The Amazing Evolution of Playing Card Design: From the Past to The Present

card

Did the card design appear immediately or did it go through a long transformation? An entire industry is built on gambling, which brings only disappointment to some, and a lot of money to others. Most of the games are somehow tied to cards, whose suits and royal retinue have long acquired the card design we are used to. 

ganjifa
ganjifa

There is no single version of where and when playing cards appeared. Their current appearance was finally formed in Europe, where they supposedly came either from India or from China. Asian maps resembled European ones only slightly. Moreover, the Indians, which are called ganjifa, were round in shape. However, in favor of the Indian origin of the cards, Shiva depicted on them speaks, who held in his four hands a coin, a goblet, a sword, and a rod.

When Did Card Suits Appear?

The suits depicting these objects were applied to Latin decks, by which are meant Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. These cards without spades, clubs, hearts, and tambourines have been known since the XIV century, and the first written mentions boiled down to the fact that they were forbidden somewhere. Italian and other Latin cards differed not only in the system of suits that were unusual for us.

Since Italy in those years was not yet a single state, the size of the deck in each region was different, sometimes reaching seventy-eight cards instead of the generally accepted today fifty-two (excluding jokers). It was the same with the Spaniards.

italian cards
Italian cards

There was another peculiarity that affected some Latin decks: at first, there were no queens in them. Instead, the second jack was used, which was called the senior officer. The classic was the youngest. However, this did not last long until the Italians began to introduce women, although in some cases they still remained in the shadow of senior officers.

Cards, whose values ​​are equal to today’s numbers, could be indicated by other portraits. The suits of the Italian and Spanish decks were the same, but there are some differences between them. Italian swords are bent and resemble sabers, while Spanish swords are straight. In addition, the suit of the wand in the Italian version really was a wand, when in Spanish it looked more like a club.

german cards
german cards

Card Deck Kinds

In addition to the Latin decks, there are two more related to each other – this is a German one with thirty-two cards and a Swiss one with thirty-six. The system of four suits and the presence of a king with two officers suggests that they have common roots with Italians and Spaniards. Coins are denoted by bells, an acorn replaces a wand. But in their counterparts of swords and bowls, the Germans and the Swiss could not agree. For the Germans, their role is played by a leaf and a heart, and for neighbors from the south – a rose and a shield.

german cards new
german cards new

Latin and Germanic decks are still used today because traditional games can only be played with them. But to play poker, you need a world-famous French deck. It appeared in the first half of the 15th century, and the very spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds became its distinguishing feature. To understand how these suits and such names came about, you should compare them with the suits of other decks.

suitmarks evolution
suitmarks evolution

Obviously, French hearts were borrowed from the Germans. Spades too, but at the same time from the Latin deck. From the Germans, they received an external resemblance to a leaf, and from the Italians with the Spaniards – a symbolic meaning. Acorns are equivalent to clubs, which look like oak leaves. Nevertheless, the French did not associate their suit with the German one, calling it in Russian “clover” (trèfle).

The connection between tambourines and bells can be traced only in Russian. The French deck began to quickly spread across Europe, replacing the old ones, so in Germany “crossed” ones were released, in which the new tambourines were yellow, the spades were green. Clubs and worms were not touched.

german cards man
german cards man

germany king
Germany king

french king
french king

How Did Card Design Evolve?

But the updated system is not the only thing that the French have given to the gambling world. For a long time in France, each province that printed maps had its own template. By the end of the 18th century, Parisian became the most widespread. It was he who began to determine the design of other cards. Its distinctive feature was that kings, queens, and jacks were named after real people or mythical heroes.

So, for example, the king of diamonds was the embodiment of Julius Caesar, the king of spades was King David, and in some cases, the mystical lady of spades was Joan of Arc. Each card was signed so that it was possible to understand who is who since there were few similarities between the images and their prototypes.

paris cards
paris cards

As for the importance of the Parisian deck, it influenced the design of the famous Anglo-American template (originally it was only English), which is used in all casinos in the world. This may have been due in part to the iconic Bicycle cards issued since 1885. It is worth noting that the company that produced them had nothing to do with bicycles, so the name was chosen to match the spirit of the time when this type of transport began to gain popularity.

The Bicycle is believed to have been used during World War II by American POWs. They were marked with instructions for escape and a map of the area where the camp is located. They manifested themselves if the cards were held in water.

bicycle cards
bicycle cards

Among the cards of the Anglo-American template, the king of hearts stands out, which is called suicide. He received such a nickname due to the strange position of his hand with a sword, which seems to pierce the head of the monarch. But, of course, this is not the case. Why the King of Hearts Killing Himself? : The Theory of Murder.

english cards
english cards

The fact is that when in the second half of the 16th century this king appeared on English maps, he had an ax in his hands, like his relative of the diamond suit. In the original image, it looks like he’s hooking it over him. However, the image looked sloppy and ridiculous, and the ax was poorly distinguishable, so after a while, it was replaced with a brought sword.

The Anglo-American King of Hearts is famous for more than that. This is the only one of the “rulers” who does not have a mustache, and only one of all the other characters has four hands due to the division of the card into two parts.

english cards new
english cards new

Creation of Double-headed Cards

The “double-headed” cards appeared in the 1830s, before that they stood in full growth. Obviously, this innovation was introduced so that players do not have to turn over cards again when there was a need to verify their worth. But this also had a more practical side, because now it was impossible to understand that in the hands of the opponents in the party there was someone “big”.

french cards
french cards

About thirty years later, in order to further reduce the risks of exposing the cards, indices, that is, letters, were introduced for kings, queens, and jacks. Their absence has greatly ruined the lives of poker players who need to study their hands very carefully. If earlier, for this it was necessary to bend the card strongly and twirl it in your hands, now it was enough to slightly bend the edge. Today there are even braille indexes for the totally blind.

The indices differ from country to country. For example, in a French deck, the king is not represented by the letter K, but by the letter R, because in French “king” is roi.

cards two headed
cards two headed

The Creation of Ace

There is a legend that before the French Revolution, the ace was exclusively the weakest card. Because of this, in the new deck, he was given the name “Law” and placed at the top of the card hierarchy. This was to highlight the victory over the monarchy and the rule of law in the republic. Probably, this misconception appeared due to the fact that in poker and blackjack the ace can be both the highest and the lowest card at the same time.

The role of the ace in card mythology occupies a separate place, especially when it comes to the spades. Even people far from gambling can pay attention to the fact that this particular card is the most decorated. This tradition dates back approximately between 1603 and 1625 when James I ruled England. He issued a decree that obliged him to put on the first card in the deck, which was just the ace of spades, information about the manufacturer and the trademark. In 1711, Queen Anne introduced stamp duty on the cards, so hand-made signatures began to appear on the ace, confirming that the manufacturer paid the tax.

But in order not to waste time on this tedious task, after a while a single emblem design was developed for the aces of spades. And after another 151 years, manufacturers will be allowed to decide for themselves what the ace will look like. The tax on cards in England itself will last for a very long time and will be abolished only in 1960.

english ace
english ace

The variety of aces of spades has led to superstition around this card. Some believe that it brings good luck, but others associate it with death. The fact is that not wanting to pay taxes, some manufacturers forged the ace of arms. This crime was punishable by death. The card’s notoriety solidified its position in the 1930s when American gangsters poured it into the hands of their victims.

There was a conviction among the American military that the Vietnamese, for some unknown reason, were panicky about this card. Therefore, to intimidate opponents, the Americans left aces of spades on the corpses.

In fact, the people of Vietnam did not have any phobias associated with this card, and the story itself is more of a legend than a fact. Surely James I and Anna would be surprised to learn that after a few centuries, their royal will make a simple face card so mysterious. It is curious that in the Russian deck the stamp card was an ace of diamonds, which is why it also had its own seal with a two-headed eagle. And although today it is no longer there, the ace of the tambourine is still the most elegant among its brothers.

ace
ace

Since the second half of the 19th century, the design of maps has remained practically unchanged. But with the advent of the possibility of mass production, a wide variety of collectible decks began to be produced, the hero of which can be anyone.

ace mystery
ace mystery

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