The invention of playing cards has been variously credited to the Indians, Arabs, and Egyptians. Chinese records claim that the fi rst modern pack was shuffled in the reign of Sèun-ho, about a.d. 1120, and that cards became commonplace by the reign of Kaou-tsung, who ascended the Dragon throne in 1131; however, card games per se date back more than two millenia, preceding the invention of paper.
Card playing was introduced into Europe through the Crusades (the Arabs endured lengthy sieges with cards and other gambling paraphernalia) and gained currency in Western society during the 14th century. In 1423, the Franciscan friar St. Bernardino of Siena preached a celebrated sermon against cards ( Contra Alearum Ludos) at Bologna, attributing their invention to the devil. Despite such ecclesiastic interdiction, Johannes Gutenberg printed playing cards the same year as his famous Bible (1440). The pack struck by Gutenberg’s press consisted of Tarot cards, from which the modern deck is derived. Initially there were 78 cards: 22 “ atouts ” (literally: “ above all, ” later known as “ triumph ” or “ trump ” ) including a Joker ( le Fou) and four denominations of 14 cards each (ten numbered ranks plus a King, Queen, Cavalier or Knight, and a Valet or Knave). The four denominations, or suits, represented the four major divisions of medieval society: Swords symbolized the nobility; Coins, the merchant class; Batons or Clubs, the peasants; and Cups or Chalices, the Church. These suits are still reflected in the contemporary playing cards of Italy, Spain, Andorra, and Portugal.
Invention of playing cards of french type
About 1500, the French dropped the 22 atouts and eliminated the Knight, leaving a deck of 4 13 52 cards. They also transformed Swords, Coins, Batons, and Cups into Piques (soldiers ’ pikes), Carreaux (building tiles, lozenge- or diamondshaped), Tr è fles (trefoils or clover leaves), and Coeurs (hearts). In 16th-century Spain, Swords were Espados; Coins were square pieces of currency, Dineros; Batons, Clubs, or Cudgels were Bastos; and Cups or Chalices were Copas. Hence, we have adopted the French symbols, translated the names of two (Hearts and Diamonds) into English and applied to the other two English translations of Spanish names for different symbols. Such is the illogic of language.
Despite a number of coincidences, no firm connection has been found between the structure of the deck and the calendar. It seems palpable to link the
four suits with the seasons and the 13 ranks with the lunar months (corresponding to one card per week of the year). Further, if we assign a weight of 13 to the Kings, 12 to the Queens, 11 to the Jacks, and so forth, the 52-card pack totals 364; adding 1 for the Joker equals the number of days in a (nonbissextile) year. Such is the treachery of numerology, which with the invention of playing cards received a new instrument.
Design of playing cards
Initially , the court cards were designed as portraits of actual personages, and stylistic vestiges of the individuals remain today. The four original kings (invested in 14th-century Europe) were Charlemagne (Hearts), the biblical David (Spades), Julius Caesar (Diamonds), and Alexander the Great (Clubs). Distaff royalty included Helen of Troy as the Queen of Hearts, Pallas Athena as the Queen of Spades (the only queen to be armed), and the biblical Rachel as the Queen of Diamonds. Regal ladies passingly honored as card monarchs were Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII), Roxane, Judith, Hecuba, Florimel, and Fausta, among many. Famous Jacks were frequently renowned warriors, such as Hogier La Danois, one of Charlemagne’s lieutenants (Spades); Etienne de Vignoles, a soldier under Charles VII of France (Hearts); Roland, Charlemagne’s nephew (Diamonds); and the gallant knight Sir Lancelot (Clubs) .
Many cultures have evolved decks partitioned in other ways. The Hindus employ a deck with ten denominations, representing the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The Italians use, generally, a 40-card deck, and the Spanish use a 48-card deck. The French play games with both the 52-card pack and the 32-card Piquet pack (omitting twos through sixes). Clearly, the number of cards comprising a deck is arbitrary and could be selected to satisfy the needs of a particular game. However, we shall consider, unless otherwise specified, the 52-card pack partitioned into 4 denominations and 13 ranks.