With a topic so vast and so loved as what cards are, it can become difficult to unravel where they come from. Everyone wants a part of the origin story of something as global as playing cards. One of our first sources point to the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In historical scrolls it says that they used paper like tiles with which they played games to entertain themselves.
This origin story is however in conflict with the idea that playing cards originated in Arabia. During the late 14th century there is a sudden mention of the game called ‘Saracen’s Game’ that arrived in Europe, via the trade line from Arabia. Introducing the western world to rectangular cards with pictures on them that is used to play this game.
In yet another origin story we learn that the Indian nomadic tribes that travelled the world, way before the 14th century, had with them rectangular cards with interesting pictures on them. These cards were used in games of chance and in fortune telling. These are then also the cards that were used to create what we know today, as the Tarot Cards.
From Egypt to Italy.
In Italy, by the year 1400 there existed a deck of playing cards that already had 52 cards in it. The suites were different though to what we know as clubs, hearts, diamonds and spades. The Latin suits -as it is still called today – consisted of cups, swords, coins and sticks. These decks were often used with dice in games of chance.
It is notable that in Egypt, way before the Latin suites, a card deck existed that was made up of 52 cards and four suites which were called cups, swords, coins and sticks. Some say that this is where the Italians and the Spanish got the idea from. More interesting is that the Indian tribes travelled through Egypt where they got the nick name of Gypsies.
Evolution Of The Playing Card
In fact, just about all countries from France, to Germany, Holland and England have some or other fascinating story about where the cards originated from. What is interesting to note, is that most countries had their own set of imagery for the four suites and none of the decks features the character card that we know today as ‘The Joker’
The modern-day cards as we know it, found its origin – or rather its evolutionary phase – in The United States of America in roughly 1832. The New York Consolidated Card Company was the first to rebrand the cards into the popular suites that we know and undertook mass printing and distribution, they called their brand of cards – Squeezers
Enter, The Joker
It is at this time that the Joker was introduced into the deck of cards. Originally, he was not called ‘The Joker’, but his name was taken from a popular card game – Euchre – and he was donned as ‘The Best Bower’, which meant that he trumped all other cards. The modern-day Bicycle cards were created by the United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) and remains one of the most popular decks of playing cards to date.