History of playing cards

Playing cards have been widely distributed throughout human history because of the attractive characteristics they offer.

There are alternative designs of playing cards in North America, Europe and East Asia. Some of these alternative designs may have appeared in the early stages of development, before our current 52-card decks were completed.

The history of playing cards is a topic with many contradictory and interesting narratives. There are examples where people assumed it was very common in certain areas, and others who thought it was brought by people from other regions.

Sheet of French playing cards, c. 1800. Soldiers bear a flag that shows the card's suit and rank.
Sheet of French playing cards, c. 1800. Soldiers bear a flag that shows the card’s suit and rank

Whether it’s playing cards or sports playing cards, our civilization has had its share of cards. In 2000, more than 58 million poker games were played in America alone, and this number is constantly growing with the growth of the gambling industry.

In the 18th century, the French nobility became popular to play various types of card games. In this era, called the “cardinal party”, cardsharps were used to deceive people by snatching the second trump card out of thin air during a trick.

Over time, playing cards have become an integral part of our lives, helping us make decisions both in big moments of change and in unexpected small ones. It also served as a practical reminder to revisit the value and mystery that was noticeable at some point in time.

139 years later, these small collectibles continue to exist with the interest of collectors around the world.

Little did we know that playing cards existed long before the Buddha was born on Earth. The young prince Siddhartha Gadadhara, who eventually became a Buddha, found some old playing cards with markings or patterns. The connections between all these disparate events exist only in theory due to the lack of complete historical descriptions of this period in the form of today’s disparate knowledge.

Hanafuda playing cards for the game koi koi.
Hanafuda playing cards for the game koi koi

The earliest cast “playing card” may have been made from the metal of siege guns (i.e. tin) and served as a token for soldiers defending the city gates at Handelszeit, indicating its ancient and constant use during periods of time that collapsed.

Let’s start much further than in the nineteenth century, with King Robert I (the Scottish king), still alive after 888.

In the 15th century, Spanish and Portuguese traders brought maps to Europe. The cards were used not only as a betting game based on skills and chances. There were 36 different symbols on playing cards in Mexico, and many lessons could be conveyed using playing cards without even reading them.

This timeline dates back to 1790 and continues until 2017. In 1790, a merchant named Abraham Elzevir developed the very first maps for about 5000 Swiss francs. In those years, cards were used only for gambling and were not considered as a game. In 1836, a hired printer from Sheffield named John William Walker invented card counters in the UK in a pub called Hare and Hounds Tavern, where he published a “Reformers’ Flyer” with a deck of cards containing anti-slavery images.

Currently, we have grown to such an extent that we cannot imagine what the world would be like if there were no playing cards around. This personal preference is just an example of how collecting antique objects and artifacts can help in understanding history and even in predicting today’s future.