Something behind playing cards that you may not know…

Playing cards are fun. It is a game full of history, and was an art and commodity.

I bet you have played card games for years. Be it poker, Big 2, or other games. Every family should have at least a deck of playing cards at home. So, how much do you know about these 52 cards (plus 2 jokers)?

You do not need to know to have fun playing card games, but there are some interesting facts and trivia about it. Something that you can impress family and friends…

A Little Bit about Playing Cards’ History

Basically, almost every country claims that it is the origin of playing cards or its own invention. The Chinese suggest that it first made the stage in the 12th and 13th centuries (Southern Song Dynasty).

France has a different idea and deems playing cards were evolved from Tarot. On the other hand, the British people consider themselves the inventor of playing cards, according to most verified history records.

There are also views that the game was found in the Arabian Peninsula or India.

From East to West?

Even though the origin of playing cards remains unclear. Many do agree with the analysis that it was originally from the East and then passed to the West.

Business and commercial activities were the triggers and medium that introduced the game from the Far East to Europe and other parts of the world.

The rapid development of printing technology essentially played a big role in speeding up production and spreading.

Is Playing Cards a Bad Game… or Evil?

Playing cards do have a rather bad impression, as the games are often related to gambling and drinking. Back in the Middle Ages of Europe, this was the common view and had given the game a bad name.

Due to it becoming popular, more and more people did suffer in their lives from playing cards. It subsequently led to the government deciding to take action. In Paris, there was a law trying to interfere: Playing on weekdays was prohibited.

Religions were having a great influence on people then. Churches considered playing cards as heresy, and priests thought it corrupted lives. Other European countries followed and issued similar regulations to ban playing.

Playing cards was often considered a bad habit, related to gambling and drinking.
credit: Cody Nottingham

Where are the Suits coming from?

Historians said, suits actually represents social classes:

  • Spade = noble/soldier
  • Heart = clergy
  • Diamond = businessman
  • Clubs = farmer

However, not everyone agrees with the above version, namely the German and French.

Why are they J, Q, and K?

Likewise, there are different views on J, Q, and K. It is subject to various nations, for example, in Spain, the Queen was once replaced by Knight or Gentleman.

The Germans have once removed Q from the cards completely and established their own system. In the UK, people had a more flexible rule: If the national leader is currently a woman, then they swap K and Q in orders.

K of Heart is just different

You may have noticed that K of Heart is somehow different. It has no mustache like other Ks, and strangely, he seems to point his sword at his head. Actually, it was no urban legend or juicy story at all. The rumor was that the worker slipped the chisel while working with the card mold (or template). He accidentally chopped the mustache off from the King of Heart…

Yes, the mistakes carried on and on. At the time, printing technology has been mature enough and pushed for mass production of playing cards. The later products started losing the details and characteristics of their original versions. When a mold/template got worn out, they duplicated it into a new one and printed new batches of cards. This way, the new versions often “inherited” any defects and even have them magnified.

As time goes by, the tip of the sword just vanished…

K of Heart is different from others. The King does not have mustache and the sword misses the tip.
credit: aceofnet

Gender equality in playing cards?

Enough for history, and let’s visit the modern days in 2021. A Dutch woman raised a question about genders in playing cards: “Why does King value higher than Queen?”

For the sake of equality, she created her version of playing cards: replacing J, Q, and K with Bronze, Silver, and Gold, respectively.

This may be controversial and impactful to many of our games. We may need to alter rules to accommodate the changes in the future. Nonetheless, her playing cards have been a big hit and sold over a thousand sets online.

What are the Jokers?

Jokers can be used as wild cards, or/and they are supposed to beat any of the 52 cards. They were actually quite young in games. Jokers firstly emerged in America in the 19th century. Soon after, people in the UK followed and added them to the deck.

Cards become art and commodity

People started making playing cards of better quality with some handicraft techniques and ideas. In addition, the government started issuing taxes on them. The deck would be stamped after-tax, and any counterfeit could result in a death sentence.

Anyway, the high tax rate converted playing cards into commodities. They are since regarded as valuables and artwork. The paper product manufacturers also got more serious: Playing cards were coming with game instructions, promotions, and even advertisements.

Besides, people discovered other applications for playing cards. The cards are also used as invitations, entry tickets, announcements, and receipts. The cards have become pieces of history records.

Design Trends of Playing Cards

Patterns printed on the back

The back of playing cards used to be white in color and blank for 500 years. Until Thomas De La Rue & Company decided to think out of the box, they printed patterns on the back, such as dots, stars, and lines.

Not only did the cards look more stylish, but they also proved a practical step forward. This idea had solved a few long-time problems: The pure white back side could easily be stained with dirt or sweat. They become marks and could make the card recognizable. You may have to dump the entire deck…

Holding playing cards in one hand. Printing values at the four corners makes it easy to browse.
credit: Inês Ferreira

More user-friendly and convenient

Values (A to 10, J, Q, K, and Joker) were later printed at all four corners of the cards. This is practical and beneficial for holding cards. This way, when we are holding cards in a hand (in a fan-shaped), we can easily browse the card values from the corners.

You no longer need to jiggle the cards to check out what you have in possession. This way, you can avoid dropping any cards on the table, and stop other players from peeping.

Customized/Personalized playing cards

If you are bored with the traditional patterns (dots, stars, etc.), you can print a deck with your own designs or images. With the POD technology, everyone can customize and order their personalized playing cards. They are ideal gift ideas for any occasion. The production companies even send them directly to family and friends.

Should you be a designer, you can convert your own designs and arts into product items and monetize.