What is the History of Playing Cards?

When you think of playing cards, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the fun of sitting around with friends and family, enjoying a game of cards? Or it’s the thrill of watching your favourite poker players compete at a tournament on TV.

Or maybe it’s simply a deck in its own right—a fascinating piece of art that you’d love to frame and hang on your wall.

Whatever your answer is, we’re here to tell you that all those things are true—and more. That’s because playing cards have an incredible history full of rich storytelling, fascinating characters, and even a little bit of magic.

Let us take you through this amazing history so that you can learn about how playing cards came to be what they are today:

What is the Story Behind the Playing Cards?

There are many theories about how playing cards came about, but no one knows for sure. The earliest known reference to the use of playing cards comes from a book written in China around the 9th century. 

This book is called “Collection of Miscellanea at Duyang”. It describes a game called “leaf game”, which Emperor Yizoong of Tang’s daughter played with her friends.

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From there, the story of how playing cards spread across the globe is one associated with trade and exploration. Here is the story of the evolution of playing cards and how they came to be what they are today.

1. China: Early History

The origin of these playing cards is quite a debatable topic. Some believe these were produced in China around the 9th century during Tang Dynasty. Others believe playing cards were developed along with tile games, such as mahjong and Dominos. Still, some believe it connects with dice games or chess. 

Whatever the case, it is agreed upon that playing cards were introduced to Europe in the 14th century by crusaders returning home from the Middle East.

As for the early use of playing cards, there are some speculations that these cards were used in gambling games as play money before it was integrated into the games.

2. Europe: The Spread of Playing Cards

The earliest known playing cards were found in Europe during the 14th century. At this time, playing cards began to spread throughout the continent, along with many other games and pastimes introduced from Asia.

Although the exact date of their introduction is unknown, playing cards were used in gambling games soon after they arrived in Europe. 

It is believed that the use of playing cards was first restricted to the nobility and upper classes. Eventually, they became popular among the masses as well.

One would think playing cards would have been introduced into Europe by the Chinese, but this is not the case.

The Egyptians formed the bridge between the East and West by trading with the Chinese. The Arabs, who were active traders in their own right, then brought playing cards to Europe.

The Mamluk (Egypt) playing cards are some of the oldest known cards in existence. They date back to the 13th century and are believed to have been used by the military elite during their leisure time. The Mamluk deck is also one of the earliest decks that had 52 cards.


As playing cards spread throughout Europe, they were modified and adapted to suit the needs of each country. Spain was no exception. 

Their version of playing cards was quite different from those found in other countries, including France and Germany. One major difference is that Spanish decks had only 48 cards instead of 52.

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The Arabs had a huge influence on the development of Spanish playing cards. This is because they were the first to bring their own version of cards to Europe. However, over time, the Arabs’ cards were modified and adapted to suit the needs of each country.

The Spanish printed decks lacked a few cards, most notably the “10” and “Queen.” Therefore, their court cards comprised the King, Knight, and Knave.

In 1310, Barcelona issued a decree which forbade the use of playing cards in public. This was because they were considered to be a form of gambling, and the Church did not approve of it.


Italy also played a large part in the development of modern playing cards. The Italian city of Florence banned the use of playing cards in 1377, but it wasn’t long before they were back in fashion. Of importance to card making, was the presence of many Italian artists.

They used their talents to make beautiful artwork on the cards. The first set of Italian playing cards was hand-crafted to create a set of cards that were not only useful for playing games but also beautiful to look at.

These cards were made of wood and had detailed designs painted on them. The Italian style of playing cards was very popular in Europe, and many other countries began to copy the designs.

3. Creation of Playing Cards in Europe

The first confirmed playing cards record was found inside the manuscript written by Johannes, a German monk, in 1377. When Johannes resided in the Swiss monastery, the writer described playing card development and card games.

The popularity continued to rise about playing cards during the 14th-century end and 15th-century beginning. In this period, the European cards produced the idea of utilizing four suits: Swords, Cups, Clubs, and Coins.

It is also referred to as Latin Suits which may have connections in Tarot cards still found in Spanish and Italian cards to this day.

Playing cards created earlier were stunning and hand-painted, especially the Court Cards. Italian cards had a King, Knave or Jack, and Queen, whereas Spanish cards lacked two cards. 

They also never used 8s or 9s for the game Ombre and only 40 cards were included in the most Spanish playing cards deck.

4. Germany: Widespread Card Production

Due to the lavish nature of playing cards, these were reserved for only the noble and wealthiest individuals. 

But with growing popularity, new ways were invented to produce them at a much lower price. The larger availability of these cards eventually landed in Germany, and soldiers there mostly played card games.

With the help of their engraving and woodcutting techniques, the Germans finally produced the cards in huge quantities and spread them all across western Europe.

The Germans contributed to the standardization of suits. In the 15th century, card makers in Germany created a new deck that featured images of hearts, bells and leaves instead of the traditional ones like swords, cups and coins. 

They did this to create a standardized deck that everyone could use regardless of language or culture. The Germans also replaced Queens with another Jack, while the Aces were replaced with Twos, making it a deck of 48 cards.

The other thing the Europeans did to the Mamluk deck was to replace the court cards. The original court cards had Mamluk images but were replaced with European ones. 

These new images represented the European idea of royalty and nobility. It consisted of Kings, Queens, and attendants.

5. France: The Modern Suits Development

During the 15th century beginning, the French people became a part of playing cards history by creating the suit imagery present in modern-day cards. 

They were also the ones who divided the suits into two colours that are black and red. By simplifying colours of playing cards, printers got the chance to make specific stencils that improved the manufacturing speed of cards a lot.

With the developments in printing processes and paper manufacturing techniques, playing cards became more affordable and accessible to people. 

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The French, consequently, became the largest playing card manufacturers in Europe. The main reason behind this was the large number of people who could afford to play cards, leading to an increase in demand and mass production.

As the playing cards powerhouse, France was soon followed by many other countries, such as Germany, Italy and the United States. As a result, playing cards became massively popular in most parts of Europe by the end of the 19th century.

6. England: The Rise of English Playing Cards

Due to the heavy tax in France, some card makers shifted to Belgium, and then playing cards appeared in other parts of Europe. It also appeared in England, where the English names of all suits were given. This included both French and Italian designs like Clubs, Diamonds, Spades, and Hearts.

The English people were responsible for creating the Ace of Spades. Earlier the Ace of Spades was to be stamped before going out of the factory. This was proof that manufacturers had paid tax.

But in 1828, a particular Ace of Spades was required to be bought from Stamp Duties commissioners. These were unique cards with elaborate designs, including the name of manufacturers. This tradition continues today even though card makers in 1862 got permission to make their own Ace of Spades.

In 1860, the founder of the De La Rue printing enterprise, Thomas de la Rue, discovered many

 ways to produce playing cards at a lower price. The independent artwork on playing cards was then replaced with standardized designs that everyone is familiar with today.

De La Rue is the world’s most famous and oldest playing card manufacturer. The company was founded by Thomas de la Rue, who set up a printing press and made his first deck of cards in 1832. De La Rue was also a pioneer in the use of chromolithography. 

This method is an advanced colour printing process that uses layers of oil-based ink with each other to create images.

7. The American Effect

During the 19th century, Americans had a huge preference for goods from England. The card makers even print London on the Ace of Spades to increase their sales. 

One of these cardmakers was Lewis I. Cohen. He revolutionized card manufacturing with the creation of a printing press that could print four colours simultaneously.

In 1871, The New York Consolidated Company, under the guidance of Cohen, introduced the corner indices idea so that players could view cards in a fan shape. This innovation made it easier to identify the cards and improved playability. 

The company also improved the quality of card stock, making them thinner and more durable. As a result, the American Card Company’s playing cards were better than their British counterparts.

Euchre players soon discovered that you could use the Joker as a wild card in the game. This new rule became so popular that the US Playing Card Company started printing cards with two Jokers. As a wild card, this best-bower gave the player a better chance of winning.

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This card is still popular today and can be found in many games. The most common use for the Joker is as a wild card in poker variants like Draw Poker or Stud Poker, where it can represent any card in the deck except for an ace.

8. Modern-Day Playing Cards

Today, playing cards are a very popular form of entertainment. You can find them in casinos, homes, schools, and cruise ships. Most people who play cards do so for fun and don’t realize the incredible history behind these small pieces of paper.

The playing card is a symbol of entertainment, but it also has a long history of being used for gambling and cheating. Even today, casinos have strict rules about what type of cards can be used in their games. The reason they do this is because they don’t want players to have an unfair advantage over others who play by the rules.

Besides playing games, cards are also used for divination. In fact, many people believe that playing cards are a gateway to the occult. However, the cards are also a great way to connect with family and friends. It’s easy to see how so many people enjoy playing cards and why they’ve been around for so long.

What Are Face Cards?

Face cards are the jacks, queens and kings of playing cards. Each deck has four face cards, one for each suit. The two jacks represent the knave or page of their respective suits: clubs and hearts. The queen represents a noblewoman, while the king represents royalty.

In a playing cards deck, a face card is a card that has a person depicted in it. It is also called picture cards. These face card designs are different from the other cards in the deck. 

The face cards have a more sophisticated and attractive look compared to the number cards. This is because, as mentioned above, they represent characters or people.

The value of each face card depends on its rank. The higher the rank, the more valuable it is. For example, a king has a higher value than a queen or jack.

The symmetry in the designs of the face cards is also another reason why they are considered more attractive than the number cards. 

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Each face card has a unique design, which makes them stand out from each other. The designs on these cards have been carefully crafted to reflect the rank and value of each character.

In the mid-19th century, the designers thought of the reversed symmetry of face cards. They did this to make the cards more attractive. The designs on these cards were carefully crafted by artists who took their time to create a unique set of face cards. 

They thought of how each card could reflect its rank and value while still maintaining an attractive design that would appeal to players.

Not just the symmetry, card designers also added some characteristics to each of the face cards. The king, for instance, is depicted with a crown and sceptre while the queen holds a golden orb in her hand. In addition to their designs, the face cards also have meaning.

The king represents masculine energy and leadership, while the queen represents feminine energy and nurturing. The jack, on the other hand, is considered a youthful and playful character.


Now that you know the history of playing cards, you’re probably wondering what to do with all this new knowledge.

If you want to impress your friends and family, try telling them about how playing card games used to be played with a different set of rules—and then challenge them to play by those rules!

You can also take this knowledge and use it in your daily life. When someone asks you what’s up, tell them you’re “playing a round,” or if they ask what time it is, say, “it’s time to shuffle.” And if they ask what your favourite card is, tell them it’s “nines” or “queens.”

We hope you learned something from this article and that you’ll be able to impress your friends with your new knowledge. But most of all, have fun playing!

Frequently Asked Questions

How many cards are in a deck of playing cards?

The standard 52-card deck is used for most games. However, there are also 54-card decks that include two jokers.

What is the difference between playing cards and poker cards?

Playing cards are used for most card games, while poker cards are only used in poker.

Can You Tell the Difference Between the Face Cards?

The face cards are some of the most familiar images in card games and can be identified instantly. However, it might be hard for some people to tell the difference between them because their designs are so similar.

In fact, there’s only one way to differentiate a jack from a queen or king: by looking at their clothing. For example, jacks always wear red and black stripes, while kings and queens wear more formal clothes such as robes or crowns.

How many face cards are there?

Four face cards are in a standard deck of playing cards: the jack, queen, king and ace. However, some decks may have different numbers of these cards. Some also have jokers as additional face cards.

Who First Invented Playing Cards?

While the exact creator of playing cards is unknown, it is believed the Chinese invented the first deck of cards in the 9th century. These early decks were made out of paper and wood. Later on, European traders brought these cards to Europe, where they were modified and used for gaming purposes.

How Did Playing Cards Change Over Time?

Playing cards have undergone many changes over the years. The original decks were made of paper and wood, but they were later modified to be made of plastic or other materials. The suits in a modern deck include hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds. However, some early decks included additional suits, such as cups and swords.

The number of cards in a modern deck has also changed over time. Some early decks had only 16 cards per suit, while others included up to 40 cards.

The number of jokers has also varied from deck to deck. In some early decks, there were no jokers at all.

Instead, these roles were filled by additional court cards or even extra suits. These changes have made it easier for people to play different games using the same set of playing cards.

Where Are There 52 Cards in a Deck?

The number of cards in a deck has varied over time, but 52 cards in the standard deck are used today. The modern deck consists of four suits that each contain 13 cards: spades (♠), hearts (♥), diamonds (♦) and clubs (♣). Each suit contains one ace, two through 10 and the jack, queen and king.

Is Ace a Face Card?

The ace is the highest-ranking card in the deck, but it isn’t considered a face card. Face cards have unique designs, representing people. In modern decks of playing cards are the joker, queen, king and jack. These have their own unique artwork on each card and depict different characters from history or mythology.

What Happened to the Joker?

The joker is a wild card and can be used to represent any other card in the deck. In fact, some modern decks don’t even include it. It was originally introduced as an option for players who wanted more flexibility with their hands.

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