Playing Card History – How it all started

Playing Card History - Playing CardsPlaying card history evolved from domino cards. The origins of playing cards go back many centuries, they were invented during 9th Century in China. The modern pack of 52 cards is now generally accepted all over the world.

It is likely that playing cards originated in the same way as currency. Pieces of wood, bone and stone were used as small recognisable items of value. It is possible that the first early games involved playing with items of value used as wagers.

The first playing cards were of course printed, using wooden blocks, but carved bone was used before that. Early pictures from China show a 32 card domino pack with 21 combinations of a pair of dice as symbols. Playing card history can only extracted from what is written, and that was very little in terms of survival.

Early examples of playing cards would have travelled the Silk Road from China to other civilisations. The idea of playing games with cards printed with symbols became popular. It was not so much the original 32 card game which became popular but concept of using a series of printed symbols to play a game. Many variants were created over the years.

The spread of playing cards

By the 12th Century the concept of playing cards spread across Asia to Egypt.  Some fragments of early playing cards still exist in Museums dating back to the 12 century. Early playing card history shows circular playing cards were being used in India.

In the 13th Century the Mongolians took playing cards to Persia. A variant called Ganjifa was created the playing cards had eight suits each with 12 cards. The early symbols included motifs like coins, clubs, jugs, and swords.

Eventually the concept of playing cards spread to Europe, by then it was probably the 15th century. Known as the Topkapi pack it consisted of 52 cards with 4 suits, polo sticks, coins swords and cups. Each suit contain ten numbered cards and three court cards depicting the king, the deputy and under deputy. It was not discovered until 1939 in Istanbul. No rules survived.

Tarot cards with elaborate symbols are thought to have been invented during the 15 century. They were used for fortune-telling in much the same way as they are today.

During the 15 century printed wooden decks appeared but they were owned by people of high stature. Many of them were hand painted.

As playing cards developed in different countries it took a long time for 52 card to develop as standard. The main difference was the symbols used. Such was their popularity, in some countries playing cards were used to raise taxes.

The Joker was introduced during the American Civil and was used as an additional trump card.

Eventually the universal playing card as we know it today evolved. The was largely due to card printers wanting to standardise the products they were producing for export.

Modern playing cards

The Germans still print a 32 card pack but otherwise the 52 card pack with 2 jokers is virtually standard.

These days they are printed on thin card, plastic coated linen, or even plastic. Although playing card history shows us they came in all shapes and sizes modern version are palm sized for ease of handling. Generally, the more you pay the more durable the cards are.

The front face of each card has the symbol as we know it today and back face of each card is identical. They mostly have rounded corners to reduced wear and improve handling.

When you buy a pack of cards in a shop they will be organised into order and suit. Casinos sometimes purchase them pre-shuffled.

Playing cards are available with oversized symbols for the visually impaired. Braille versions are also available. Learn about Poker Hands and the history of Poker.

Read more interesting gambling history.

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