Brief History of Playing Cards
Playing Card History - Condensed
The word “card” is from the Latin word charta, sheet. And this word or similar is used in all European countries besides Spain, where you use naipes, an arabic word of some high military man.
Where did card playing start?
Playing cards need paper, therefore it is natural to assume that playing cards got their start in China. China has produced paper since 100 A.D. The paper came to Europe around year 1000 A.D. Therefore, once again, it is natural to assume that the first known playing cards are from China. In 969 Kaiser Mutsung played cards with his several wife’s on New Years evening.
How did card playing start?
The whole history of playing cards is not known. Cards arrived to Europe around 1370. They developed quickly, probably from Arabic cards. The most common was four-suit decks, with different numbers of courts. There are some numerical “things” which may show us a connection between dice and a pack of cards. There may have bin a law against playing with dice (and money) during 1400 century so playing cards are to thank for its development! Just a way to sneak around the law.
The suit marks are quite different in Europe. Several countries have developed there own suit marks. Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Italy are examples of countries with there own national suit marks. Each different from the common French hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.
52- Deck of Cards
“Our” 52-pack came around 1480, probably because at that time they started mass-producing decks. The French suit marks were not so difficult to print and it was also just two colours (black and red), that made everything more easy and cheaper. The most common international pictures are developed from early French courts. In the 1700's companies started to print on the backside of cards and in the 1800's the figures with double-ended courts.
The cards came rather late to Sweden, probably in the beginning of 1600's and imported from France and Belgium. The first known Swedish-produced cards are from 1731. The Swedish production was related on how high the level on the governments tax was, at a specific time. This specialty tax on playing cards remained until 1960 when the tax stamp disappeared from the ace of heart. The Swedish firm, J O Öberg & Son, had there own year-stamp from the start 1902 until 1963 on ace of heart. The firm was sold in 1999 to Carta Mundi, Belgium. 1999 a new Swedish firm, Offason, started to produce decks.
The first joker "arrived" in 1857. Soon after that card makers started to add indices (small suit signs, numbers and letters) in the corners.
The special 78 card deck with 22 triumph cards (Major Arcane) is both used for playing and to tell fortunes. This type of deck is very beautiful, often colourful and the triumph cards shows different subjects.
The cards that common people use, normally have the same look everywhere, though it could vary a lot from one country to another and sometimes even in the country. For example German and Italy have different decks depending on the history in the particularly region. The English standard pattern have become more or less international as they dominate all over the world.
The Swedish standard is of course Öbergs “with the right honors”. Many manufactures have tried, more or less successful, to copy the picture. Non standard is the specially luxury cards, sometimes even with beautiful pips. This type of cards is often made with great fantasy and beautifully decorated, made on different themes. Here you find souvenir cards, artistic, celebrating and of course many cards with advertising.
If you decide to collect playing cards, You could specialize in different times, countries, manufactures, non standard and so on. Many many new decks are produced each year. Many of which we stock right here at Newt's Playing Cards. The owners personal favorite is the semi-transformational decks.
The above text is adapted from an article in the issue “Samlarnytt” written by Tommy Stern (Chairman of Cartophilia Sueciae) and also from “Trumf på hand, 1993” written by Ali Jerremalm (Secretary of Cartophilia Sueciae).