A woodcut printed Chinese playing card dated c. 1400 AD during the Ming Dynasty.
Photo by Anonymous
Mameluke cards/Mamluk Playing Cards
Photo (Left-coin) by Doremifaso
Photo (Middle-cups) by Doremifaso
Photo (Right-swords) by Doremifaso
Spanish deck for Baraja
Upper Left: King of Coins
Upper Right: King of Swords
Lower Left: King of Batons
Lower Right: King of Cups
OTHER NAMES: TARJETAS QUE JUEGAN (in Spanish), CARTES A JOUER (in French), 撲克牌 (in Chinese)
The common playing card is one of the most iconic paradigm of games known to mankind, its simplicity of engagement and complex mechanics keeps players enthralled for many eras.
Playing cards are usually in 52-54 quantity depending on the inclusion of joker cards, and consists of four suits with consecutive rank from ace to king. People combine many decks to include more players into the desired game.
Playing cards originated in Imperial Tang Dynasty China from the 7th century, and the first written reference to playing cards comes from a book titled 'Collection of Miscellanea at Duyang" in the 9th century. The book describes how a princess was playing cards with commoners. According to Needham Song Dynasty scholar Ouyang Xiu, playing cards were already well established in mid-Tang Dynasty due to the invention of using flipping sheets of paper, or pages, instead of rolling paper scrolls as a writing medium. (1)
The ancient playing cards of Chinese origin seems to come from copying real currency on a piece of paper for games, very much similar to how "monopoly money" are to real currency. These ancient money cards had four suits with numerals 2-9 in the first three suits representing coins, strings of coins, and myriads of strings of coins. A fourth suit has numerals 1-9 in the special suit representing tens of myriads of coins, along with a special card, or joker card, for each suit. (2)
Around the 11th century, playing cards started to spread around Asia and arrived at Mamluk in Egypt, which eventually came out with the Mamluk pack that consists of 52 cards with four suits representing sticks, coins, swords, and cups.
When playing cards started to penetrate into Europe in the 14th century, the suits became more Latin based with cups, swords, coins and batons. The first modern suits of spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts appeared in late 15th century France, and was designed by Etienne Vignoles for Knight's games. (3)
Through trade and colonialism, playing cards with modern 4 suits became the default standard used in games and casino games worldwide. Today, a deck of playing card is the icon for games and entertainment, even magic shows. It is a great tool for some wholesome party and family fun.
The origin of games is one of the oldest human civilization lineage, spanning over millenniums of development to date. From archaeological evidence traditional games is one of the fundamental aspect of life in the ancient world, and is paramount to the development of social culture and military strategies. Many of these games became modern day family fun for holidays and occasions to enjoy.