Who invented playing cards and what is their history

The playing cards they were invented in China towards the end of the first millennium AD From China they arrived in the Middle East around the 11th-12th century and, a short time later, the four suits still used today in Italian cards: coins, swords, cups and batons. Cards also became popular in Europe, spreading especially after the invention of printing, which made production easier and cheaper. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, in France, the cards that we now call from pokerthat is, with the suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. More recent is the introduction of the jokerinvented in the United States in the nineteenth century and spread in the following century.

The Birth of Playing Cards in China

The origins of playing cards are to be found in the country that invented paper as a material: China. There is no certain data, but it is probable that the first examples of playing cards were produced around8th century AD One theory, unproven but plausible, is that playing cards derive from banknotes, also invented in China, which perhaps were originally used not only for paying, but also for betting. What is certain is that the ancient Chinese papers of the time were very different from those in use today, both in design and production technique. As the centuries passed, however, they spread to an ever greater extentfavored by the fact that some printing techniques already existed in China, and at the end of the 13th century the first cases of intervention by the authorities to punish gambling occurred.

The cards in the Middle East

The cards “traveled” along the Silk Road and from China reached the Middle East. Around the 12th century they arrived in Egypt and at the time of Mamluk dynasty (13th-16th century) the four-suit model still existing in Italy and Spain was established: coins, swords, clubs and cups. Perhaps the seeds derive from drawings on the Roman coins, from which the word ace also originates to indicate the card with a value of one (as, or axis, was the name of a coin). Furthermore, already in the Egypt of the Mamluks, the decks of 52 cards, 13 for each suit. The first known example dates back to the 15th century and is today preserved in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

history of the game of dice

The design of the Egyptian cards was different from the current one and, although the custom of replacing cards worth 11, 12 and 13 with “figures” (as it is today in French cards), generally no images were used, but writings, because Islam forbids the representation of the human figure.

The arrival of playing cards in Europe

From Egypt the cards reached Europe. Towards the end of the 14th century century they arrived in Italy and in Spain (the two countries where the four “traditional” suits are still in use) and then gradually spread in rest of the continent. Originally, since printing did not yet exist, cards were a very expensive object, accessible only to the rich and aristocrats. Some decks, made by hand, were true works of art.

The “original” design that came from Egypt was progressively modified and adapted to European customs. For example, since the fifteenth century, introduced the figures of the king, the queen and the jacks. The designs and shapes, however, were different in each single territory. In Germany, for example, the seeds of hearts, bells, acorns and leaves became established.

In Northern Italy, towards the middle of the 15th century, the tarot (originally called trumps): 78 cards used to play and soon become a tool for predicting the future.

Furthermore, in our country, in the 16th-17th centuries the 40 card deckwhich does not contain the 8s, 9s and 10s and directly after the 7 has the figures: jack (or queen), knight and king.

The tarot game in a 15th century Milanese fresco

The invention of printing and French papers

In the second half of the 15th century, two events occurred that were destined to have a great impact on the history of playing cards. First of all, theinvention of the printing presswhich occurred in Europe around the 1450, made production easier and cheaper and, in the medium term, favored the diffusion of cards on a large scale. Furthermore, in France around 1480 the card model with the four most widespread suits in the world was introduced: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spadesprobably “invented” because it was easier and cheaper to make than other models.

The evolution of cards in recent centuries

The design of French cards has changed many times over the centuries. In the nineteenth century, cards became established that could beread” in both verses (therefore the figures are “cut in half”). In the United States, the jokerthat is, a special card to which the player can assign any value he wants, which became popular especially in the twentieth century. Typically, there are two jokers in each deck, which therefore consists of 54 cards. French cards are today the most widespread in the world and are the “protagonists” of poker and many other games.

In Italy, together with French cards, the Italian cards, with the four traditional suits of coins, sticks, cups and swords, used for games such as trump, broom, tressette and many others. The design of the cards changes according to the regions: in the South the Neapolitan cardsin the Centre-North the Piacenza papers and other models.