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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Recent News: Playing Cards
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Comic Book Artist Paul Roman Martinez Seeks to Have the Number One Vintage ...PR Web (press release), March 7th
His new project, a series of playing cards based on the early days of aviation, will serve as an homage to airplanes and airships, and it will feature famous aviators, airplanes, and airships all drawn by Martinez. This time around, his project has the...Read more
Sniper Elite 3 Gets Release Date, Collector's Edition, And Familiar Pre-Order ...We Got This Covered, March 6th
It comes packed with a limited edition ammo tin box, three exclusive ammo and weapon DLC packs, collectible playing cards, plus a sniper shooting range target, dog tag, bullet-shaped torch pen and dossier. Sniper Elite 3 will be arriving on Xbox One...Read more
The Seasoned Collector: Victorian images at Rengstorff House; Toy Show in ...Contra Costa Times, March 6th
The Newark Pavilion is going to be the spot to explore for vintage toys March 16 when promoter Dave "The Toyman" Fulkerson hosts another of his popular shows. Expect a slew of trains, dolls, robots, cap guns, cars and The Spring San Francisco...Read more
Remember the heyday of Lincoln Downs racetrack with historical society event ...Valley Breeze, March 5th
Pawtucket resident and former Lincoln Downs employee Robert Kynch will lead the presentation on Sunday, March 9, which will include a viewing of memorabilia and sharing of stories. Jason Dionne, president of the historical society, said he wanted to be...Read more
William A. HotisWatertownDailyTimes.com, March 5th
He was a member of the Fireman's Benevolent Association and enjoyed playing cards, was an avid coin and civil war memorabilia collector, did stonework, playing softball and loved a good movie and bag of popcorn and loved his and everyone's children...Read more
'Spun Out' Review: This Show Doesn't Need A Lot Of SpinHuffington Post Canada, March 5th
An invisible cat, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, and playing cards that talk are just some of the fantastic things she's seen during this impossible adventure. Surely this troubled girl must be insane, and her doctors aim to cure her with a treatment...Read more
Pokémon player sets sights on world championshipGreenville News, March 4th
Ryan Sabelhaus, left, and his brother, Kyle, display a poster for the 2014 Pokémon World Championships in Vancouver, Canada. Ryan has been invited to compete in August. / Sandy Furnell / Contributor ...Read more
Narre Warren South collector has up to 200000 cards after 30-year dedicationHerald Sun, February 26th
Mr Dalton, of Narre Warren South, bought his first pack of playing cards from G J Coles, the variety forerunner of today's supermarket chain, while he was still in high school. His mother supported his interest and, later, his wife Beryl proved to be a...Read more