Playing cards arrived in Europe sometime in the late 14th century. They may have been introduced by North African Moors, whose influence on southern Europe was strong at this time. A key piece of evidence in this theory is a 15th-century document called the "Chronicles of Viterbo," which indicates that playing cards with designs similar to suits and varying numbers of items on each card arrived in Italy in 1379. But where the Moors got playing cards, or even whether they invented them at all, is a good deal less clear.
The earliest surviving playing cards date from the 15th century, bearing images of animals, plants, birds, and flowers. By about 1500, three main suit systems had evolved: Latin (including Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese); Germanic (German and Swiss), and French (which has become the most widely-used suit system in the world). These early playing cards were hand-painted, often gilded, and designed to be beautiful objects. Meant for gambling as well as for playing games of skill, they also often incorporated symbols or mnemonics to represent knowledge ranging from botany to heraldry, cosmology to geography.
Playing-card design as we know it today (double-ended court cards with crowns, etc.) became standardized in the 1800s by designers like Hunt, Reynolds, De La Rue, and Goodall. Identifying cards produced earlier than the 19th century can be accomplished in a couple of simple ways. For example, the backs of cards were plain in the United States and Great Britain prior to the mid-19th century, although decorations on card backs were common in other countries well before that. In addition, rounded corners did not appear on cards until the end of the 19th century.
To identify 18th- and 19th-century British cards, looks for a tax stamp on one of the cards in the deck, usually the ace of spades. Stamping playing cards began in 1765, and the first ones read "G. III REX" until it changed to "G. IV REX" in the 1820s. The words "SIXPENCE ADDITL. DUTY" were added to cards from 1776 until 1789, and subsequent changes to this legend and its placement on the card can give the collector important information about a card's age.
Among the most common cards are those with the Bicycle brand. Beginning in 1885, more than 80 intricate designs, mostly in red or blue, were created for these classic playing cards. And by the 20th century, playing cards were given away so that railroads, tourist destinations, and airlines could advertise themselves on the back of each card, as well as the packet in which the deck was stored.
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BRIEFLY: Dec. 12Wicked Local, December 12th
Join your friends and neighbors in a 19th century country chapel, heated by a wood stove and lit by oil lamps as we sing the old favorites to the tune of an antique pump organ. Children are Hospice Volunteers provide companionship and support to...Read more
When a man admits he has feelings, it's not weakness -- it's just progressIrish Independent, December 11th
Founder John Evoy says men tend to talk "shoulder-to-shoulder, rather than face-to-face" and the organisation offers environments in which men engage in a common interest -- whether it's playing cards or repairing a vintage car. The concept originated...Read more
Nicholls, WayneHerald & Review, December 10th
His other hobbies included hunting, gardening, playing cards with family and friends, going to auctions and collecting his antique fishing lures. But most of all was his love for his grandchildren, Katie, Kara and Hayden. He spent many hours watching...Read more
Gifts to guarantee warm welcomeThe Province, December 7th
And for $20 (plus shipping) you can give your host a set of playing cards with a personal touch. Perhaps an image of the Hit your local second-hand or antique shop and rummage around for an old serving spoon or cake serving knives. Polish them up...Read more
Panelists weave a complex discussion of guns in AmericaKTVQ Billings News, December 6th
The history of firearms was especially important to Nienaber, a gun collector who experiences history through them. Or, he continued, "to be able to set your axe up and split a ball and hit two playing cards at 50 yards, it's not an easy thing to...Read more
Bruce HightowerLongview Daily News, December 5th
Bruce was fond of vintage cars, playing cards and visiting with friends. Bruce never met a stranger and was a generous host. He and Phyllis always had dogs, and he had a soft spot for Labs in particular. His little dog Missy adored him. Bruce was a big ...Read more
The Goodyear Collection at AuctionMaine Antique Digest, December 5th
“When we got these, my research indicated similar nineteenth-century taxidermy squirrels in Western themes or playing cards, for example, were selling in the three hundred to seven hundred dollar range,” said auctioneer Rachel Davis. “I didn't realize...Read more
Abernathy's offers variety of handmade, vintage itemsQuad City Times, November 21st
Adams focuses on handmade jewelry crafted from things such as antique keys, animal bones, metals, recycled metal, playing cards and leather. "Just random findings," she said. "I will make anything that anybody will wear. They can run anywhere from $5...Read more