We all have played a game with playing cards before, but have you ever thought about how they were created? A standard deck of playing cards seems very normal and conventional to us, but the cards we know and use are anything but.
Playing cards didn’t always consist of 52 red and black cards of 4 suits with two Jokers. Every culture and country that playing cards passed through helped shape the modern deck we know today.
Let’s dive in and discover the history of playing cards, who invented playing cards, and when they were invented.
Origins of Playing Cards
The exact origins of playing cards remain unknown, and many scholars base their theories on speculation. But it is clear that playing cards began to appear in Europe in the 1370s.
They seem to have been imported from the East from merchants, gypsies, or crusaders. The first European playing cards were hand-painted and viewed as a luxury good.
Who invented playing cards?
So who actually invented playing cards? Like so many other things we know and love, playing cards has roots in a number of cultures.
Many scholars believe playing cards were invented before 1000AD by the Chinese. Some think that today’s paper playing cards evolved from the original Mahjong tiles. If you’ve ever seen Mahjong titles, the patterned rectangles may seem to hint at the origin of our modern day cards.
Others have even suggested that playing cards were brought to Europe by the Mameluke empire of Egypt. In this era, the card decks had a variety of words, shapes, and concepts on them including goblets, gold coins, polo sticks, and swords.
However, the earliest reference of the playing cards we know today remains in Europe.
History of Playing Cards
Italy and Spain
A Latin manuscript written in 1377 by a German monk from Switzerland mentions the use of playing cards in a variety of card games. Playing cards then began to appear in dice games and gambling games. It is evident that 52 cards were used during this period. The first European decks, which most likely originated in Italy, were designed with suit signs of cups, coins, clubs, and swords.
These Italian court cards include 4 things:
- A mounted king
- A seated queen
- A crowned queen
- A knave
The Spanish court cards were developed a little differently. They didn’t contain the numbers 8,9 or 10, and the cards included:
- A king
- A knight
- A knave
Playing cards became increasingly popular and eventually spread north and west. Once playing cards reached Germany, they became more widely available. Of course, they put their own spin on the cards. The Germans wanted to form their own suits on their court cards, which included:
These German suits are still used in parts of Europe, but their main contribution to the history of playing cards is their method of printing cards. They used printers to produce large quantities of playing cards, making them a leader in the playing card trade.
In the 15th century, France developed a suit of their own that we commonly use today. Common French suits included:
The French decided to divide the four suits into red and black playing cards with less complex symbols. This made it possible to produce playing cards with stencils, which greatly improved the manufacturing process and made production more efficient. The French then became the dominant leader in the playing card trade.
Huge quantities of playing cards were transferred to England from Belgium. Due to the rise of tax prices in France, card makers opened factories and workshops in Belgium where they exported playing cards to various countries in Europe.
The English used the same suits as the French and created the Ace of Spades. They stamped their cards with the Ace of Spades to prevent tax evasion. England gained dominance in the playing card industry due to increased productivity and output.
What is the history of playing cards in America?
You’re On Deck is based in America and our family has a long history of playing cards! Since Americans relied on England for a lot of its imports, they were late to the history of playing cards. An American manufacturer, Lewis I. Chen, invented a machine that printed all four colors of the card faces at one time, further increasing production.
The United States is also responsible for creating the Joker cards, also known as the trump cards. The Joker was first used as a wild card in a game of poker around 1875.
America is now a leader in the playing card industry. We’re proud to carry on that tradition here at You’re On Deck! With, of course, your own twist!
If you are still asking “Who DID invented playing cards?!” We think you missed the point.
It was a combination of different countries and cultures who all added their own contributions and helped create the playing cards we love today. Add your own contribution and create a deck for you and your group today with our wide variety of possibilities for card deck customizations.
Customized Playing Cards
At You’re On Deck, you can customize your very own deck of playing cards. With a little personalization, you can create a deck of cards that is unique and special to you.
Add your own pictures on a regular deck of playing cards or customize them completely. Use your customized deck of cards to make game night even more exciting and memorable or give it to a loved one for the ultimate gift.
Customize your own playing cards today to create something that is meaningful and personal to you.