating Tale Of Card Decks Over Centuries

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Playing Cards

Playing cards are specially designed card decks that are made of thin cardboard coated with plastic and signed or marked with distinct motifs, symbols and illustrations. They are designed for various purposes such as playing games, practising divination, performing magic tricks, cardistry with multiple card decks and educational purposes.

Uniform in shape and size, they are made in palm size and are rounded on the edges to resist wear and tear. You can easily hold them in your hands and identify them with their markings. Playing cards are typically sold in card decks typically in a set of 32 or 52 playing cards.

While history tracks their usage for different activities across cultures, the 20th and 21st century has witnessed them essentially being used to play a variety of rummy bo games. As such, the latter half of the 20th century saw the creation of plastic-coated playing card decks to last longer and enjoy playing games and even world class tournaments.

Today, you can easily find a playing card deck online as well and play digital games of cards with the 52 playing cards deck on reputable gaming platforms. You can also play real money tournaments with live players worldwide and compete to win cash rewards. But more on this later.

Let's start with the origin concept and evolution of playing cards as we know them today and time travel together across the seven seas and allow their journey to surprise you.

A Brief History of Playing Cards

The fact is due to their fragile creation, playing cards do not survive long enough to offer proof across centuries. Therefore, it is difficult to trace an accurate origin of playing cards, even the most touted theories lack substantial evidence. Distinct evidence worth mentioning can be traced back to Europe in the latter half of 1300s and early 14th century but then their existence is said to have been brought about by traders and crusaders from the East.

Some like to say that playing cards were used as "Play Money" and substituted for stakes for games involving wagers but ended up later being part of the games themselves. Groups of scholars believe playing cards decks to be invented during the Tang Dynasty in China during the 9th century AD.

Playing cards of Western Europe do offer some evidence of games being played involving card decks that featured icons representing coins that crop up later in Western Europe. If this holds true, then their formation shall go even before 1000 AD, originating alongside the likes of tile games like Mahjong and Dominoes.

Some believe playing cards were first introduced in Europe by the Arabs from the east journeying via the Christian kingdoms of Spain, although some like to believe crusaders were responsible for their arrival. The oldest surviving deck of cards belonging to the Kier collection (post-war collections of Islamic art) and the Benaki Museum in Athens, is still known to be the oldest Western deck of cards that was adapted from the suits of the Arabian card deck.

Other theories suggest playing cards gained popularity in Persia and later travelled to China and India. It was around this time that earliest mentions suggest they could have journeyed to Egypt in the west, eventually landing in Europe around late 1400s via maritime trade with the Mamluk rulers of medieval Egypt.

Early Design of Playing Cards

Among the early patterns of 52 playing cards and card deck designs and symbols, the first known and recorded Mamluk suits of cups and coins, polo sticks and swords still used today in Latin card decks. These suits are still in use in Spanish and Italian playing cards today and some like to refer to them as Latin suits. Playing card decks were also observed in Switzerland, Paris, and Florence in the late 1300s.

It was from somewhere around between 1418 and 1450 that professional card manufacturers got down to business and started creating printed card deck designs. Some of the most common playing card deck symbols were devotional images used in woodcuts of that time. Early woodcuts were coloured once they were printed either by bare hands or with stencils. The Flemish Hunting deck featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the earliest full set of playing cards displayed from 15th century Europe.

Then came the court cards from the late 1400s in Italy that resemble the globally popular card deck symbols that are used for hundreds of card game . These ones typically feature, as you may have guessed, mounted kings, crowned seated queen and a knave, a royal servant. The character of Knave would come to be known as Jack to avoid being confused with the King.

In Spain, however, card decks were designed differently. They featured the King, Knight and the Knave but no Queen. The Spanish cards also lacked a 10 and the Spanish game of Ombre also dismissed 8s and 9s, hence, became a 40 card deck.

Germany - A New Version of Card Decks

As playing cards travelled further to Germany and neighbouring countries, Latin suits had been replaced with suits featuring shields or leaves, roses or hearts, acorns and bells by Germany to distinguish themselves as leading card manufacturers. These brand-new suits reflected their interest in rural life. Later around 1480, French card makers chose the more simplified variation of German suit card symbols. This finally resulted in the creation of French suits of clovers, tiles, hearts and pikes.

The English also used the French suits eventually although their earlier suits in circulation featured Latin suits. The same reason why the English liked to call 'Clovers' as 'Clubs' and 'Pikes' as 'Spades'.

However, Germany's real contribution to the world of playing cards were the methods used to print them. They developed wood cutting techniques and copper and wood engraving techniques that helped them produce playing cards faster and meet the growing demand for holy icons and pictures.

Since they had the manufacturing advantage, they gained dominance in the playing cards business and dealt with exporting card decks to Western parts of Europe who actually were the ones to make them in the first place. With time, the card deck symbols printed by Germany became more prevalent throughout Europe than the Italian suits.

France Gets Busy with Fresh Playing Card Names, Colours and Icons

Early in the 1400s, the French came up with their own icons for the four playing cards designs and suits that we know today as Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades. At the time, these card deck symbols were known as piques, carreaux, coeurs and trefles.

The two suits, trefles (clubs) and pikes (spades) seemed to bear resemblance with the German symbols of acorns and leaves respectively. However, the French had their own imagination and preferred the King, Queen and Knave to be their court cards. And then came their master stroke, they split the four playing cards suits into two red and black each with simpler symbols.

They replaced the old wood cutting and engraving techniques with much easier and cost friendly stencils that could produce playing cards much faster. With better manufacturing paper and the invention of the Gutenberg Printing press, the production of playing cards became much more efficient.

For obvious reasons now, the Germans lost their dominance in the market and French playing card decks went on to spread like wildfire across Europe presenting us with the awesome playing card deck designs and symbols as we enjoy them today.

Where Did the Kings, Queens and the Knave Come From?

The Kings

What made the evolution of the French deck of 52 playing cards even more interesting is the fact that they assigned legendary characters to them from literary classics and epics like the Bible. For instance, King David for the suit of Spades, Charlemagne for Hearts, Julius Caesar for Diamonds and Alexander the Great for the suit of Clubs.

The Queens

These playing card deck names weren't random of course. All these great emperors represented the four magnificent empires of the Jews, Franks, Romans, and Greeks. The Queens in these playing card designs represented the Greek goddess Pallas Athena in the suit of Spades, Arginine in Clubs, Judith in Hearts, and Jacob's wife Rachel in Diamonds.

The Knaves

The Knaves of the card deck symbols represented Charlemagne's Knight Ogier in the suit of Spades, Knight Lancelot of King Arthur in Clubs, La Hire in Hearts, and Hector the Hero of Troy in diamonds.

As the great mystery of the card deck designs and symbols unfold, we understand that the postures, attire, and accessories and even the weapons they carry in these French playing cards were inspired from these legendary men and women characters in history.

Eventually, the government began to collect tax on playing cards and France was split into nine different territories and standardised measures were introduced in each region demanding them to stick to a design unique to their enclaves. It wasn't until they reached England that a standard form for card deck names and their designs began to take hold in the industry.

The English Impresses Their Own Historic Contribution

Travelling across Europe, playing cards finally arrived in England via Belgium who began to export playing cards in substantial quantities alongside French soldiers. This was because of the huge amount of taxes levied by the French government that pushed some well-to-do card manufacturers to emigrate to Belgium and set up shop there.

Thousands of playing card decks were created and exported to England and other European countries. The English took up the French card deck designs from the start and stuck with them. Besides, they had their own historic contribution to make, starting with the card deck names- hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs, referring to the French suits.

Alternatively, the English chose to name the suits of Spades and Clubs based on the Italian deck instead of sticking to the French, perhaps Italian suits reached England before the French playing cards did. The etymology of the suit of Diamonds is also uncertain but whatever the reasons behind this, we certainly owe these card deck names of the suits to the English.

The All So Powerful Ace of Spades!

Do you ever wonder why the Ace of Spades has held such high regards in the world of playing cards? The story of this specific card travels all the way back to the 1800s revealing its most surprising origin. It so happened that the government of English enacted upon the card makers that playing cards couldn't leave their respective factories until the taxes were paid.

As such, the Ace of Spades, being the top card, was hand stamped. Later, the government ruled out that the Ace of Spades had to be bought from the Commissioners for Stamp Duties and must be printed along with the name of the card manufacturer and the amount of paid duty.

This drew special attention to the card and the Ace of Spades began to enjoy interesting designs along with the signature of the card manufacturer. It was only in 1862, that manufacturers were permitted to print their own Ace of Spades. However, this practice had sealed the fate of the Ace of Spades and the ornate Ace continued to enjoy further attention.

The English continued to explore fancy card deck designs such as Kings with crowns and flowing robes, long wavy hair, Queens holding sceptres, clean shaven Knaves donning caps and so on. These designs, however, eventually died as British company, Briton Thomas de la Rue reduced the cost of playing cards through higher output and mass production.

As such, their large-scale efforts trumped smaller manufacturers and their designs in the 1860s and created more regularised and modernised designs that are still in effect today. Around the same time, double ended court playing deck cards became more prevalent as they eliminated the need to turn the cards over to reveal you have court cards in your hand.

The United States Gives New Shape to Playing Cards

Acknowledging the popularity of English playing cards for quite some time, even though local manufacturers did make some of their own original suits and card deck symbols, Americans simply depended on imports from England and even printed the word "London" on the Ace of Spades to boost business.

One name, Lewis I. Cohen invented a machine in 1853 to print all four colours of the playing cards simultaneously. This made him successful, and his work eventually became a public establishment in 1871 by the name, New York Consolidated Card Company. They were responsible for creating corner indices to the English deck of playing cards.

Sounds like a minute change, but it was a revolutionary creation because this made it quite easy to hold the cards and identify any poker hand simply by fanning the playing cards. There were others in the making but it was this company that patented the design in 1875. There were alternative miniature card faces, but indices eventually became the favourite and common design; today, one can't quite fathom playing cards without them.

The final big contribution from the United States came in the form of Jokers. Initially called the 'best bowler', the addition of Jokers was first seen and recorded around 1875 in the form of a wild card. Besides these alterations, the rest of the game for the 52 playing cards as we know them today remained unchanged. No major changes in card deck names, card deck symbols or designs came about post this period.

Over time, the United States however, became a major producer in this industry and some names such as Samuel Hart, Russell, Morgan and Co that changed later to the United States Playing Card Company, went on to become industry giants of the 21st century. American card makers have started experimenting with playing card deck symbols ever since and took the liberty to print special packs and highly customised decks.

Out of these, Tally Ho and Bicycle Bee of USPCC stand out as the icons of the industry. The latter swiftly managed to swallow small time manufactures over a century of reign. They are often the first choice for printing custom decks of playing cards that are made specially for casinos, tournaments, and magicians.

The New Digital Avatar: Playing Card Decks Online

Browsing through this elaborative 600 years of history of playing cards, one can sufficiently say that their journey has been riveting, revealing so many idyllic expositions over time, some with solid records, others not so much. Nonetheless, the fact that remains is that they did travel the seven seas and branched into fascinating diverse creations, privy to the creator's imagination.

In 1981, the first digitized version of 52 playing cards deck to many's surprise was seen in a card game created by Atari. Atari was the 1st computer platform ever to introduce a digital 8-bit version of Solitaire card game in a clean dark green matrix screen played with a joystick. Compared to its modern counterpart, one could call it messy and old fashioned but it was revolutionary at the time.

This was followed by the 1984 version of a Solitaire game in Macintosh PC that featured rudimentary graphics. This game would serve as a model for the next decade of playing card decks online on a computer. The card deck designs of the game resembled that of the standard French deck of playing cards.

The Next Gen- 1990s Microsoft Solitaire

As technology made fast advancing steps, came the game that breathed life to a whole new avatar of rummy bo games and the 52 playing cards deck. All too real looking, this digital iteration of the French deck of 52 playing cards in this version of Microsoft is perhaps known to all born around the 1990s.

Considered a sheer novelty, Microsoft excited the entire generation of the 90s by improving on the digital experience of enjoying rummy bo games with the popular French deck of 52 playing card decks with automation features and never before seen realistic graphics. User friendly drag & drop buttons and victory features were some groundbreaking innovations of this game.

New Age Artists Get Crafty with Card Decks

Today, in the age of the Internet of things, playing card decks online are not a shocker among the current generation. A natural transition, but exciting nonetheless, you can play thousands of rummy bo games on online card game apps and websites today and explore a variety of card deck designs, symbols and themes related to specific games. From playing card deck names to colour variation to extraordinary print designs, players are free to explore and pick what they like at the click of a button.

From the Ace of Spades to the Royal face cards, the standard 52 playing cards deck online can be seen in stunning designs, colours, and embellishments. And this is not limited to the card deck designs of the symbols or numbers. Today, the complete design of a modern 52 playing cards deck online as well as the quality of a hard deck enjoys the attention of global artists and designers.

You can witness a stupefying variety of illustrations and graphic designs flaunting exclusive technique and style, some of which are released in limited editions. Surprisingly, modern designers still like to keep the original concept and designs of medieval Europe intact, adding their own flair and drawing inspiration from across ancient and modern cultures alike to create new meaning and add depth to their creations.

The Future of Playing Cards

The demand of the playing cards industry has not dimmed down at all, in fact, the popularity of playing rummy bo games across live casinos, home entertainment as well as online gaming platforms has led to further growth and production of new and interesting designs and creations. With technology to keep company, new age live and digital artists enjoy open space to create and manufacturers the ability to deliver efficient mass production.

From highly elaborate to minimalist and chic designs, whether it's a game of 32 deck or 52 playing cards, we expect to witness many more stunning and diversified range of professional playing cards as the relevance and entertainment of playing cards in the modern setting continues to thrive.

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